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Monday, 13 February 2012
Page: 994


Mr ALEXANDER (Bennelong) (12:38): I would like to recognise the kind words of the member for Banks. In an age where sports men and women are making significant contributions to race relations and global politics, Basil D'Oliveira, known affectionately as 'Dolly', is truly one of the greats. In the period of 1967-68 there was great social dislocation. Muhammad Ali's refusal to serve in Vietnam under the pretence that no Viet Cong had ever subjected him to racial taunts left behind an empowered new generation preferring to fight at home for the civil rights of their neighbours rather than for people thousands of kilometres away. American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos gave us that immortal image from the Mexico Olympics, standing on the dais, with black gloves raised in the air out of respect for the victims of race riots occurring back home. Australia's Peter Norman, who won a silver medal in the same race, supported his competitors' action by wearing a human rights badge. His reward was to never again be picked in an Australian team. Forty-four years later his time for that 200m race still stands as the best time ever run by an Australian. Two decades earlier Jackie Robinson had fought against the racial boundaries preventing African Americans from playing major league baseball and had won.

These legends all embraced their role on the public stage as a catalyst of change to bring people together in the fight against racism. But Dolly was different. He did not want the publicity. He did not want the politics. He just wanted to play cricket. His record on the pitch shows that he was one of the best all-rounders to have played the game. In the process he changed the face of international relations with apartheid South Africa.

Basil D'Oliveira grew up in Cape Town and was an obvious talent. Rising to captain the non-white national team, his exploits started to earn him a reputation overseas. He had scored over fifty centuries, including a cracking 225 runs in just 70 minutes of play, he had recorded a score of 46 off a single eight-ball over and had maintained a career batting average of over 100. With the ball he had taken over 100 wickets in three different seasons, including one game's figures of nine wickets for two runs. All this was achieved without any organised formal coaching, without proper cricket gear and on lumpy grass wickets that many of our national stars would struggle to bat on.

With a burning desire to play first class cricket, Dolly wrote to members of the British media and cricketing establishment in search of an opportunity. He wanted to play, to learn and then to return as a coach to the non-white league to help disadvantaged kids like himself. It was John Arlott, England's media equivalent to Richie Benaud, who convinced the Middleton Cricket Club in the Central Lancashire Cricket League to give this raw talent a chance. Starting in April 1960, Dolly had scored 930 runs at an average of 48 and had taken 71 wickets at 11 runs each by the end of his first season. In 1964 he became a British citizen, and two years later made his debut for the English national team.

Owing to the long road he had been forced to travel to make his international debut, Dolly was always guarded about his real age. Since his death we have learned that he made his test debut a few months shy of his 35th birthday—about the same age that current cricketers like Ponting and Hussey are being called on to retire.

In early 1968 England hosted Australia for an Ashes series, where Dolly dealt out a spectacular 158 in the final test—seemingly guaranteeing his place in the side for the upcoming tour of South Africa. However, motions behind the scenes displayed an ugly side of English cricket. The South African government, keen to protect their apartheid policies, wished to avoid the embarrassment of a non-white South African returning to their shores and beating them. An official from a South African tobacco company, clearly operating under instructions from the government, offered Dolly a financial package that would have set him up for life if he refused to tour. Dolly declined.

The South African Prime Minister threatened to cancel the tour if Dolly was named in the team. Meetings with the British Prime Minister failed to resolve the issue. Instead, claiming that Dolly was not one of the best 16 players in the English squad, the English cricket establishment omitted him from the team. This was despite his position on top of the English batting averages and second in the bowling and possessing superior knowledge of the South African conditions. The response from the English media, public and politicians was uniform in its outrage. Dolly stayed silent, instead focusing on his preparation for an upcoming county game. In the lead-up to the tour two English players declared themselves unfit to play, giving the MCC no option but to recall Dolly to the team.

On 17 September 1968, South Africa's Prime Minister announced he was not prepared to accept the side and the tour was cancelled. It is amazing to consider that the highest levels of government could become so involved in the selection of another nation's cricket team and, furthermore, to consider that this one decision started South Africa's isolation from international sport. It is a stain on our own history that the Australian national team continued with a tour of South Africa the year after the D'Oliveira affair, appearing to add some credibility to this woeful decision. It was only in 1970, in the lead-up to South Africa's tour of England, that anti-apartheid protests forced England to ban the tour. We followed suit the following year. In a sport mad nation like South Africa isolation from the world of sport is a crushing rebuke felt directly and immediately throughout the community. More than trade sanctions or the closure of embassies, it is through an individual's inability to represent their nation and the fans suppressed desire to cheer them on that real change can occur. Within a few years exemptions were being made to allow non-whites to tour. I clearly remember the great American, Arthur Ashe, being given an 'honorary white' visa so that he could play with us at Ellis Park.

Sport is a great leveller, a great unifier. Through participation in sport diplomatic walls can be broken, common interests can be found and friendly competition can be developed to patch over historical wounds. South Africa's return to international cricket in 1991, following the release of Nelson Mandela and the repealing of the apartheid laws, was hailed as a new dawn. Fifteen years later Ashwell Prince was selected as the first non-white captain of the national team—a moment that, without any doubt, would have made Dolly proud.

It is fitting to finish with the writings of this most humble man, Basil D'Oliveira, who did not seek to change the world but, through the sheer force of his brilliance on the cricket pitch and his strength of character off it, left an indelible mark on the world of sport and international politics:

I'll never forget the events of the summer of 1968 as long as I live. It was a nightmare, punctuated by occasional bouts of euphoria. Actions that had little to do with events on the cricket field meant that South Africa would inevitably be barred from Test Cricket and. Indeed, from most international sport. And the unwitting reason for that ban? ME!