CLEAN, SAFE AND SO RACIST
I'M UNDERGOING therapy, thanks to Australia and its racist inhabitants. My shrink is helping me exorcise my feelings of inferiority.
I had been told about racism in Australia, but I was not prepared for what I experienced...
I knew I was destined for my shrink's consulting room the moment I was rudely stopped by what looked like an Australian immigration officer while making my way to the V Australia airplane at OR Tambo.
With his nose in the air he singled me out, looked me up and down and arrogantly demanded to know what I was going to do in his country. He rudely asked for my passport and a press card as proof that I really was a journalist. He then asked me when I was coming back. When I said after a week his answer was: "You'd better!"
After a rather embarrassing scene that attracted the attention of onlookers, I was finally "let free".
My misery turned into joy when I got into the welcoming inaugural V Australia plane that carried the owner and one of the richest men in the world, Sir Richard Branson, who was sitting a few seats away from me.
The airline that has the friendliest staff I have ever dealt with, operates twice weekly from Melbourne to Johannesburg. Business class on V Australia to Melbourne until November 30 costs from AUD $5509 (R37334,75) including taxes and booking fee.
After going through some security checks in Melbourne, we checked into our hotel.
Arriving in Melbourne was a culture shock! The whole time I was there I saw only two Africans, who both looked miserable.
Walking on the streets of Melbourne with two white South African journos, my blackness attracted attention everywhere we went. My self-esteem was constantly undermined.
Passers-by looked at me as if I were an alien from another planet. I had to brave and ignore nasty comments passed at me, from being called "a baboon from Africa" to being uncomfortably stared at while eating in restaurants.
Some of the things I experienced I cannot write, lest I upset some readers. I could see it was difficult for some waiters to serve a black person. What I gathered about Australians was that they found it difficult to relate to me on a human level. The only warmth I got was from some Chinese people, who seem to be the hewers of wood and drawers of water in Australia.
On the good side, Melbourne is such a clean city. It has an excellent public transport system and drivers follow the rules of the road diligently.
You can get filtered water free from public taps. Everybody seems to have a sense of purpose. Most of the people, men and women, are nicely and neatly dressed. Many people seem to be health conscious, as you can see numbers of people exercising.
Night life in Melbourne is active. The city is so safe that people wine and dine until the wee hours of the morning.
Night owls are blessed with a number of trendy clubs and bars, ideal places for convivial drinking and socialising. The city is also famous for its coffee and old world café culture.
We visited Federation Square, the city's landmark cultural space, where we sat in the trendiest restaurants and the food was great.
Melbourne is also a good shopping spot for shopaholics, who can choose designer stores around the city.
A glass of wine anyone?
Within a one to two hours drive from Melbourne there are five principal wine-growing regions that offer great wines and food and a range of markets and festivals.
These include the Yarra Valley, Macedon Ranges, Mornington Peninsula, Geelong and Sunbury. We tasted our way around Yarra Valley wines while enjoying the beautiful vistas.
We also visited Eureka Skydeck, the highest viewing platform in the Southern Hemisphere in the Eureka Tower. The building is the tallest residential building in the world. We enjoyed a glass cube ride that projects three metres from the side of the building.
Melbourne is known for hosting major sporting events including the Australian Tennis Open. We had the opportunity to drive in Albert Park, where the Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix is taking place.
l The writer's trip was sponsored by Tourism Australia and V Australia.