Colin Tatz: Featured in a news story about his migration from apartheid South Africa to Australia

Historians in the News

Professor Colin Tatz brings an intimate understanding of life as an outsider to his studies of Indigenous Australia. Born to a Jewish family in South Africa on the eve of WWII, hatred of intolerance is a recurring theme in his life's work as an historian.

During the 1960s many of Colin's university colleagues were imprisoned without trial for up to eight weeks for protesting apartheid. He describes the atmosphere as fraught, "People were saying 'Get your motor car packed, get your suitcase packed' - there were escape routes".

As he saw it, there were three options for people who remained in the country. "You can either say to yourself, I'll become an Afrikaner nationalist; well obviously as a non-Afrikaner, you can't. You can become an African nationalist; and I realised you can't really become a nationalist on behalf of another group of which you are not a member."

The third option, which soon became untenable for Colin, was to pretend there was nothing going on around him. The catalyst for him to leave South Africa came when he gave what should have been a routine blood donation. He noticed the nurse place a label with a white circle on his blood vial and asked her, "Is that what I think it is?" She said, "Yes, we've been told to get ready for new legislation. It will be against the law to transfuse the blood of a member of any one race, into the body of a member of another race."

Colin remembers, "I went home and I said, 'I'm out of here'. Not even the Nazis did that. The white circle meant I was white and my blood could only be given to a white donee. Here was a life giving gift but it was restricted to a racial hierarchy".

After leaving South Africa on the last day of 1960, Colin, his wife and infant son settled in Canberra. He says he was an enthusiastic immigrant. "I took to it as if I'd been here all my life. I wanted to be here. Many of them (White South Africans) would rather not be here, if, quote, not for the circumstances. I got my citizenship papers 365 days after I landed here. I couldn't wait to learn the idiom. I couldn't wait to drink cold beer."

comments powered by Disqus