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Monday, 13 February 2012
Page: 992

Mr MELHAM (Banks) (12:28): A number of people have asked: why put a motion on the Notice Paper in relation to Basil D'Oliveira?

It is pretty obvious that this has something to do with cricket and with something beyond cricket. In a nutshell, his obituary, which was written in the Guardian by Peter Mason, summarises it, and I quote:

As a mixed race—in South African terms, 'coloured'—player of exceptional ability in his native Cape Town, he was denied the chance to play for the country of his birth by the racial segregation of the apartheid regime. When he went to play in England and became a Test player there, his eventual selection for the 1968-69 England tour to South Africa so offended the warped sensibilities of John Vorster's government that it refused to allow him to play, and the tour was cancelled. As a result, South Africa was exiled from international cricket until the fall of apartheid in 1994.

We know from Sir Michael Parkinson, who delivered a moving address, that Basil helped to change the political history of South Africa. Sir Michael Parkinson revealed how in a personal conversation Nelson Mandela told him how D'Oliveira played an important role in the lifting of apartheid. That came about in part because of D'Oliveira's quiet dignity when he was banned by Prime Minister Vorster from representing his adopted country.

Peter Mason went on to give a bit of background about that. He wrote:

With the 1968-69 tour of South Africa coming up the following winter, D'Oliveira refocused, and he hit a fighting 87 in the first test of the 1968 summer series against Australia. But it became clear that members of the cricketing establishment wanted to avoid the embarrassment of taking D'Oliveira to South Africa, and to widespread disbelief he played no further part in the Ashes series until the final test at the Oval, where he was a late substitute. Knowing that his place in history was riding on it, D'Oliveira rose to the challenge magnificently with a score of 158 to help England win the match and draw the series—and so topped the Test averages for the season.

For most commentators he had squarely made his case for inclusion in the squad to South Africa, but the MCC, which picked the touring team, felt otherwise. To general consternation and much recrimination, he was left out. Arlott summarised the mood when he said the MCC had 'never made a sadder, more dramatic or more potentially damaging selection', and the subsequent fallout turned into the worst crisis of the MCC's history. D'Oliveira, privately devastated to the point of physical collapse but publicly stoic throughout, received so many thousands of letters of support that the Post Office had to make special arrangements to deal with them—while the MCC was castigated by the media and the Labour government for cowardly appeasement of apartheid.

Chastened by the outraged response, the MCC found a way out. On 16 September 1968, the bowler Tom Cartwright pulled out of the tour with an injury, and the selectors brought D'Oliveira in, even though he was not a logical replacement for the slot that had been vacated. D'Oliveira and his supporters celebrated, but the moment was short-lived. Within three days, the South African government had made it clear that it would not allow him to play, and the MCC was forced to cancel the tour.

The decision was a great disappointment for D'Oliveira, who had wanted above all else to play Test cricket in his native land … When the 1970 South Africa tour of England was cancelled too, he batted with great success against a replacement Rest of the World side …

That is the background. In effect, that helped change the apartheid regime in South Africa and allowed South Africa back into the community of nations. Sport, frankly, was the way to do it.

I had my own little experiences of D'Oliveira. In the 1970-71 series in Australia, in which seven tests were played, the fourth test was played in Sydney in January. The seventh test was also played in Sydney. I was a paperboy selling papers at the Sydney Cricket Ground at that time for the Daily Mirror. I do not have a specific recollection of D'Oliveira in the fourth test but I do recall that the openers, Boycott and Luckhurst, put on a century partnership. D'Oliveira scored 56 in the second innings and took two wickets in the first innings.

When it came to the seventh test, which was played in February, I was again selling papers. Most of my recollection of that test is of Ray Illingworth leading the England side off the field after Snow was manhandled in the outer. He had felled Terry Jenner with a bouncer. I was selling papers on the hill that day and again I have no specific recollection of D'Oliveira. He is obviously in the books, having played with distinction. The hill crowd basically knocked out every single light on the SCG scoreboard, and the shutters had to be pulled up. There was a real tenseness around. Sport is something that Australians feel pretty strongly about, and so does everyone else.

I do have a vague recollection of D'Oliveira, but not as specific as the one I have now. He overcame great adversity. Indeed, it is said that he concealed his age by three years to allow himself to play test cricket. In later life his age was revealed. He was some 38 years of age when he played his first test against the West Indies on 16 June 1966. His last test was on 10 August 1972. This would have made him in his early forties, which is quite remarkable. Overall, his test record is 44 matches, 70 innings, eight not out and 2,484 runs. His highest score was 158, with an average of 40.06; five 100s; fifteen 50s; and 29 catches. His bowling career was 47 wickets at an average of 39.55.

The member for Bennelong knows how hard it is to play at an international level in any sport. To do that with the burden of many of your own countrymen on your shoulders—D'Oliveira was a 'coloured' and coloureds were banned in South Africa, so he had to go to England—puts an extra special burden on someone's shoulders. For him to succeed as he did was to become, in effect, a beacon. As has been said by those who wrote his obituary, it was from little things that big things grew. We saw with his exclusion from the South African tour an end to apartheid in South Africa and then the bringing of them back into the fold. The South Africans no doubt have a wonderful love of sport and so the exclusion of sporting teams from going to South Africa and their exclusion from going to other countries would have hurt them. We now see South Africa back in Rugby Union and certainly in cricket in a very competitive sense, but people are not being excluded on the basis of race. However, we still need to recognise that it is harder for those people to come through the ranks anyway because they have other burdens.

So what we have here is a very special person—someone who did, I think, help change the course of history in his own way. It is for this reason I felt it important that the parliament pause and recognise his contribution.