Focus on Springbok tour on eve of anniversary
For Dr Wendy Varney, a Fellow from the Science, Technology and Society Program
at the University of Wollongong, some things in life have come full circle.
When the controversial Springbok rugby team toured Australia from June to
August in 1971, she attended three Sydney matches and, along with thousands
of others, attempted to disrupt play and bring attention to the situation
of apartheid in South Africa.
The nonviolent resistance to the Springbok tour was one of Australia's most
significant examples of nonviolent action. Now, on the eve of the 30th anniversary
of this memorable rugby tour, Dr Varney, along with Associate Professor Brian
Martin, also from the Science, Technology and Society Program, are researching
nonviolent action and communication.
As she looks back on the tour, Dr Varney stresses that there is a valuable
lesson to be learnt from the anti-tour campaign.
"Although we set out to stop the tour and failed to do that, the nonviolent
resistance was a wonderful success in other ways. Australia stopped playing
sport with the apartheid regime after that and I believe Australians also
came to think more deeply and seriously about our responsibilities at home
and abroad in respect to issues of race and justice."
Although the scenes shown on television often suggested chaos and mayhem and
sometimes violence, Dr Varney insists that many of the actions were well planned,
that the overwhelming majority of the demonstrators were nonviolent and that
their campaign stands as testimony to the scope and power of nonviolent resistance
against repression and injustices.
"People are more inclined to listen to a message if it is delivered nonviolently
and this largely explains why, according to public opinion polls of the day,
the number of Australians supporting the tour dropped away dramatically as
Another factor in such a turnaround was that resistance to the tour gave the
chance for people to learn much more about what was happening in South Africa
and how rugby was an important ideological prop of apartheid.
Not all rugby players took the line that playing with apartheid was the best
option. Six Australian Wallaby representatives spoke out against the tour
and made themselves unavailable for selection.
As with any nonviolent campaign, there were many factors and numerous actions.
These included several unionists attempting to saw down the goal posts at
the Sydney Cricket Ground preceding a Springbok match and a gigantic anti-apartheid
effigy which was hung from the Harbour Bridge but cut down before many saw
it. The letters pages of the papers were brimming with words of indignation
about the tour.
"We did not just leave the matches and get back to our normal lives.
We had almost forgotten what normal was," Dr Varney said.
"We were at the airport when the Springboks arrived and we were there
protesting when they left and we also turned up outside public receptions.
"Through our current research, we are finding that preparation, tenacity
and the ability to improvise are all important ingredients in nonviolent campaigns.
All of these ingredients were evident in the anti-tour campaign," Dr
Professor Martin and Dr Varney have a book Nonviolence Speaks: Communicating
Against Repression currently in press with Hampton Press.
For further information contact: Dr Wendy Varney on (02) 9938 1784.