With the recent passing of Sir Nicholas Shehadie AC, OBE Australian Rugby has not only lost a significant servant of the game but Australia has, as a nation, lost a mercurial personality who will indeed be remembered as “a great Australian”. In joining the entire community in mourning the loss of Sir Nicholas (or “Nick”, as he always insisted on being addressed) The Rugby Club Foundation acknowledges that it has also lost one of its most eminent Rugby Life members.
We can all be grateful for the enduring and selfless contribution which Sir Nicholas made to Rugby both on and off the playing field. The thoughts and best wishes and of the Directors and Members of The Rugby Club Foundation are with Dame Marie Bashir and the members of their family as they come to terms with the passing of this remarkable and much-admired man.
Nicholas Shehadie was born in Coogee, New South Wales and grew up in the inner-Sydney suburb of Redfern, attending Cleveland St Public and later Crown St Commercial schools.
As a teenager Nick embraced Sydney’s sporting lifestyle and joined the Coogee Surf Club where many of the surfers were avid rugby players, Keith and Colin Windon among them. He joined the Randwick Rugby Club and was first picked as a replacement in first grade when he was still aged fifteen. He made his first representative appearance for New South Wales against a Combined Services side at age sixteen. In 1947 he appeared in a New South Wales XV against New Zealand and then made his debut for Australia in the final Test against those same touring All Blacks.
He was selected on the 1947–48 Wallaby tour, the fourth youngest of the 30-man squad. He dislocated his shoulder in the fourth tour match against Cardiff but recovered to make 24 tour appearances including the final two Tests against England and France. He finished the tour in the Wallabies side that met the Barbarians in their inaugural match against an international touring team.
He made representative appearances against the New Zealand Māori in 1949 and that year toured New Zealand in Trevor Allan’s team which for the first time in history returned victorious with the Bledisloe Cup. He made further representative appearances against the British and Irish Lions in 1950, the All Blacks in 1951 and Fiji in 1952.
He made his second tour of New Zealand in 1952 and then on the 1953 Wallaby tour of South Africa he was honoured with the Australian captaincy in eight tour matches and in one Test. He continued to represent at the highest level from 1954 to 1956 and then in 1957 he made history as the first Wallaby to repeat a tour of the British Isles and Europe. While he played in 24 matches of the trip including two Tests, the tour was a disappointment with the Wallabies losing all five Tests. Nick was singularly honoured however when he became the first tourist to be asked to play for the Barbarians in the final tour match against his own team.
In total, Nick made 175 appearances for Randwick in a 16-year club career. He made 37 appearances for New South Wales and represented Australia on 114 occasions – the first player to reach the century mark. He played 30 Tests – a record at the time – three of them as captain.
Nick worked in the 1950s selling fire doors and securities systems for Wormald Industries and later became a sales manager with an asphalt company. When his footballing days ended he commenced a business supplying and fixing vinyl tiles used in hotel bars and in computer room installations requiring anti-static floors. The business was successful being first to market with a product in high demand by the growing information technology departments of corporate Australia.
Lord Mayor of Sydney
Nick’s career in public office commenced in 1962 when he stood as an alderman for the council elections of the City of Sydney. He ran on a ticket with the Civic Reform Association, a non-aligned ratepayers’ association. He was elected and then served a second term from 1966. When city council boundaries were changed in 1967, his ward moved into the South Sydney precinct and he and his fellow councillors were dismissed overnight. In the next election of 1969 he stood again and was chosen as Deputy Lord Mayor of Sydney. He was instrumental in an administration that presided over the development of Martin Place, including its beautification and closure to traffic. This leadership also pioneered a system enabling the transfer by sale of city building site ratios whereby owners of historic buildings would no longer be penalised because they weren’t able to develop the building.
In 1973 he was elected as Lord Mayor of Sydney. He was in office at the time of the opening of the Sydney Opera House by Queen Elizabeth II on 20 October 1973. He officiated at visits by Charles, Prince of Wales in 1972 and by Anne, Princess Royal in 1974. He was in office during the Green Bans when the New South Wales Builders’ Labourers Federation led a campaign to protect the built and natural environment of Sydney’s Woolloomooloo area from excessive development.
Special Broadcasting Service
Nick was appointed as Chairman of the Special Broadcasting Service in 1981, and served that organisation until 1999. SBS is a government-funded Australian public broadcasting radio and television network, chartered to provide multilingual and multicultural radio and television services that reflect Australia’s multicultural society.
Nick was appointed Chairman of the New South Wales Rugby Union in 1979, a position which gave him a seat on the Australian Rugby Union board, where he was immediately appointed as Deputy President. In 1980 he became President of the ARU, a position held until 1987. He was instrumental in the schoolboy rule changes which outlawed forceful scrum engagements aimed to avoid neck injuries and make schoolboy rugby safer. He performed as tour manager on the 1981-82 Australia rugby union tour of Britain and Ireland.
He was first involved in discussions regarding a Rugby World Cup from 1983 when the ARU raised the matter with the International Rugby Football Board. Initial resistance came from the Home Nation unions with the push coming from Australia and New Zealand. After much international lobbying a 1985 vote saw France, New Zealand and Australia all for it; Scotland and Ireland against it; with England and Wales both split. The vote was carried and Nick was appointed joint chairman on the inaugural Rugby World Cup committee with John Kendall-Carpenter of the IRB and Dick Littlejohn of the New Zealand Rugby Union. Nick retired after the inaugural 1987 Rugby World Cup and was made a life member of the ARU.
It is noteworthy that the concept of the Rugby World Cup was effectively conceived and that many of the planning discussions undertaken by Nick and his colleagues occurred within The Rugby Club. Indeed, Nick was a regular visitor to The Rugby Club, not only when attending the Unions’ offices in his official capacities, but also as a member patronising the facilities of his Club and as an attendee at various functions and reunions conducted at Rugby Place.
On 24 October 2011, at the IRB Awards ceremony in Auckland, Nick was inducted into the IRB Hall of Fame in recognition of his role in the creation of the Rugby World Cup.
Sydney Cricket Ground
Nick had been a member of the Sydney Cricket Ground for 29 years when in 1978 he was invited by the New South Wales Minister for Sport to become a Trustee. At the time he was patron of the Randwick Rugby Club and a committee member of the Sydney Turf Club. He served as Trustee of the SCG from 1978–2001 and was chairman from 1990–2001. His time on the trust saw the installation of lights at the Cricket Ground and the building of the Sydney Football Stadium where a stand was named in his honour. In his final year as chairman a Walk of Honour was opened, with thirty-three plaques honouring sporting champions who have performed at the SCG. Sir Nicholas Shehadie is one of the thirty-three.
In February 1957, Nick Shehadie married Marie Bashir (later Dame Marie). Dame Marie served as the Governor of New South Wales between 2001 and 2014. They had three children, Michael, Susan and Alexandra, and six grandchildren.
Sir Nicholas Shehadie was indeed a giant of world Rugby and of the community at large, a fact reflected by the following honours which were so deservedly bestowed upon him during his life:
• 1 January 1971: Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for service to Local Government.
• 1 January 1976: Knight Bachelor for his service as Lord Mayor of Sydney.
• In 1985, he was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.
• 11 June 1990: Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) for “service to the media, to sport and to community”.
• 28 July 2000: Australian Sports Medal for his service as “Both President of Australian Rugby Union and Captain of Australian Rugby Team (1969–1973)”.
• 1 January 2001: Centenary Medal for “service to the community”.
• 17 May 2001: Knight of the Order of St John.
• In 2006 he was honoured in the second set of inductees into the Australian Rugby Union Hall of Fame.
• On 24 October 2011 he was inducted into the IRB Hall of Fame.
It is appropriate to quote the following sections of Greg Growden’s tribute to Sir Nicholas Shehadie [ESPN Rugby – 12 February 2018]:
“Forget that Sir Nicholas carry-on…. call me Nick.”
So call him Nick I did for decades.
Nick was special. On first meeting, there was the fear of being intimidated as he was such a large, robust man of great depth, knowledge and versatility with considerable political clout. One could easily be overwhelmed by his large shadow, but, if he liked you and could trust you, he embraced you. You were a mate of his for life. There was no lofty pedestal to climb. He loved the common man. He was the common man who made good. In basic terms, there was no bull about Nick. He relished those who like himself stood their ground.
That is why his passing in Sydney late on Sunday night will hit so many so hard. His was a big world. He had contacts, comrades, acquaintances in so many areas made during 92 summers of what he rightfully termed in his 2003 autobiography as “a life worth living”.
Nick’s role in Australian and international rugby can never be underestimated. He ranks among its most influential figures – first as a forward boasting 30 Test appearances between 1947 and 1958 and then more importantly as an administrator. Not just for Australian rugby, but for world rugby”.
“As the Sydney Lord Mayor, SBS chairman, Sydney Cricket Ground Trust chairman and husband of a much-loved NSW Governor Marie Bashir, Nick was accustomed to dealing with high flyers. But he was never aloof. Instead, this charismatic figure loved nothing better than being with his old rugby mates”.
“Nick won’t be forgotten, because his footprint was so large. And as far as the Rugby World Cup is concerned, he should never be forgotten”.
Similarly, we quote the following sections of Peter Fitzsimons’ tribute to Sir Nicholas Shehadie [Sydney Morning Herald – 12 February 2018]:
“Tributes have flowed for the former Sydney lord mayor, Wallabies captain, SBS chairman and ARU president.
Vale, Sir Nicholas, you will long be warmly remembered by all those who had the privilege of playing with you and against you, all those who came across you around the rugby traps, all those who benefited from the extraordinary energy and wisdom you put into the game they play in heaven. (Tempo and Brock no doubt have you in the Wallaby side, this Saturday at 3pm, and you, of course, will be captain.)”
“At 22 he was picked for the tour that would define his playing career, the magnificent 1947/1948 Wallabies – touring for nine months, through the then Ceylon, France, Britain, Ireland and the United States – where he made 24 appearances, including the last two Tests.
A prop with skills but no frills, he was notable for his strength, endurance and sheer toughness. It was on that tour that he earned the deep respect of Wallabies as much as a decade older. For the rest of his life, the other 29 Wallabies on that tour were like his brothers, and as a group, they and their wives remained very tight ever after.
Of Sir Nicholas, his rugby brothers had every reason to remain inordinately proud as he went on to greatness, including shining against the Lions in 1950, and captaining the Wallabies for a Test against South Africa in 1953. In 1957, he became the first Wallaby to double up and go on another tour of the British Isles and Europe.
Such a fine rugby pedigree saw him respected not only throughout Australian rugby, but throughout the rugby world”.
“Sir Nicholas continued to give back to the game, including filling the role of Patron of the Cauliflower Club – the rugby charity started by Nick Farr-Jones and myself seven years ago. At our lunches he would arrive early, make whatever speeches and toasts required of him with elan, and leave late.
He was rugby royalty, albeit with extraordinary humility. But there was no-one in the rugby world he did not know, no rugby yarn he didn’t enjoy hearing or recounting, no rugby task left undone when he could possibly do anything to help.
In latter years, of course, Sir Nicholas’s role in public was primarily that of being the husband of NSW’s beloved Governor, Dame Marie Bashir.
Particularly in the early years of her term, whenever you saw Her Excellency in public – usually besieged by an adoring public – you could look over her right shoulder and there he would be, smiling proudly, waiting patiently, doing his bit to support her in this grand role, just as she had done so much to support him in so many of his grand roles, for so many decades”.
The following closing words of Peter’s tribute accurately sum up the sentiments of everyone associated with Rugby:
“So yes, vale Sir Nicholas Shehadie. The great old game was honoured to have you, first as a player, then as an administrator, then as a shining light for what rugby values are all about. You will be missed.
And to you, Dame Marie, Sir Nicholas’s devoted wife of 61 years, all of us extend to you our very deepest condolences. He was a great man, and you, his perfect partner”.
In presenting this tribute to Sir Nicholas Shehadie, The Rugby Club Foundation acknowledges Wikipedia as the source of much of the information contained herein. The Foundation is also grateful to Greg Growden and Peter Fitzsimons for the eloquence and pathos with which they have each expressed their respective tributes to Sir Nicholas.