Rod Churchill confronts rumour his Souths legend father Clive was Indigenous – after attacking Latrell Mitchell
The son of rugby legend Clive Churchill has quashed a decades-old rumor that his famous father was Aboriginal, surprising many senior figures in the sport.
Rod Churchill rejected widespread belief about the legacy of the Immortal after being forced to apologize for calling native superstar Latrell Mitchell a “cancer” in South Sydney.
In response to comments from broadcaster Ray Hadley, who noted that Clive was “a bit dark and had dark, curly hair,” Churchill Jr. that he was not native.
Clive Churchill, like Mitchell, was a star fullback who played most of his career at Souths. Churchill grew up in Newcastle and Mitchell on the north coast of NSW.
The son of rugby legend Clive Churchill has quashed a decades-old rumor that his famous father was Aboriginal, surprising many senior figures in the sport. Churchill, who played 34 Tests for Australia, is pictured in the 1950s
Throughout Churchill’s illustrious career and to this day, he was believed to be Indigenous by many players, coaches, administrators, journalists and fans.
“Everyone at Souths, all the old dudes, thought Clive was native, but the family kept it quiet, for whatever reason,” a league identity told the Daily Mail Australia.
Churchill, who died in 1985 aged just 58, 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 was named one of the first four rugby league Immortals alongside Bob Fulton, Reg Gasnier and Johnny Raper in 1981.
Churchill’s alleged parentage was a hot topic this week after a text sent by his son Souths chairman Nick Pappas attacking Mitchell began circulating the wider rugby league world.
Throughout Churchill’s illustrious career and to this day, many players, coaches, administrators, journalists and fans have assumed he was indigenous. He won eight premierships with South Sydney as a player or coach
In that text, Rod Churchill described Mitchell as a ‘trickster’ and ‘a complete myth that puts the original cause first 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 allegations last week that Mitchell and fellow Indigenous star Cody Walker were receiving preferential treatment from Souths coach Jason Demetriou, the lyrics took on new life.
This time the text was passed from phone to phone with the added line: “Nothing was done and now this cancer, Mitchell, has ruined the club.”
That version of the lyrics was leaked to the media and published on Sunday, along with further comments from Churchill, including his description of Mitchell as a “disgrace to the No. 1 jumper.”
Churchill, who usually presents the medal in his father’s honor to the man-of-the-match in the NRL grand final, wrote to Blake Solly, CEO of Pappas and Souths, on Monday to apologize.
“I am writing to you to formally apologize for the newspaper comments attributed to me this weekend,” he wrote. “If you don’t accept my apology, I totally understand.”
“I admit my comments were a bit cheeky, but I said it out of frustration and passion for the club, and I’m sorry. I’m also very embarrassed that it was leaked to the media.’
Later that day, Churchill stopped answering questions from the media about the lyrics, including how it reached a wider audience and who added the “cancer” line.
By this time, Churchill felt he was being accused of racism and on Tuesday called Ray Hadley’s 2GB breakfast program to give another explanation.
“First of all, Ray, I’ve had a few days of testing and I called you this morning thinking maybe the apology yesterday would have been the end of the matter,” he told Hadley.
“But questions are still being asked about the lyrics, etc.—even penetrating questions about my father’s race.”
Hadley, an old friend of Churchill and his 96-year-old mother Joyce, directly related to Clive’s supposed Aboriginal heritage.
Rod Churchill is pictured presenting the Clive Churchill Medal, named in his father’s honour, to Dylan Edwards of Penrith for his man-of-the-match performance in the 2022 NRL Grand Final
“It’s funny,” Hadley said. “You and I had a conversation many, many years ago — many years ago — because it was a misnomer that your father was native,” Hadley said.
Hadley: ‘A lot of people assumed that because he was a bit dark and had dark, curly hair, Clive was Indigenous… (and you said) ‘Dad had to keep explaining that he wasn’t claiming Aboriginality – he was from Newcastle and he was not an Aboriginal.”
Hadley: ‘And there were no links to Aboriginality and it’s funny that we’re now coming to the day where you, where your father was considered Aboriginal when he was alive and playing, now explain that his son is not a racist.’
Churchill, who played SG Ball and Jersey Flegg junior football for both the Souths and Presidents Cup, said he associated with Indigenous people all his life.
“I played with a lot of La Perouse native lads, with and against, and I’m still friends with them,” he told Hadley. “I see them at reunions and stuff.”
Churchill said his father had coached Aboriginal greats Eric Simms and Kevin Longbottom, who had been a personal mentor.
“I kicked the ball around with Eric and in later years befriended (former Souths coach) Michael Maguire and met (retired Indigenous Souths star) Greg Inglis,” he told Hadley.
“So I’ve had a lot of contact with the indigenous people, I know a lot and get along well with them.”