In 1971, Australia exploded with protest against a sporting tour by the white supremacist South African rugby union team – the Springbok.
The Springbok were the ultimate international symbol of South African racism. Under a system known as apartheid, white South Africans, who made up 20% of the country’s population, owned 80% of all its land. The black majority of the population was forced to live in poverty- and disease-ridden shantytowns, was not allowed to move freely around the country, had no access to facilities used by whites, and had no right to vote. As South Africa’s premier sporting team, the Springbok only accepted white players.
The South African regime was backed by all major western powers, and the Springboks’ 1971 tour of Australia was supported by the entire Australian media and political establishment. And yet, as soon as the tour began, tens of thousands took to the streets and directly disrupted Springbok matches, while thousands of unionists made the tour almost impossible by refusing to staff flights that carried the Springbok, work in hotels that allowed them to stay, or supply restaurants that served them. In the process, both South African and Australian racism were dealt massive blows.
In this episode, we talk with Meredith Burgmann, who as a university student in Sydney in 1971 helped co-ordinate the campaign against the Springbok tour. Meredith discusses her early life, her radicalisation during the late 1960s, then moves on to describing her role in organising to stop the 1971 tour.
You can read more about the Springbok tour and the protest campaign against it in Garry Writer’s book Pitched battle.