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Alick Jackomos (1924–1999)

by Richard Broome

This article was published online in 2024

Portrait of Alick Jackomos, 1998, by Barry York

Portrait of Alick Jackomos, 1998, by Barry York

National Library of Australia, PIC/3004 LOC PIC/3004

Alick Jackomos (1924-1999), community leader, historian, and wrestler, was born on 24 March 1924 at Carlton, Melbourne, eldest of six children of Andrew (Andreas) Jackomos, fishmonger, and his wife Asimina, née Augustes, both from the Greek island of Castellorizo. Alick attended various suburban State primary schools as his parents moved their fish-and-chip shop from Carlton to Balaclava, Northcote, and Collingwood. Not liking school, he left Collingwood Technical School at twelve, and also often dodged Greek School in Lonsdale Street, preferring to sell newspapers and hawk peanuts at sporting events. From 1938 he was an apprentice motor mechanic at Shields Motors in Flinders Street.

A formative influence for Jackomos was that his mates and sparring partners at the Exhibition Youth Club in Carlton were Aboriginal youths from Fitzroy. Unbeknown to his parents, when aged fourteen he hitched a ride to Lake Tyers Aboriginal Mission, near distant Lakes Entrance, staying for two weeks with an Aboriginal family, undetected by management. He also attended Yarra bank Aboriginal political meetings, and (Sir) Doug Nicholls, the Aboriginal footballer, boxer, and activist became a friend and mentor.

Aged only sixteen, in 1940 Jackomos tried to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force for service in World War II, before succeeding on 13 January 1942 though still underage. With the 1st Mechanical Equipment Company, he was deployed in September to the Northern Territory, where he mixed with Aboriginal people and was dismayed at the discriminations they faced. While stationed in Port Moresby (December 1943–March 1944), he transferred to the 2/14th Battalion hoping for action, before undergoing jungle training in North Queensland. In November he switched again to the 6th Field Company, Royal Australian Engineers. He served with that unit and the 2/3rd Port Operating Company at Balikpapan, Borneo, Netherlands East Indies (Indonesia) from July to November 1945 and then with the 42nd POC at Moratai to February 1946.

Five feet nine inches (175 cm) tall and nuggety, Jackomos boxed in almost seventy intra-service matches during the war. Discharged in Melbourne on 22 July 1946, the next year he joined a boxing troupe: his second formative life influence. For two years he travelled with Harry Johns, Jimmy Sharman, and other tent troupes, initially as a boxer before switching to wrestling. He loved the showies’ camaraderie, later recalling ‘they were happy times because I made a lot o’ mates’ (Jackomos 1998, 47).

A third formative experience for Jackomos was encountering Merle Robertha Morgan, a Yorta Yorta woman, while returning by train from a country show in 1950. Alick was smitten, but Merle initially snubbed his interest. He eventually found her in Melbourne through his Aboriginal friends. Despite his Greek family initially opposing the relationship, they married on 31 March 1951 at St Augustine’s Anglican Church, Shepparton. Jackomos purchased a truck and, using his showground selling skills, sold fruit and vegetables three days a week to restaurants and northern suburban households until 1965. He earnt additional income wrestling in Sharman’s big city shows and performing for Stadiums Ltd in Melbourne’s wrestling revival. Often billed as the ‘Greek Grappler,’ he retired from the sport in 1970.

Jackomos’s Aboriginal links deepened, and Nicholls enlisted him and his truck to assist the community. He ran Aboriginal dances with Bill and Eric Onus, assisted the boxer Bindi Jack in his Aboriginal youth club, and helped to organise the annual Aboriginal Christmas Tree for children. He also raised money for the Aborigines Advancement League’s youth hostels and ran and compered (1964-84) the annual Aboriginal Ball. As editor (1963-66) of the typed broadsheet ‘Aboriginal News,’ he showed his focus on community relations, but influenced by Nicholls he became more political. Praised as a ‘Gubboriginal’ by the Aboriginal community (‘Gubba’ being a white fella), he participated in political meetings and presided over all-Aboriginal conferences, including the revived Australian Aborigines’ League (president 1963–66).

Succeeding Nicholls, Jackomos was elected Victorian State secretary (1964–67) of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI), and in 1965 Nicholls lured him to the Victorian Aborigines Advancement League to become a field officer. He was seconded to the Aborigines Welfare Board in 1967, to staff its vacant Swan Hill office, then to manage the Lake Tyers mission. The next year he joined the newly formed Victorian Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs, and from 1974 he worked as a project officer for the Federal Department of Aboriginal Affairs. He managed the all-Australian Aboriginal football team’s tour of Papua New Guinea in 1973 and held a Churchill fellowship in 1977 to study the economic development programs of Indigenous and African American organisations in the United States of America.

Jackomos was known Australia-wide, attending conferences and visiting Aboriginal communities, often with Merle and their children. He witnessed seminal events in Aboriginal affairs, including the first land rights hand back at Lake Tyers in 1971, the scattering of Truganini’s ashes into D’Entrecasteax Channel adjoining Bruny Island in 1976, and the return of Uluru to traditional owners in 1985. From the 1960s he created scores of family trees and collected photographs, later donated to the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies in Canberra, where a room bears his name.

Retiring in 1989, Jackomos wrote the community histories Living Aboriginal History of Victoria: Stories in the Oral Tradition (1991) and Forgotten Heroes: Aborigines at War from the Somme to Vietnam (1993), both with Derek Fowell, and Sideshow Alley (1998) with Richard Broome. He was awarded an OAM in 1993 for services to the Aborigines Advancement League and his research in Aboriginal family genealogies. Merle had received the same award in 1987 for services to Aboriginal welfare. Survived by Merle (1929-2019), and their children Esmai, Andrew, and Michael, Jackomos died of cancer on 4 March 1999 in St Vincent’s Private Hospital, Fitzroy. His funeral at Northcote Town Hall overflowed and was followed by his burial in the Melbourne general cemetery. Arnold Zable’s obituary appropriately termed him ‘A Man of All Tribes’ (1999, 22).

Research edited by Samuel Furphy

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. MS 5133, Papers of Alick and Merle Jackomos, 1834–2003
  • Australian Ring (Sydney). ‘Alick Jackomos: Dynamic Greek Grappler.’ September-October 1958, 40-41
  • Broome, Richard, and Corinne Manning. A Man of All Tribes: The Life of Alick Jackomos. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press, 2006
  • Clark, Mavis Thorpe. Pastor Doug: The Story of an Aboriginal Leader. Melbourne: Lansdowne Press, 1965
  • Jackomos, Alick. Interviewed by Barry York, 9-10 September 1998. Transcript. National Library of Australia
  • Jackomos, Alick. Interviewed by Richard Broome, 25 May-6 June 1995. Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
  • National Archives of Australia. B883, VX71917
  • Personal knowledge of ADB subject
  • Zable, Arnold. ‘Alick Jackomos: A Man of All Tribes.’ Age (Melbourne), 18 March 1999, 22

Additional Resources

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Citation details

Richard Broome, 'Jackomos, Alick (1924–1999)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/jackomos-alick-32801/text40803, published online 2024, accessed online 23 July 2024.

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