A Visionary On and Off The Field  – The Rob Heming Story

There are few Australian sporting icons who you can say are just as incredible off the field as they are on the field. Rob Heming is one of those icons. In a recent interview with his daughter, Heidi Heming, we dove into the life and career of this extraordinary human, highlighting his impact as a father, an optometrist, and a sporting legend.

Growing up during World War II in Papua New Guinea, at the age of 9 Heming along with his mother and sister, was on the last boat out after the Japanese invaded in 1942.  Soon after they set up a new life in Manly, a place Heming often described as ‘paradise.’ His educational journey started at Manly Village Primary School and continued at North Sydney Boys High. Heming, with a desire to help others and earn a living continued his pursuit for education at the University of New South Wales (then Sydney Technical College), where he graduated with a with a Diploma Course in Optometry (today’s equivalent to a Bachelor of Science in Optometry) graduating in 1957. Reflecting on her father's education at UNSW, Heidi shares, "His studies provided him with a strong foundation for what would become a fulfilling and successful career.  However, it was a real juggle balancing the demands of simultaneously being an optometrist and a Wallaby, and on one occasion dad had to turn down the offer to tour New Zealand as he’d just purchased his optometry practice.”

Beyond his exploits on the rugby field, Heming's talents extended to swimming as his mother found a job in Manly and Heming spent hours in the harbour pool directly across the road. He turned in to a renowned belt swimmer for North Steyne SLSC and narrowly missed qualifying for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics in the 100 meters freestyle. Heming finished in 4th place in the trial, behind Jon Henricks, John Devitt and Gary Chapman, who went on to win gold, silver and bronze. This was the turning point for Heming to try his luck at Rugby Union – being six foot two inches.

Heming started his rugby career with Manly playing 145 grade games between 1956-67, of those 132 were for 1st grade. At the age of 29 he then went on to represent Australia in 21 tests going on to be recognized as the 23rd greatest Wallaby of all time. 

It was the infamous 1963 tour to South Africa where Heming really showed the world his ability.  His prowess as a jumper was the defining factor that gave Australia so much possession that they were able to draw the series, a feat that had never been done on South African soil.  One of his most notable achievements was being part of the Australian team that won the series against South Africa in 1965, only the second time since 1896 to inflict consecutive victories on the Springboks. 

Rob Heming winning a lineout against South Africa in Cape Town in 1963.

Peter Jenkins, in his book "Top 100 Wallabies" published in 2004, recognized Heming's prowess as the greatest line-out jumper in world rugby during his time. This acknowledgment further solidified Heming's legacy as a dominant force in the sport.  He would later be honoured on the SCG Walk of Honour in 2003 and inducted into the Wallaby Hall of Fame in 2021.

Heidi fondly recalls her father's impact not only as a sporting legend, but as a Manly local, stating, "Wherever we went, people recognized dad as the famous Rob Heming… walking down the street, on the other side of the world, and once at the toll collection point on Sydney Harbour Bridge!”. He was particularly well-known in the rugby community, becoming a mentor to many, but to his daughters Peta and Heidi, he was “Dad”. 

While Heming's rugby career concluded before his children were born, his family were heavily immersed in the Manly community and as the years went on, they understood the impact that Heming had. 
The passing of Rob Heming brought forth an outpouring of messages and tributes from those who knew him as a remarkable footballer, a mentor, and a cherished member of the Manly community. Heidi recalls the messages she received at her father's passing, stating, "The outpouring of love and admiration for my father was overwhelming” – not only as an athlete, but his decades of service to optometry and the impact he had on Manly as a lifelong community member.

As the sporting world mourned the loss of a true Australian legend earlier this year, Rob Heming's memory will forever be etched in the annals of Australian rugby history. The impact of Heming's legacy reaches far beyond the sporting arena. He was a beloved father, and grandfather, a dedicated optometrist, and a true gentleman of the Manly community. 

Vale Rob Heming.