The son of rugby league legend Clive Churchill has put to rest a decades-old rumour his famous father was Aboriginal, surprising many senior figures in the game.
Rod Churchill dismissed the widely-held belief about the Immortal’s heritage after being forced to apologise for calling Indigenous superstar Latrell Mitchell a ‘cancer’ at South Sydney.
Responding to comments by broadcaster Ray Hadley, who observed that Clive ‘was a bit dark and had dark, curly hair’, Churchill Jnr confirmed he was not Indigenous.
Clive Churchill, like Mitchell, was a star fullback who played almost all of his career at Souths. Churchill grew up in Newcastle and Mitchell on the NSW mid north coast.
The son of rugby league legend Clive Churchill has put to rest a decades-old rumour his famous father was Aboriginal, surprising many senior figures in the game. Churchill, who played 34 Tests for Australia, is pictured in the 1950s
Throughout Churchill’s illustrious career and to this day, it was assumed by many players, coaches, administrators, journalists and fans that he was Indigenous.
‘Everyone at Souths, all the old blokes, thought Clive was Indigenous but that the family kept it quiet, for whatever reason,’ one league identity told Daily Mail Australia.
Churchill, who died aged just 58 in 1985, won five premierships with the Bunnies as a player between 1947 and 1958 and three more as the club’s coach from 1967 to 1975.
The man known as ‘The Little Master’ captained Australia in 24 of his 34 Tests and in 1981 was named one of the first four rugby league Immortals alongside Bob Fulton, Reg Gasnier and Johnny Raper in 1981.
Churchill’s supposed ancestry was a hot topic this week after a text his son sent Souths chairman Nick Pappas attacking Mitchell began circulating in the broader rugby league world.
Throughout Churchill’s illustrious career and to this day, it was assumed by many players, coaches, administrators, journalists and fans he was Indigenous. He won eight premierships with South Sydney as a player or coach
In that text, Rod Churchill described Mitchell as an ‘imposter’ and ‘a complete myth who has the aboriginal cause paramount and south sydney second’.
The note was sent after Souths’ 36-12 loss to Parramatta in the NRL’s Indigenous round and was not shared by Pappas.
After claims emerged last week that Mitchell and fellow Indigenous star Cody Walker were being shown preferential treatment by Souths coach Jason Demetriou, the text gained a new life.
This time the text was forwarded from phone to phone with the added line: ‘Nothing was done and now this cancer that is Mitchell has ruined the club.’
That version of the text was leaked to the media and published on Sunday along with further comments from Churchill including his description of Mitchell as an ’embarrassment to the No.1 jumper’.
Churchill, who usually presents the medal named in his father’s honour to the man-of-the-match in the NRL grand final, wrote to Pappas and Souths chief executive Blake Solly on Monday to apologise.
‘I am writing to you to formally apologise for the newspaper comments attributed to me over the weekend,’ he wrote. ‘If you do not accept my apology I fully understand.’
‘I admit my comments were a bit brutal, but it was said out of frustration and passion for the club, and for that I am sorry. I am also very embarrassed it was leaked to the media.’
Later that day Churchill stopped answering media inquiries about the text, including how it came to reach a wider audience and who had added the ‘cancer’ line.
By then, Churchill felt he was being accused of racism and on Tuesday he rang into Ray Hadley’s 2GB breakfast program to have another go at explaining himself.
‘First of all, Ray, I’ve had a couple of testing days and I’ve rung you this morning because I thought offering the apology yesterday might have been the end of the matter,’ he told Hadley.
‘But I’m still being asked questions about the text, etc – even probing questions about my dad’s race.’
Hadley, who is an old friend of Churchill’s and his 96-year-old mother Joyce, dealt directly with Clive’s supposed Aboriginal heritage.
Rod Churchill is pictured presenting the Clive Churchill Medal, named in his father’s honour, to Penrith’s Dylan Edwards for his man-of-the-match performance in 2022 NRL grand final
‘It’s a funny thing,’ Hadley said. ‘You and I had a conversation many, many years ago – many years ago – because it was a misnomer that your dad was Indigenous,’ Hadley said.
Hadley: ‘A lot of people just assumed that because Clive was a bit dark and had dark, curly hair that he was Indigenous… [and you said] “Dad had to keep explaining he wasn’t claiming Aboriginality – he came from Newcastle and he wasn’t Aboriginal”.’
Hadley: ‘And there were no links to Aboriginality and it’s funny that we get to this day, where you, where your father was thought to be Aboriginal when he was alive and playing, are now explaining that his son is not racist.’
Churchill, who played SG Ball and Jersey Flegg junior football for Souths as well as Presidents Cup, said he had mixed with Indigenous people all his life.
‘I played with a lot of Indigenous guys from La Perouse, with and against, and I’m still friends with them,’ he told Hadley. ‘I see them at reunions and everything like that.’
Churchill said his father had coached Aboriginal greats Eric Simms and Kevin Longbottom, who had been a personal mentor.
‘I used to kick the ball around with Eric and in later years I became friends with Michael Maguire and I met Greg Inglis,’ he told Hadley.
‘So I’ve had a lot to do with Indigenous people and I know a lot and I get on well with them.’
Read Rod Churchill’s text calling Latrell Mitchell a ‘cancer’ at Souths
Rod Churchill sent the following text to South Sydney chairman Nick Pappas after Parramatta beat the Rabbitohs 36-12 in the NRL’s Indigenous round on May 19:
‘Where was the human headline Mitchell tonight Nicholas? Missing again, this was his big game apparently? Your club will not win another comp for another 40 years if this imposter remains at Souths.’
‘He is a complete myth who has the aboriginal cause paramount and south sydney second, if at all. I hope you and family are well.’
That text was circulated in the wider rugby league world this month – not by Pappas – with an additional sentence which read:
‘Nothing was done and now this cancer that is Mitchell has ruined the club.’