July 23, 2021

The Games of the XXXII Olympiad officially get under way in Tokyo on Friday night with a multi-million dollar opening ceremony extravaganza.

Basketballer Patty Mills will be one of Australia’s flag bearers … the first time an Indigenous person has been selected for the prestigious task.

And all up there are a record 16 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander athletes competing at this year’s games – including the South Burnett’s own Taliqua Clancy

In this report, below, Cherbourg’s Jeanette Brown recalls the first Indigenous athlete to compete at an Olympic Games: the late Adrian Blair.

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A young Adrian Blair (Photo: The Ration Shed Museum)

by Jeanette Brown

Australia has sent a record number of Indigenous athletes to an Olympic Games – 16 in total to Tokyo in 2021.

Cherbourg Elder, historian and founding member of The Ration Shed Museum, Sandra Morgan remembers the first time any Indigenous athletes participated, when our local boxing hero, the late Adrian Blair, represented Australia in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

Whilst Tokyo 1964 was a remarkable success story so were the four men, who won nine national boxing titles in the space of five years.

All four hailed from the Cherbourg Aboriginal community: our impressive Jim Edwards Jr, a lightweight and featherweight champion in 1960 and 1961 respectively; Jeffrey (Mitta) Dynevor, the bantamweight champion of Australia from 1960, 1961, and 1962; Eddie Barney, who won the national flyweight title in 1962; and Adrian Blair, who was the national featherweight champion in 1961 and then lightweight titleholder in 1962 and 1964.

Unfortunately, Blair lost his second round lightweight bout in the 1962 Commonwealth Games but was still strong enough in his division to be selected for the Australian Olympic team to Tokyo in 1964.

This was the first time any known Indigenous Australians competed in the Olympics.

Blair, who competed in the lightweight division, was joined by welterweight boxer Francis (Frank) Roberts from NSW and basketballer Michael Ah Matt from Adelaide.

Why did it take until 1964 for any Indigenous athletes to make it to the Olympics?

There was no official ban, but various political, social, economic, and geographic factors meant that no Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander sportspeople were offered the chance in the 70 years since the Games began in 1896.

Uncle Kevin Coombes, a wheelchair basketballer, was the first Indigenous athlete to compete in the Paralympics, in Rome in 1960.

Adrian Blair (1943-2008) was born and raised in Cherbourg at a time when boxing was a popular sport for young men. He was trained by local boxers Jack Brown and his uncle, Elgar Harrison, and in the early 1960s by Les Haack at Murgon, where Blair worked for the council.

He came to prominence in 1958, as a 15-year-old, when he was awarded the “best loser” trophy at a tournament held in Cherbourg.

In 1961 he won the Australian amateur featherweight championship and in 1962 he became the Australian amateur lightweight titleholder.

In 1962, Blair, Jeffrey Dynevor, and Eddie Barney represented Australia at the British Empire (Commonwealth) Games in boxing in Perth, where Dynevor (another unsung local hero) won a gold medal.

Blair then retired briefly to concentrate on football but returned in 1964 to win the Queensland amateur lightweight title and the Australian amateur lightweight championship, stirring crowds with his flashy style, hard-punching, and natural skills.

In the six years prior to his selection for the Tokyo Olympic team, Blair fought 70 fights for 47 wins.

In Tokyo, the 20-year-old acquitted himself well, knocking out the Taiwanese representative, Wang, in the first round before losing the next round on points to one of the Games’ best boxers, Russian Velikton Barannikov, who went on to win the silver medal.

Gary Osmond and Murray Phillips, sport historians from the University of Queensland, who assisted with research for this story, are currently working with The Ration Shed Museum on a book about the Cherbourg Marching Girls and various aspects of sports, which includes boxing.

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