Top 21 Indigenous sporting people of all time

Some time ago our good friend Peter Argent produced his Top 50 Indigenous sporting people of all-time. With NAIDOC Week already commenced it is opportune time for me to look at Pete’s top fifty and come up with twenty-one of my own.

There is no doubt that our Croweater friends will have a piece of this. I have also used as part of the criteria other endeavours such as community involvement.

My top twenty-one in order is as follows:-

1 – Evonne Goolagong-Cawley  (tennis)
2 – Cathy Freeman (athletics)
3 – Lionel Rose (boxing)
4 – Nova Peris (athletics-hockey)
5 – Mark Ella (rugby union)
6 – Johnathan Thurston (rugby league)
7 – Johnny Mullagh (cricket)
8 – Graham Farmer (Australian football)
9 – Lance Franklin (Australian football)
10 – Patty Mills (basketball)
11 – Jason Gillespie (cricket)
12 – Faith Thomas (cricket)
13 – Adam Goodes (Australian football)
14 – Andrew McLeod (Australian football)
15 – Arthur Beetson (rugby league)
16 – Travis Dodd (soccer)
17 – Dave Sands (boxing)
18 – Maurice Rioli (Australian football)
19 – Gavin Wanganeen (Australian football)
20 – Michael Ah Matt (basketball)
21 – Glenn James (Australian football umpire)

Go to it, people!


About Bob Utber

At 84 years of age Citrus Bob is doing what he has always done since growing up on a small farm at Lang Lang. Talking, watching and writing sport and in recent years writing books. He lives in Mildura with his very considerate wife (Jenny) and a groodle named 'Chloe on Flinders' and can be found at Deakin 27 every day.


  1. Great to see Dave Sands on the list Citrus.

  2. No Mundine? No Doug Nicholls? No Lynch Cooper?

  3. Peter Flynn says

    Barry Cable wouldn’t be happy.

  4. Good timing Citrus Bob. Evonne won her first Wimbledon 46 years ago, the weekend just gone. July 3 1971.


  5. Forgot Elley Bennett! Surely on the list.

  6. The Wrap says

    I’m not a great fan of these sorts of lists, but I’d have Dave Sands a long way further up Citrus. He goes back to a time when just to be an aborigine was tough enough. His left was as fast as a taipan, and twice as deadly.

    And grading Indigenous Footballers is tougher still. Polly Farmer changed the way ruck men & rovers worked together, and every time Richmond played Adelaide, it was McLeod who sunk us. But how do compile a list such as this without the Hon. Edward A. Betts’ name on it? Or Syd Jackson’s? What he put up with on the field would clear out most lists if it happened today. And the Iconic Nickie Winmar? See my point Citrus?

  7. Dave Brown says

    An impressive list, Bob. With a community involvement weighting, though, I’d have Goodes and McLeod a fair way above Buddy

  8. Paul Young says

    I know I’m showing my bias but Joshua Ross is the only man to have won five ‘grand slam’ pro running Gifts – two Stawell Gifts, two Burnie Gifts and the Bay Sheffield. He’s the only man ever to have won all three – Stawell, Burnie and the Bay Sheffield off scratch. He won the Australian 100m national title, seven times. He has a 100m PB of 10.08 – which is the fastest time ever by an Australian in Australia. I’d probably have Joshua Ross in the top 20 ahead of maybe Rioli/Wanganeen.

    1928 Stawell Gift winner Lynch Cooper is regarded as the first indigenous Australian to win a world title when he triumphed in the 1929 world professional sprint championship. It is a question that sometimes get thrown up at trivia nights and Lionel Rose is generally the answer, but Cooper won his world title 39 years earlier.

    Bob’s Top 10 is pretty good although I rate Adam Goodes higher than Franklin given his longevity of 372 games and two Brownlow medals.

  9. The Wrap says

    Might have to make that a Top 50 List, eh Citrus?

  10. A fine list this, Citrus.
    But it is the nature of these lists that no-one will ever agree 100%.

    For me, Cyril’s exploits have far outshone that of his uncle Maurice.
    And from what I have read of Johnny Mullagh, he might just be my number 1.

  11. Great list and great idea CB with many worthy suggestions from Knackers.
    Darby McCarthy was a great indigenous jockey of the 60’s and 70’s. Beautiful balance and kind hands. Best hands and heels rider I can remember. Didn’t need the whip to get a horse to do its best.
    Eddie Gilbert must have gone alright. Bowled Bradman for a duck. So good they drove him out the game as a chucker.

  12. Citrus Bob says

    As some one said you open up a real can of worms when you start picking “the best of”.
    Should have had Sir Douglas Nicholls in top 10 probably at 1 for what he did both on and of the field. “Thank you Carlton!”
    Had Darby McCarthy on my long list PB. Smokie you must have been too young when Maurice R was around (member of parliament as well)
    Johnny Mullagh and Dave Sands – “if only”.
    Lynch Cooper a real mistake on my behalf. Need a big story on him.
    Wrap might have to set up another team of the century and extend this list to 50.
    Marvin Vaas – stay in the back seats where you are comfortable. Barry Cable – very good.
    Dips – the Mundine’s hmmmm?

    No Mickey R, Swish or Rulebook? have some good news for you

  13. Rick Kane says

    Agree with The Wrap, how long is a piece of string, but will jump in anyway!

    Rugby is under-represented so I would consider Laurie Daley or Gordon Tallis or Greg Inglis.

    Then there is soccer player, Kyah Simon.

    And I didn’t see any people with disability on the list so consider Kevin Coombs (basketball) and Tracy Barrell (swimming).


  14. theJudge says

    Darby McCarthy – Jockey of the 50s and 60s

  15. The Wrap says

    Let’s forget the order and just go for 50 worthy Indigenous sports people. Although, for all out style & grace, both on & off the field, the list has to start off with Yvonne Goolagong. And that on an even pairing with Kathy Freeman, if for no other reason than her quote when the French girl, Marie-Jose Perec, boasted that Kathy was frightened of competing against her in the 1997 World Championships. Kathy replied with there’s only one person she was afraid of, and last time she looked her Mother wasn’t running in Athens.

    As it turned out, Perec pulled out of the Sydney Olympics claiming harassment from strangers. That in itself suggests illusions of grandeur; I’d be staggered if there was anyone off the streets in Sin City who would be able to pick her out in a line-up of three, even if she was wearing a tricoloured track suit and spikes.

    But I digress. A great thread Citrus. It’s certainly got the Knackers going.

    And I’m with you on Mr Magic. Not many have won a Norm Smith in a losing GF side. And keep an eye out for the next Rioli to win a Norm Smith wearing the sacred #17 of Struggletown. The difference is that it will be in a winning side.

  16. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Sorry Citrus, busy penultimate day at work.

    I can’t mount a case for these being in the Top 21, but Sonny Morey, Wilbur Wilson and Gilbert McAdam gave me plenty of joy. Never saw David Kantilla, but he must have been something too.

  17. Steve Renouf.

    Greg Inglis, Arthur Beetson, Lionel Morgan.

    From my neck of the woods, Dicky Rose, Cec Docherty, the Weatheralls.

  18. Was thinking of all the ones Rick said earlier this afternoon plus 1974 World Cup Socceroo Harry Williams

  19. Rabid Dog says

    Better make the list Top 50 or 100 Citrus. Where’s Doug Nicholls? Eddie Gilbert? SONY MOREY and WILBUR WILSON (who walks on water)? With you on the others Swish. Michael Graham? However, great to see so many South Australians. A pretty good national spread too – happy NAIDOC week.

  20. Sean Gorman says

    It is a great list and a mighty idea – I suppose having worked in the Blakfulla sport space for some time I ask a different question that is how many have not made it or chosen to opt out as the barriers and problems that they experienced were too big to over come. I have lost count of the amount of AFL footballers i have spoken with who said that ‘my uncle or cousin or dad was a way better footballer than me and they could not handle the crap’. Who misses out on that? We all Do. As Michael Long said in the opening pages of my book Legends – Sport has been our greatest friend. He is right.

    Go Freo.

  21. What a our Ash Barty

  22. citrus bob says

    Robinathis list was made over 5 years ago and AB was not yet the champion that she was to become. Perhaps we need to revisit!

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