This week’s Northern Football Netball League Indigenous Round will again be named in honour of Sir Douglas Nicholls.
The AFL’s Indigenous Round was also named the Sir Douglas Nicholls Round, when held across the weekend of June 1-3.
The NFNL will celebrate Indigenous Round to coincide with NAIDOC Week – celebrating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, culture and achievements, and recognising Indigenous Australians’ contributions to our country.
One of Australia’s most revered figures, Sir Douglas Nicholls was the first Aboriginal footballer to represent Victoria. He later became a minister and Governor of South Australia and was the first Aboriginal person to be knighted.
Ahead of the AFL’s Sir Douglas Nicholls Round, AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan spoke of Sir Douglas Nicholls’ legacy to both football and the community.
“He represented both the values of our game and epitomised the spirit of reconciliation,” McLachlan said.
“He was the first Indigenous player to represent Victoria at state level, while playing for Fitzroy, and during his life he was an elite runner, boxer, Churches of Christ pastor, Justice of the Peace, was awarded both the MBE (1957) and the OBE (1968) before being knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1972, and served as Governor of South Australia.
“He was a pioneering campaigner for reconciliation but his love for and commitment to Australian football was the glue that brought together all the other facets of his life.”
After playing in the Goulburn Valley for Tongala, then 20-year-old Nicholls tried out for VFL clubs North Melbourne and Carlton before the 1927 season. Nicholls played some reserves matches for Carlton but did not play a senior game.
He joined Northcote in the VFA and made his name as a speedster, capable of spectacular feats, and came to be regarded as the best wingman in the VFA at the time.
He was a member of Northcote’s 1929 premiership team, and finished third in the Recorder Cup voting in 1931, his final season with Northcote.
In 1932, Nicholls joined Fitzroy in the VFL and in 1935, he was the first Aboriginal player to be selected to play for the Victorian interstate team.
He played a total of six seasons for Fitzroy, before returning to Northcote in 1938. Knee injuries forced him to retire in 1939. He returned to Northcote as non-playing coach in 1947.
Off the field, Nicholls worked for the Church of Christ, ran hostels for young Indigenous people and was a field officer for the Aborigines Advancement League.
In 1976 he was appointed the 28th Governor of South Australia, the first Aboriginal person appointed to vice-regal office. He held the position for a year before ill health forced him to relinquish his governorship in April 1977.
Thirty years since his passing, Sir Douglas Nicholls’ name remains prominent within the Northern Football Netball League community, with the Fitzroy Stars’ home ground named in his honour.
NFNL clubs have been encouraged to support the round in a small but significant way, with a specially designed indigenous football to be used in all senior men’s matches this weekend.
During Sir Douglas Nicholls Round, the Fitzroy Stars will host Thomastown for the NAIDOC Cup – an annual event between the two sides.
VU Western Spurs Division 1 side will wear an Indigenous-themed jumper this weekend.
The jumper, pictured below, was designed by Spurs and Western Bulldogs player Elise Muller, with the permission Aunty Diane Kerr.