Saturday, 14 December 2013

POLITICAL FOOTBALL - Australia and its fight against apartheid in 1971 - and what happened in Toowoomba

In 1971, I was chair of an organisation called Citizens Against Apartheid in Toowoomba, Queensland. Toowoomba - an ultra conservative regional city - was to play host to one of the two regional Rugby Union games played by the South African Springboks against Australia's Wallabies.

Our small group had come into being because of Richard Buchhorn, then the National Chaplain of the Catholic youth organisation, the Young Christian Workers. [Below you will find more about Richard in a piece I wrote on The Network four and half years ago.] Richard was and is an ardent campaigner against racism.  He had got in touch with a Toowoomba contact he had who passed Richard's interest on to my husband and I and some friends his willingness to come and speak in Toowoomba.  This galvanised us into action.  We held a debate between Richard and the President of Toowoomba Rugby Union (an old school friend of my husband). It was well attended.  It unearthed some surprising supporters and we were off and running. We published some leaflets.  But on the day, I was the only one of us available (with my nine month old baby son) to attend.

The story and the drama has best been told in the late Stewart Harris's book Political Football.  Because history and time have changed the attitudes to apartheid and racism in sport, and because history of the fight against apartheid is now being resurrected in Australia in the shadow of Nelson Mandela's death - now seems the time to collate my tiny role into one keeping-place.

I have collated the material relevant to my small part in the fight against the Springbok tour in 1971 into the PowerPoint file below.  I also had the good fortune (as did Richard) to be at the dinner organised by Meredith Burgmann in her role as President of the NSW Legislative Council.  It was rather incredible. All of a sudden - at least so it seemed - we radical leftie types (and we were called worse) were now respectable.

That night at Parliament House we honoured those Wallabies who had taken very great and grave stands against apartheid and apartheid in sport.  The money raised that night would send to South Africa the first young Aboriginal Rugby Union team to tour there.

What amazed me that night was the attendance by many who, in another generation, would have vilified me and those doing the sort of thing I did.  Now, however, Nelson Mandela himself had become respectable, honoured and revered.   I wasn't strong-armed off a football field as Meredith Burgmann was.  Neither was my nose bloodied and spread across my face as Brian Tovey's was.  All I can say is that I did what I was able to do at the time.  It has been yet another lesson in my life that probably the greatest change agent of all is time.  Time shows what is true and what is false.  Time shows what is worthy and what is venal.

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