Lloyd McDermott was 23 years of age when he made his Wallabies debut in 1962.
The Queenslander played two Tests for Australia against the All Blacks and a successful rugby test career seemed destined. However - Lloyd refused to tour South Africa in 1963 because of the countries' racist apartheid regime.
He objected to being classified as an "honorary white" - which was the only way he could enter the country and play union there.
“I did what I felt in my heart of hearts was, you know, not to go. Rain, hail or shine I didn't think the Wallabies should be touring, you know, because of the apartheid policies and you'll tour as an honorary white South African, you won't be touring as an Aboriginal, and you know, that didn't appeal to me,” he told The Point.
It was a stance that has inspired many since and it ultimately meant that he never played test rugby again. But Lloyd McDermott wouldn’t have changed a thing about his decision.
“No regrets at all. Even if I would have toured as an Aboriginal, I wouldn’t have enjoyed being anywhere there and seeing the black people on one side and the whites on the other,” he said.
He would go on to become Australia's first Indigenous barrister and later established the Lloyd McDermott Rugby Development Team working with young men and women to achieve their dreams with a focus on rugby, education, scholarships and leadership.
During South Africa's apartheid years from 1948 to 1994 the Wallabies toured the country to play the Springboks on four occasions.
But it was during those tours in the 1960's which opened the eyes of the "Wallaby Seven" - a group of non-Indigenous players (Jim Boyce, Anthony Abrahams, Paul Darveniza, Terry Forman, Barry McDonald, Jim Roxburgh and Bruce Taafe) who were shocked and appalled by the treatment of black South Africans in their own country.
All seven men would cop plenty of flak for their calls to boycott the 1971 Springbok tour of Australia.
Jim Boyce, is part of that historic seven, he played on the wing for the Wallabies against the Springboks on the 1963 tour there.
He remembers meeting the then South African Minister for Justice, John Vorster, who would later become Prime-Minister who proudly declaring to Jim that "no black man will ever wear the Springbok jersey".
“You never really realise how bad it is until you get there and how the country was absolutely split in two and how blacks and coloured people got such a raw deal out of the whole arrangement,” recalled Boyce.
Boyce kept his Springboks jumpers and they would play a massive part in the 1971 protests against the South African rugby side when it came to Australia.
“This was a larger issue than just South Africa, it actually had ramifications for how one thought about how Aboriginal people were being treated in Australia and how their history had been treated in the past,” he said.
Aboriginal activist and now professor at the Victorian University, Gary Foley, recalls those 1971 protests and how Aboriginal rights also became a focus of discussion alongside apartheid.
“At one of those rallies, Paul Coe, jumped and commandeered the microphone and issued a challenge to the members of the Australian Anti-Apartheid Movement. He said, you know, how is it that you people can come out here in these sorts of numbers on the streets of Australia in opposition to racism halfway around the planet and yet you ignore what's going on in this country.”
When the South Africans came to Sydney for the Test, Jim Boyce's old Springboks jerseys were handed out to Gary Foley, Paul Coe, Billy Craigie and Gary Williams to wear.
“It was the perfect opportunity for a bit of political theatre on our part and it proved to be extraordinarily effective. Well the NSW Special Branch of Police who saw us automatically assumed that we'd stolen them, so they grabbed both of us, dragged us inside the motel and paraded the entire South African rugby team in front of us demanding to know which one of them that we'd stolen these football jerseys off. And these South African rugby players were absolutely furious.”
Foley says the '71 protests lead into much larger land rights action on the streets in 1972 and the establishment of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy on the lawns of Old Parliament House in Canberra.
“That led to the Australian Prime Minister at the time, Billy McMahon, becoming so nervous that he felt compelled in January 1972 to make his ill-fated statement on Aboriginal land rights - which triggered the Aboriginal Embassy the next day. You know, the Aboriginal Embassy was the most effective Aboriginal protest of the entire 20th century.”
After the extensive sporting and economic bans, Apartheid fell and South Africa returned to the international rugby scene in 1992. The country won the 1995 Rugby World Cup and were victorious again in 2007.
The Aboriginal Tent Embassy still stands proud on the lawns of the Old Parliament House in Canberra where it remains a symbol of Indigenous rights and the ongoing struggle for our people.