Australian Football Celebrating the history of the great Australian game


Key Facts

Full name
Sir Douglas Ralph Nicholls

Known as
Doug Nicholls

9 December 1906

Place of birth
Barmah, VIC (3639)

4 June 1988 (aged 81)

Place of death
Mooroopna, VIC (3629)

Indigenous Australian

Social worker, Pastor, Governor-General of South Australia

Age at first & last AFL game
First game: 25y 143d
Last game: 30y 171d

Height and weight
Height: 157 cm
Weight: 65 kg

Senior clubs
Northcote; Fitzroy

Jumper numbers
Fitzroy: 13, 9, 35

Recruited from
Northcote (1932); Fitzroy (1937)

State of origin

Family links
Nathan Lovett-Murray (Great grandson)

Doug Nicholls

ClubLeagueCareer spanGamesGoalsAvgWin %AKIAHBAMKBV
NorthcoteVFA1927-1931, 1937-193812

Pre 1965 stats are for selected matches only

AFL: 3,885th player to appear, 4,044th most games played, 7,769th most goals kickedFitzroy: 426th player to appear, 235th most games played, 616th most goals kicked

Arguably one of the most famous, and undeniably among the most important, Australians of the 20th century, Doug Nicholls' most significant accomplishments transcended football. Nevertheless, his football achievements alone merit considerable commendation. A talented all round sportsman, Nicholls, who was a native Australian, had to overcome severe racial prejudice in order to make his mark. He was a good boxer and sprinter, but his first love was football. 

Having impressively commenced his senior football career with Tongala in the Kyabram District Junior Football Association, he ventured to Melbourne in order to try out with Carlton, but found the atmosphere to be somewhat less than hospitable. Shortly afterwards, in 1927, he found a football home at Northcote, where he quickly established himself as a wingman of the highest quality, full of verve, pace and determination. The racial slurs continued, but only from opposition players and supporters; at Northcote he was accepted for what he quintessentially was - a brilliant footballer.

Nicholls spent five seasons with the Brickfielders during the outset of what proved to be their most auspicious era. In 1929 they reached their first VFA Grand Final, and with Nicholls in sparkling touch on a wing, ultimately overcame Port Melbourne by 42 points after struggling early on to kick straight. Further Grand Finals followed in 1930-31, and again the team was well served by its electrifying wingman, but Oakleigh on both occasions managed to edge home.

In 1932, Doug Nicholls crossed to Fitzroy, where he enhanced his reputation still further. The only aboriginal footballer in the VFL at the time, he spent six seasons with the Roys, playing 54 VFL games, and representing the VFL in 1935. Despite the presence in the same team of other fine players such as Haydn Bunton senior, Jack Cashman and Wilfred 'Chicken' Smallhorn, however, the Maroons tended to struggle during Nicholls' time with them, with fifth position in 1933 their best return. The Northcote success of 1929 therefore remained Nicholls' only involvement in a senior premiership. His final taste of top level football was as coach of his former club, Northcote, in 1947, but it proved to be a disastrous year for the Brickfielders who managed just four wins from 20 matches to finish with the wooden spoon.

After his football career, Doug Nicholls was ordained as a pastor, and achieved much in public life, including a knighthood in 1972, and the governorship of South Australia.

Nowadays, many of the finest players in the game are native Australians, and doubtless the same would have been the case in the 1930s had society allowed. However, in bravely confronting and overcoming deep-set racial bigotry Doug Nicholls played a key role in paving the way for a somewhat more tolerant, if far from perfect, modern Australia.

Author - John Devaney


Full Points Footy Publications


* Behinds calculated from the 1965 season on.
+ Score at the end of extra time.