In April, in the shadow of COVID-19’s impact on rugby in the region, NZ Rugby announced it would undertake a strategic review in conjunction with each of its professional franchises.
Former Wallaby winger Lloyd McDermott died on the weekend aged 79, leaving a legacy for the indigenous community which will live forever.
He had four passions in life: his family-indigenous community, jazz, law – and rugby.
In the countless times we shared a beer over the years, rugby was always the topic of conversation, and how he could help the young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids to play rugby.
He was a genuine trailblazer, no doubt about that, which is why I nicknamed him ‘Mabo’ after another trailblazer.
He set up the Lloyd McDermott Rugby Development Team that has changed the lives of thousands of indigenous kids over the last 40 years.
So much so that his passing and what he has achieved has been recognised by no less than the New York Times.
Not bad for the kid born at Eidsvold, a tiny town 430 kilometres north of Brisbane that boasted a population of around 250 at the time.
Yet Eidsvold has produced two outstanding Australians in McDermott and RM Miller, a swagman who became a millionaire through the manufacturing of his worldwide famous riding boots.
McDermott was blessed with brains and flying feet that won him a scholarship to ‘Churchey’ in Brisbane where he quickly established himself as the 100 and 220-yard champion sprinter, with three years on the wing in the school’s first XV, a long-time nursery for future Wallabies.
In 1962 McDermott became the second indigenous Wallaby after halfback Cec Romalli in 1932 to debut against the All Blacks at Brisbane.
Romalli is Wallaby 322, McDermott 470.
In that year the likes of the Boyce twins Stewart and Jim debuted as well, as did Phil Hawthorne, Peter Crittle, and Dick Marks.
But McDermott’s two-Test career ended the next year when he refused to tour South Africa as an ‘honorary white’ during the height of apartheid.
He switched to rugby league, but his heart was always in rugby and the powerful way he could help the underprivileged.
Having a beer with him was never dull. His passions and sharp sense of humour saw to that.
His rugby passions will live on through Gary Ella, the youngest of the three magicians, who is in charge of the ‘Lloydies’ as the Development Team has been named.
For the rest of us, Lloyd McDermott will always be remembered as a gentleman, and a gentle man, who will be sorely missed.