Bob and Tom...and Nelson Mandela

Stu Nettle
The Rearview Mirror

In 1984 Tom Carroll came second to Barton Lynch in marginal waves at the OP Oz in Bondi. Within the span of Carroll's career the result had little distinction. Of far greater significance was a meeting with Australia's then-Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, that occurred after the competition.

Hawke was riding a wave of patriotic fervour following the America's Cup win and by attending the surf competition he was further securing the youth vote. It was a brazen political manoeuvre and it worked.

The Bondi crowd, according to a story in Tracks, 'went berserk' when the 'national hero' made his way onto the stage. The same story contained a photo of Hawke and Carroll chatting and, although brief, the meeting would have a huge bearing on Carroll's future.

Six months later Carroll startled the surfing world by announcing he would boycott the upcoming South African leg of the world tour due to apartheid. By doing so he jeopardised his chance of maintaining the world title that he'd won the previous two years. Following the Bells competition Carroll held a press conference in Torquay to give his reasoning. It was a divisive issue and many people within surfing blamed Carroll for politicising the sport.

As a shy 23-year-old Carroll had put himself into an uncomfortable position. By now the national media had picked up the story and he was forced to justify his decision alone. However an unlikely ally came to his aide in Hawke. The Prime Minister had a long history of campaigning against apartheid: while he was president of the trade unions he'd organised sanctions, and he'd continued to campaign in federal politics by supporting international pressure against the South African regime.

Hawke took great interest in Carroll and they organised to meet in Canberra and discuss his situation. The topic may have been serious yet Carroll's impressions of Hawke were, "that he came across as quite a bloke. Underneath that there was a very clever, and very calculating person, but, you know, he came across as an ordinary Aussie bloke."

Carroll, who was taking a personal stand and hence saw himself as a bit player, was taken aback by Hawke's interest, "I was very surprised by how much knowledge he had of my situation. If any injunctions were forced upon me to go and surf he said he was going to help me legally. So that was a great support."

As it happened Carroll wasn't forced to surf in South Africa but he did lose his main sponsor, Instinct Clothing. Instinct were a US and South African-based company who had South African pro Shaun Tomson as their main rider and the decision riled. Within weeks Carroll's manager Peter Manstead negotiated a contract with Quiksilver that, at one stage, made him the world's highest paid surfer. It's a relationship that continues to this day.

In 1990 the apartheid system began to be dismantled in South Africa, beginning with the release of Nelson Mandela in February. Later that year Mandela visited Australia where he told Hawke, "I want you to know, Bob, that I am here today, at this time, because of you."

Three years later, at a testimonial dinner to Carroll, Hawke gave a stirring speech applauding the surfers principled stand, "He'd won the world championship in 1983, he'd won it in 1984 and he was obviously a top contender for it in 1985, and there was the championship in South Africa and Tom Carroll refused to attend. Because for Tom Carroll the Australian concept of the fair go didn't know and recognise geographic boundaries.

"But his beliefs, his principles, were so strong that he put those in front of everything else and as I recall there has been no example in the history of Australian sport where a champion has been prepared to put principles so manifestly in front of his or her own interests as Tom Carroll did in 1985"

But it didn't end there.

In 1997 Nelson Mandela came to Australia to speak and both Hawke and Carroll were in attendance. Following the speech Carroll thought he'd like to meet Mandela so approached his old ally for an introduction. Hawke obliged telling Mandela the surfers story about boycotting South Africa. In reply Mandela said to Carroll, "I really thank you for that support. When I was in Robben Island I needed support from the international community. Thank you."

Comments

sophie's picture
sophie's picture
sophie commented Wednesday, 21 Jul 2010 at 3:43am

Hawkey's got to be the best allrounder this sports-mad nation has ever had. A prime minister, a Rhodes scholar AND he holds the Australian record for the fastest yard glass skulled. His name is still in the bar at UWA!

benski's picture
benski's picture
benski commented Wednesday, 21 Jul 2010 at 5:41am

Nice one.

tetsuhiko's picture
tetsuhiko's picture
tetsuhiko commented Saturday, 7 Dec 2013 at 4:53am

great post Stu. Just wanted to add, as you were probably aware, the historical footnote of Peter Norman who stood,wearing a badge,alongside Tommie Smith and John Carlos when they gave the black power salute at the 1968 Olympics. The move basically ended Norman's career as he was blackballed from later olympic teams. He came to mind because of this quote:

"as I recall there has been no example in the history of Australian sport where a champion has been prepared to put principles so manifestly in front of his or her own interests as Tom Carroll did in 1985"

I don't want to take anything away from Carroll but I think Norman's move stands along side it even if it hasn't gotten as much press as it deserved.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Tuesday, 10 Dec 2013 at 4:05pm

Hey Ted,

Sorry about the tardy reply, 'twas a great weekend of waves over here so haven't had much keyboard time. Peter Norman? It's a great point you raise and I honestly can't remember if I was aware of Norman's action when I wrote this piece. As you say, he isn't well known here in Australia though he ought to be a national hero.

We turn such frivolous acts as pinching a flag (Dawn Fraser at Tokyo Olympics) into the stuff of folklore but the real actions - the stuff that shapes world history - gets ignored by the culture makers. Note: anyone who hasn't seen 'Salute' should sit down and do themselves a massive favour.

All that said, it's technicality time: When Norman wore the pin in solidarity with Smith and Carlos he didn't know what the reaction would be. He didn't raise his fist so he had good reason to think he'd escape the punishment that was sure to befall the other two. 

However, when Carroll boycotted South Africa he was acutely aware he was jeopardising his world title chances and his sponsorship. He knew what was at stake and did it anyway, which is another way of saying he put principles in front of interests.

How's that for an argument..?

Oh, and loving the Epic Surf TV work. A raised eyebrow never said so much.

thermalben's picture
thermalben's picture
thermalben commented Friday, 17 May 2019 at 7:00am

Fantastic to re-read this article from 2010. 

Vale Bob. 

derra83's picture
derra83's picture
derra83 commented Friday, 17 May 2019 at 9:55am

A toast to the great man

Craig's picture
Craig's picture
Craig commented Friday, 17 May 2019 at 1:19pm

What a great story. Vale Bob.

innatube's picture
innatube's picture
innatube commented Friday, 17 May 2019 at 5:06pm

Thank you Bob.

linez's picture
linez's picture
linez commented Friday, 17 May 2019 at 5:26pm

Would love to know how the conversation went when Instinct dropped him...

eastcoast65's picture
eastcoast65's picture
eastcoast65 commented Friday, 17 May 2019 at 9:00pm

With the passing of Bob Hawke, many of us will be re-reading this article, and remembering what a rich contribution he made to our country. And the actions of Tom Carroll. And perhaps also the great comments and reply written some years ago by Tetsuhiko and Stunet regarding Peter Norman, as well.

Anybody with a spare hour should check out his story, "Salute". I watched this a few years ago with my young daughter at the time. Now twelve years old, she came home from school a few months ago and told me she had decided to write her essay on "Heroic Australians" about Peter Norman. The teacher had not heard of Peter Norman, (fair enough, not so many Australians have), and questioned whether it was a relevant choice. My daughter argued her case, and wrote her story. Possibly my proudest moment as a father.

Vic Local's picture
Vic Local's picture
Vic Local commented Friday, 17 May 2019 at 10:08pm

Peter Norman was a great man. You've got to respect sports people who punch up against organisations that support injustice, even when they pay a price. Respect TC and PN. Colin Kaepernick is another athlete who has paid a huge price.

"angry online, smiley in the brine"

Vic Local's picture
Vic Local's picture
Vic Local commented Friday, 17 May 2019 at 10:01pm

TC was my favourite surfer because of his stance regarding apartheid. Hawke and Carroll were on the right side of history. Who remembers the blokes who criticised Carroll and Hawke's support for SA boycotts? Nobody.

"angry online, smiley in the brine"

innatube's picture
innatube's picture
innatube commented Saturday, 18 May 2019 at 7:42am

You've been watching Hard Quiz

rooftop's picture
rooftop's picture
rooftop commented Sunday, 19 May 2019 at 6:44pm

Great to revisit this elegant article on two giants of Australia.

It's also good to be reminded that they weren't just jumping on some bandwagon, they were putting something real on the line for a just cause - when they didn't have to.

Cheers Bob. Here's to more like you.

batfink's picture
batfink's picture
batfink commented Monday, 20 May 2019 at 6:22pm

The Peter Norman story surpasses this one, I reckon. As with eastcoast, recommend 'Salute'. Thanks Eastcoast, would never have remembered the name.

The Olympic movement disowned him and he was never allowed to compete at that level again. He held the Australian 200 sprint until well into the 2000's, I think it was recently beaten, not sure.

He was hugely recognised in America, has a statue made of him in a town where those African American athletes came from. One or both of them came over here when he died to be his pall bearer.

The egregious Aust. Olympic Committee eventually bowed to pressure to recognise his gesture and apologise, and Federal Parliament also recognised his humanity with speeches from around the house. Took us 40 plus years to recognise it and apologise for his treatment, and I think both were posthumous. The African American community in the US loved him and recognised him decades ago.

I actually remember Rex Mossop on controversy corner or the sports roundup before it railing against 'the outrageous entry of politics into the Olympics'. Apparently hadn't heard of the Olympics just before WWII and Jesse Owens. I would have been 7 at the time. I really believe I'm not making that up. Social Justice Warrior from a very young age, obviously.

Read this for more details

https://www.smh.com.au/sport/finally-the-real-story-about-peter-norman-a...

Good, human story, lots of shade with the light.