Victoria v Springboks, July 3 1971

Here in Melbourne we are entering July, the heart of our winter. My mind goes back to my childhood, July 1971. That month started with Evonne Goolagong making tennis history, being the first indigenous woman to win the Wimbledon singles crown. On the world stage, we saw Federal opposition leader Gough Whitlam making history being the first Western leader to visit China since the 1949 revolution. In Paris, the Doors lead singer Jim Morrison is found dead in his bath.


At the same time, back in cold Melbourne, on July 3, the VFL season is up to round 14. Collingwood create records beating Essendon 30-20-200 to 7-11-53, league leaders Hawthorn, heading for their first final series since 1961,have a rare win at Kardinia Park. Reigning premiers Carlton are too steady for Melbourne in their clash at VFL park. In another football code taking place that day at Olympic Park the touring Springboks whup the Victorians, 50-0. However it is the events off the rugby field that I’ll turn to here.


This is the time of world wide opposition to the apartheid regime in South Africa. The United Nations General Assembly had declared 1971 as the International Year for Action to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination. For the Springboks match with Victoria, around 5,000 protesters attended. The actions of the police that day were described by Peter Hain, the British Anti-Apartheid activist, as “legalised thuggery”. Around 650 police, many on horseback, set up a wall around the ground, then attacked the protestors with baton charges. The Premier of Victoria described the protest as a “rebellion against constituted authority.” This day seemed indicative of the opposition to the Springboks tour, with the controversy created. For example, in Queensland, the Premier Joh Bjelke-Peterson declared a state of emergency.


In the summer of 1971-72 the South African cricket squad was due to tour Australia. They had not been here since the drawn series of 1963-64. Australia had toured the Veldt twice since. In 1966-67, we lost a five test series 3-1, rain saving us in the fourth test. In 1970 we were crushed 4-0 in a four test series. However a proposed South African cricket tour of England in 1970 was cancelled due to large scale opposition. With the controversial Springboks tour of Australia taking place how would the proposed cricket tour fare?


The Australian Prime Minister Billy McMahon spoke in favour of the tour. Polls showed 85 % of Australians supported the tour. In South Africa a touring squad was named. Captained by Ali Bacher it contained: Hylton Ackerman, Eddie Barlow,who withdrew to be replaced by Arthur Short, Dassie Biggs, Grahame Chevalier, Peter de Vaal, Lee Irvine, Denis Lindsay, Peter and Graeme Pollock, Mike Procter, Clive Rice, Barry Richards , Pat Trimborn and Vincent van der Bijl.  Not a bad team .


In South Africa efforts were made by their board to add two ‘non white’ players Dirk Abed and Owen Williams to the touring squad. The government over ruled this, their Sports Minister Frank Waring saying, “our teams have always been white and will remain so.”  As it was Abed and Williams refused to be chosen.


Back in Australia opposition to the proposed tour hardened, as the union movement and various churches joined in opposing sporting links with South Africa. Such was the groundswell of opposition the Chairman of the Australian Cricket Board, Sir Donald Bradman came out on September 8 cancelling the tour. He declared there would be no further cricket tours involving South Africa unless teams were chosen on a non-racial basis.


A Rest of the World team played cricket in Australia in the 1971 -72 summer. It included some South African players. Though the matches were not deemed as tests there were some marvellous performances. Dennis Lillee taking 8-29 at the WACA. Sir Garfield Sobers followed a first ball duck in the first innings, with 254 in the second innings at the MCG. The Rest of the World won the five match series 2-1.


It would take over twenty years before South Africa returned to international cricket. Apartheid was gone, the great Nelson Mandela was out of jail, South Africa was changing. Their cricketers toured Australia in 1993-94 for a three test series; our team returned the compliment straight after.


Sport is a a marvellous thing, in all its myriad of forms and events. Its role in removing apartheid from South Africa was pivotal, with sport in Victoria playing a role, albeit a small one.





  1. We have quite a few Almanac writers and readers who were involved in this. I’ll send this off to Dave Nadel and friends.

  2. Thanks Glen. Fantastic reminder of an important place in time. An early step on the long walk to freedom.
    Read another piece this week (the Guardian?) about that time which detailed Bradman (no bleeding heart liberal) going to South Africa to broker a deal for the 71/72 South African cricket tour. The Apartheid sports minister gave him a long diatribe about blacks being sub-human and unable to play cricket. An incredulous Bradman asked him “have you heard of Sir Garfield Sobers” and promptly returned to Australia and cancelled the tour himself without any political prompting. Strange times.
    The other anecdote I know from the ’71 Springbok rugby tour was told to me many years ago by a reliable source who was a doctor at Prince of Wales hospital in Sydney at the time. When the Springboks played at the SCG, Fred Hollows told his mates he was going to smuggle a live hand grenade into the ground and blow up the pitch. A half dozen of his medical mates took in on themselves to surround him and watch like a hawk in case he reached inside his coat pocket.
    Thousands of indigenous and African people owe their eyesight to their vigilance and love of Fred’s passion (he was a long time communist and founder of the Redfern Aboriginal Medical Service) if not his intended methods.
    Can remember sleeping on a mattress on my Grandma’s lounge room floor so I could stay awake into the wee small hours to watch Evonne surprise Margaret Court (nee Smith) in the ’71 Wimbledon final. Evonne didn’t run around the court, she flowed like no one until Federer.
    Grand memories. Thanks Glen.

  3. Daniel Flesch says

    In 1971 Rugby Union in Melbourne was even more of a minority sport than it is today. My Irish-born old school -friend John Clarke (who later came to befriend the late great comedian -raconteur -author of the same name ) was a very good Rugby full-back , playing for Melbourne University . When the Rugby clubs in the Melbourne competition voted on their opposition or support for the Springbok tour the Melb. Uni. club was the only one to vote against , and that narrowly. John was chosen to represent Victoria against the Springboks but he declined the opportunity. Told by the Victorian Rugby Union that his decision ensured he would never be picked in any future Victorian side he said “So be it.” He was not only on the right side of history , he is also a seriously good bloke. ( He was best man at our wedding too, and it’s certainly not his fault we got divorced:-)

  4. Dave Nadel says

    At the July 3rd demonstration against the Springbok Rugby Union match, unlike the matches in NSW and Queensland, there were as many demonstrators as there were Rugby fans (about 5,000 of each). The police behaviour was fairly violent (as Glen described) While Bolte made the typically cement-headed statement that people expected of him, Chief Secretary Rupert “Dick” Hamer was known to be critical of the police behaviour, possibly because his daughter had attended the demo and had reported on the unprovoked police attacks.

    There were some interesting chants at the protest. My favourite was “Paint them Black and Send them Back.”

    It may be true that Bradman cancelled the Cricket tour after meeting with the South African Sports Minister, but I have always believed that the tour was cancelled after the protests during Rugby tour. You may be able to play a Rugby Test with level of disruption and noise that demonstrators provided in 1971, but a Cricket Test would be impossible. I felt that the protesters had stopped the South African Cricket Tour and all other tours by racially selected teams.

    As Glen described the Springbok cricket tour was replaced by a Rest of The World Tour. I was at the MCG when Sir Garfield Sobers hit the most perfect century I have ever seen (the first part of his 254). I always considered that my attendance at this brilliant spectacle was a reward for doing the right thing at the Rugby six months earlier.

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