Today’s Doodle celebrates Sir Douglas Nicholls, the athlete, pastor, and political leader who championed the upliftment of Australia’s Indigenous people and went on to become the first Aboriginal Australian to be knighted by the Queen of England.
Born in Yorta Yorta Country, New South Wales, on this day in 1906, Nicholls was raised in Cummeragunga Mission Station, an Aboriginal reserve on the Murray River. After receiving a basic education he worked as a “tar boy,” preparing sheep for shearing, and later joined a dredging team building levees on the river.
Although he stood just 5’2” Nicholls was a gifted athlete who won various sprinting titles, was an expert boomerang thrower, and who excelled in football. As the first Indigenous Australian to play football professionally, Nicholls endured scorn from teammates and trainers, but eventually found his team and helped the Northcote club reach the grand finals for three seasons—winning the title in 1929.
Motivated by the founder of the Australian Aborigines’ League, Sir Nicholls got involved in politics and began speaking out for the rights of Indigenous people. “I know we can proudly hold our own with others if given the chance,” Nicholls proclaimed in 1938 at Australia’s first gathering to advance the cause of Aboriginal civil rights.
In 1940, Nicholls retired as a football player due to knee injuries. Drawn to the church after the loss of his mother, he became the first pastor of Aboriginal Church of Christ in Australia. “Pastor Doug” held regular meetings that led to a thriving community center. He was appointed to a parliamentary committee which investigated abuses towards Indigenous people and edited Smoke Signals, the journal of the Aboriginal Advancement League.
In 1976 Nicholls was appointed governor of South Australia, becoming the first Indigenous Australian to hold the office. Nicholls was named a Member of the British Empire, Victorian Father of the Year, Order of the British Empire, and in 1972 traveled to London to be knighted by the Queen of England.
Happy Birthday, Sir Douglas Nicholls!