TRAILBLAZER Sir Doug Nicholls fought injustice for much of his life, and his family is now fighting to rectify a perceived football injustice against Nicholls himself.
Descendants of the late Nicholls – the face of this week's AFL Indigenous Round – are so exasperated by his exclusion from the Australian Football Hall of Fame that they have vowed to create a hall of fame for indigenous players – with or without AFL involvement.
The next batch of Hall of Fame inductees will be announced next Wednesday night (June 4).
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Nicholls' absence from football's elite company has long been debated. In 2008 Melbourne writer Michael Winkler argued on AFL.com.au that Nicholls wasn't only deserving of induction but that he was the greatest man to play league football, and perhaps even our greatest Australian.
Nicholls, who died in 1988 aged 81, was one of the game's most exciting players with his speed, leap, courage and skills.
After being subjected to blatant racism during a trial with Carlton, he became a star wingman with VFA club Northcote before playing 54 games for Fitzroy and two for Victoria.
Off the field he became virtual royalty. Among other honours, 'Pastor Doug' was the first Aboriginal to have been knighted (for "distinguished services to the advancement of the Aboriginal people"), and the only indigenous Australian to reach an office as lofty as Governor of South Australia.
Nicholls also organised Aboriginal All Star games during and after World War II, and later became the inaugural chairman of the National Aboriginal Sports Foundation, which staged national titles for football (and other sports) and even sent an Australian indigenous team to Papua New Guinea in 1973.
In recent times the AFL's Indigenous All Stars have played against AFL clubs for the Pastor Sir Douglas Nicholls Cup.
Nicholls' grandsons Gary Murray and Jason Tamiru and great-grandson, former Essendon player Nathan Lovett-Murray (Murray's son) believe the decision to overlook Nicholls for Hall of fame induction is a glaring omission.
Murray says he has twice formally nominated his grandfather without success.
"He didn't play a lot of games but the criteria covers achievements on and off the field," Murray told AFL.com.au.
"By the criteria, some members of the Hall of Fame who were great players shouldn't actually be there.
"So it should go the other way as well, where a player like my grandfather mightn't have played as much but they have been great contributors to society. No one matches his standards off the field.
"It's as plain as the nose on your face that he should be in. So why hasn't the penny dropped for the AFL?"
The Hall of Fame selection committee is charged with considering candidates "on the basis of record, ability, integrity, sportsmanship and character", with the length of service being "a consideration only and does not determine eligibility".
Tamiru says: "I think the AFL will eventually catch up."
One of Nicholls' most public supporters is the AFL's head of diversity Jason Mifsud, who concedes he is "openly biased on two fronts: as a distant relation of Nicholls' and as an Aboriginal person".
"Emotion aside, Sir Doug's contribution to the game and the community is unsurpassed," he said.
"This is a story our game deserves to not only know, but be immensely proud of. It's different but not dissimilar to the Jackie Robinson story (in Major League Baseball). Their legacies are enduring beyond reproach and require celebration unparalleled to any other."
Mifsud wouldn't be drawn on whether Nicholls should become a Hall of Famer, but said he should be honoured in various ways, revealing there has been preliminary discussion about introducing an award in Nicholls' name that recognises people who make significant contributions to the AFL's indigenous programs.
Mifsud also believes a statue of Nicholls should be erected at the MCG. (There is a statue honouring Sir Doug and Lady Gladys Nicholls in Melbourne's Parliament Gardens).
Regardless, Nicholls' family will forge ahead with "long overdue" plans to establish what could become known as the Marngrook Hall of Fame, with potential for the first induction to take place in Grand Final week.
They are looking for premises that would also display exhibits relating to Nicholls and the history of indigenous football.
Though open-minded to other options, Murray says the logical location would be the Thornbury headquarters of the Aborigines Advancement League (set up by Nicholls and other elders in 1957), which adjoins Sir Douglas Nicholls Oval, home ground of the Fitzroy Stars indigenous team.
Mifsud discouraged any independent moves to establish an indigenous hall of fame, saying the concept was best explored in collaboration with the AFL.
Nicholls' daughter Pam Pedersen will talk about her father, and his claims for Hall of Fame induction, on The Marngrook Footy Show on NITV on Thursday night.
SIR DOUGLAS RALPH NICHOLLS
Born: December 9, 1906, at Cummeragunga Aboriginal Mission, NSW.
Died: June 4, 1988, at Mooroopna, Victoria.
VFL/AFL: Fitzroy 1932-37 (54 games, 2 goals); represented Victoria (2 games); 3rd Fitzroy best and fairest 1934.
VFA (now VFL): Northcote 1927-31 and 1938-39; represented VFA (2 games); 3rd Recorder Cup (VFA best and fairest) 1931; Northcote best and fairest 1929, 1930; Northcote premiership 1929; Northcote coach 1947.
Post-football: Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (1977); Knight Bachelor (1972); Governor of South Australia (1976–77); OBE (1968); MBE (1957).
* The Indigenous Round edition of the AFL Record will feature the life story of Sir Doug Nicholls.