Barry Stuart McDonald
- 533Wallaby Number
Barry McDonald was a small in stature back-row forward who played with the fire of a titan and punched well above his relative lighter weight.
McDonald’s rugby career is equally remembered for his decision, alongside six of his Wallaby teammates - Tony Abrahams, Jim Boyce, Paul Darveniza, Terry Forman, Jim Roxburgh and Bruce Taafe - to stand down from possible selection against the touring all-white 1971 Springboks in protest at South Africa’s apartheid regime.
Born in Wau, Papua New Guinea, McDonald was educated at The Cranbrook School in Sydney’s east. Not surprisingly he gravitated to play his club rugby with Eastern Suburbs however for the first five seasons struggled to identify whether his best position was at hooker or flanker.
A first grade debut, on the side of the scrum, came in 1962 before McDonald left for England after the club enjoyed a strong 1965 season. He returned two years later but was graded in 4ths. McDonald believed that the fourth-grade games were a tad early in the day for him and with the encouragement of future Wallaby coach Dave Brockhoff (Wallaby #364) he upped and left for Sydney University. Brockhoff believed McDonald would be an excellent addition to the University rugby club and, given the right Brock-style tutelage, would become a better player for the experience.
McDonald found that in order to play rugby for the University he first had to enrol in a course. He chose Arts with little credentials other than a modest ability as a pianist. While it is arguable that few less academically minded men have ever represented the great institution McDonald proved an instant hit with the football club. He played two seasons at Camperdown (1967-68) and was part of the 1968 premiership winning first grade side.
The following year McDonald was no longer eligible to play at University so he moved across town to Randwick and by early May was selected to play in his first representative match, for Sydney against Victoria. He held his spot for the following two Sydney matches with NSW Country and Queensland however North’s Keith Henry beat him for the coveted state jersey. Nonetheless, the selectors must have liked what they saw given McDonald, and not Henry, was named in the 30-man Wallaby squad for the upcoming tour to South Africa.
While he was the shortest and lightest of the forwards on tour at 1.76 metres and 13 stone, McDonald made up for that with effort and commitment however injuries, firstly a rib and then torn shoulder ligaments that looked as though they would end his tour, restricted him to just eight of the 26 matches. Despite those setbacks McDonald maintained his training and when deemed fit he appeared in four of the final five matches, including the 4th Test. While a dead-rubber with South Africa holding a 3-0 series lead, the Wallabies ‘gave their finest performance of the tour’ and the tackling, which had been somewhat fragile, was punishing. McDonald more than held his own against the might of the great Springbok trio of Jan Ellis, Piet Grayling and Tommy Bedford.
In the final days on tour, Abrahams wrote a letter to the editor of The Sydney Morning Herald. The letter, headlined ‘South Africa and Sport’, was published on October 8 and generated much discussion and opinion about the nation’s racial discrimination policies. Upon the teams’ return to Australia the other six players agreed that while they were not political activists they had a ‘moral responsibility’ to oppose apartheid.
In May, 1970 an opportunity presented itself to speak out. Geoffrey Robertson, the future Queens Counsel and international human-rights barrister, was also the editor of Blackacre, the journal of the Sydney University Law Society. Robertson invited the Wallabies to be interviewed about their time in South Africa. When asked whether Australia should send future teams to the Republic, McDonald replied “definitely not”. “The impression we give by doing this [touring] - or the impression the South African press and public officials give for us - is that we agree with apartheid, we officially endorse racist sport….You must understand just how big sport is over there, how much it means to the country’s image, and what a fantastic influence it can have on local politics….Sport is used in South Africa as a major political weapon - and Australia, by sending teams, is strengthening the hand of the supporters of apartheid.” The article that resulted from the interview, ‘Political Football’, also published in The Australian (21/05/70), was a definitive catalyst for the organised opposition to the 1971 Springbok tour. The players then wrote to the Australian Rugby Union and confirmed what they had told Robertson: if selected, they would not play against the Springboks.
Despite having fallen out with the ARU, both Roxburgh and McDonald were selected to play for Australia in the one-off Test against Scotland (Darveniza was a reserve). The catalyst for the 23-3, six tries to none victory was attributed to the ‘mobile Australian forwards who never allowed the Scots to get off the mark.’ That match marked the end of McDonald’s representative career
The “Rugby Seven” as they had become known, were later be hailed as the “Magnificent Seven” after it was recognised that a direct line could be traced from their actions, to the referendum that marked the end of apartheid in 1994. Their deeds were honoured when South African President Nelson Mandela bestowed upon them the Medal of Freedom. ‘I have never doubted that I made the right decision,’ McDonald later said. ‘It was simply the right thing to do, and after what I’d said in the Blackacre article it would have been hypocritical to do anything else. All this is true. What’s not is that it was a big sacrifice for me to make.’
McDonald won his first Test cap at flanker in combination with Greg Davis and Hugh Rose in the 4th Test, 8-19 loss to South Africa in Bloemfontein.
McDonald once again formed the back row with Davis and Rose in the 23-3 victory over Scotland at the S.C.G.