Vale Paul Darveniza, Wallaby #525

Tue, Jun 18, 2024, 1:32 AM
Classic Wallabies
by Classic Wallabies

The Australian rugby community is mourning the loss of Wallaby #525, Paul Darveniza, who passed away on June 11.

Paul Darveniza was a tough, robust and durable hooker whose considerable rugby talents are equally remembered with his decision, alongside six of his Wallaby teammates - Tony Abrahams, Jim Boyce, Barry McDonald, 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 Brisbane, Darveniza played his first rugby at Cranbrook School in Sydney’s east. He played two years in the 1st XV (1961-62) and represented Combined Association Schools.

After school he played his club rugby at Eastern Suburbs before he joined the University of Sydney in 1966. Darveniza’s scrummaging skills were truly harnessed and developed by Dave Brockhoff (Wallaby #364) who assumed the University coaching duties in 1967. Despite his consistently good club form, Darveniza had to bide his time for national selection due to the presence of long-serving Test hooker Peter Johnson.

In 1967, Darveniza made his senior representative debut for New South Wales against Queensland at Ballymore. When Johnson captained Australia on a short tour of Ireland and Scotland at the end of 1968, Darveniza was his backup hooker but did not play in either of the Tests. In 1969 Darveniza was finally rewarded with a Test debut against Five Nations champions Wales in Sydney. Later that year he toured South Africa and earned caps in the final three internationals. 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 of 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, Darveniza replied, “I will not play against South Africa again. We should not send teams to South Africa, but if they are officially invited we should not condemn them for coming. But for myself, I will play against South Africans neither here nor in their own country. I will certainly not be playing in their tour next year [1971].” 

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). This was the last time the trio were chosen for their country. The “Rugby Seven” as they had become known, were later 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.

Post-rugby, Darveniza undertook two overseas stints in the field of neurology where he attained a fellowship to the National Hospital for Neurology Queens Square in London and later became a Fellow at the National Institutes of Health Bethesda USA. Upon his return to Australia, Darveniza took up a Consultant Neurologist post at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney.

Paul Darveniza played four Tests for Australia in a one-year international career.

He is survived by wife Anne, and Alison Gilbert, children Lisa, Ella, Sam, Matthew and Madeleine and grandchildren Imogen, Luca, Neo, Mika, Aiko, and Oshi. 

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