As the NRL heads into its Close The Gap round, the Manly prop George Rose reveals how his campaigning grandfather inspired his work with the Aboriginal community.
"One thing he always said to me was, 'Be proud of where you're from, and who you are … make sure you let 'em know.'
''I'm very proud. I carry my pop's name, I am George Rose the third'' ... Manly prop Rose in the special indigenous-design jersey his side will wear on Sunday when they face the Roosters, to draw attention to the Close The Gap Aboriginal health campaign. Photo: Dallas Kilponen
His grandfather fought to have Aboriginal ex-servicemen granted entry into an RSL so they could drink with their white counterparts. Now George Rose is fighting an altogether different battle for his people.
And the Manly prop, described as the most active Aboriginal community campaigner in the NRL, is already making significant inroads.
''There was a kid I saw at a detention centre a few years ago, I sat down and had a good yarn to him,'' Rose says. ''He just got caught up in the wrong crowd, done a few wrong things, and ended up where he ended up.
''I told him about myself and I guess he related a little bit. He came up to me a little while ago and said he'd gone back to finish year 12 and was starting an apprenticeship. Things were looking really good for him. It is a good feeling to know that a difference is being made. Maybe he can help make changes to the people he meets or those he hung around with, and hopefully it all passes on that way.''
It is in Rose's blood to champion a better way. The original George Rose was one of the key figures in the Freedom Ride of 1965, carried out by a determined group of University of Sydney students campaigning for equal treatment of indigenous people. They originally encountered resistance from uneasy Aboriginal communities, but the ride to Walgett sparked momentum for serious change.
Rose, a Walgett local, was a vocal critic of the policy to bar Aboriginal ex-servicemen from the local RSL, and eventually they overturned the rule. But not before the students' bus was nearly run off the road as they left Walgett, an incident that gained national press coverage.
The Freedom Ride then had massive media exposure and was able to achieve momentous change across the country for native Australians.
''I'm very proud. I carry my pop's name, I am George Rose the third,'' Rose says. ''My pop and my father were both George; they are both very influential men from out that way, and they had a very big influence in my life and how I approach things.
''My dad died when I was young - I was only nine - and pop was still there to pass on the messages and guide me. One thing he always said to me was, 'Be proud of where you're from, and who you are. You're an Aboriginal man from Walgett, make sure you let 'em know'.
''He fought hard back then to make life a lot easier for us now. If he hadn't have done the things he did back then, maybe I wouldn't have gone on to where I am now.''
Rose now works for the David Peachey Foundation, mentoring troubled youths and acting as a role model. The Sea Eagles operations manager Deanne Lees, who accompanies Rose all over the country as he visits remote communities, has seen the effect he has close up.
''It's an ongoing process, so we're getting feedback that kids have really improved at school, or their attendance has been better and they've been better at home,'' Lees says.
''I think people just get him. He's not up on a pedestal, he gets down with the community and he is a part of that community. He really takes interest in what they're saying … But he has a great story to tell as well because he's been so successful.
''He can sit down in a circle with these people and every eye and every ear is focused on what George is saying. He is exceptional at that and engages so well with them.'' Rose, who is hoping to finalise a new contract with Manly before the finals, yesterday modelled a special jersey. His side will wear it this weekend for the NRL's Close The Gap weekend to raise awareness of the shorter life expectancy of indigenous people - on average 20 years shorter than the rest of Australia.
''I think it's outstanding what the NRL are doing, and that indigenous team … it's something my pop always wanted to see, an Aboriginal side play together against the best in the game,'' he said. ''The other thing he wanted to see was a black president [of the US], and he got to see that too before he passed in 2008.''
It has given his grandson a reason to dream big.
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/rugby-league/league-news/one-thing-he-always-said-to-me-was-be-proud-of-where-youre-from-and-who-you-are-8230-make-sure-you-let-em-know-20110802-1i9yq.html#ixzz1Tvbt6a9j