By Muyiwa Adetiba
The visas to Australia came on the day we were originally billed to travel and two days after we had cancelled our tickets to avoid ‘losing everything.’ It was the culmination of three months of anxiety, of supplying information after information, of taking a fresh polio injection at my age and in desperation, of enlisting the help of my younger colleagues to find out what had gone wrong.
As it was to be expected, I had completely lost interest in the trip by the time the electronic visa came. But my wife still wanted to go—it was her Congress and she hadn’t missed any in a quarter of a century.
So she enlisted the intercession of the ‘advanced party’—those in our group whose visas had scaled through and were on their way—her sister whom I respect a lot, and my daughters. They tried to make me see the advantage inseizing the opportunity to visit Australia, the country they call ‘down under’ or ‘deep south’ on account of its distance.
In the end, the pressure and my curiosity to visit the ‘land of the kangaroos’won. But it meant making fresh arrangements within 48 hours. It meant missing the first day of the World Congress of Accountants and being barely able to make the second day.
We got to Australia in the early hours of Tuesday morning after leaving Nigeria on Saturday night. Australia from the air looked beautiful and peaceful.
The roads were wide and the little of the traffic I saw, flowed. But this was just something my sub-conscious noted. It was not something I could savour. A country that had taken three months to issue a visa could not be very friendly, I reasoned. Besides, we had been strongly advised to take copies of all our submissions along including the new yellow card with the polio injection. Especially the new yellow card with the polio injection.
This didn’t bode well for a smooth immigration. We disembarked. Immigration and passport control loomed. In the end, it was much ado about little. The young lady that attended to us was warm and friendly. She didn’t ask for the tons of documents we were asked to bring along. She didn’t ask for the electronic visa we advisedly printed out—she could see it on the screen she explained quietly, almost gently. She asked for the passport and the yellow card and in minutes, we were out. Freedom!!
There was a weight off my chest as we stepped into the baggage section. We retrieved our luggage and moved towards customs. Australia is reputedly fussy about food and we had respected that. Besides, I have always been a light traveller. So custom was a breeze and soon, greater freedom beckoned. Now outside, I could savour the air which was cool and crisp. I could appreciate the surroundings which were well laid out and neat.
We quickly found our way to the apartment, showered, changed and made our way to the International Conference Centre where the congress was taking place and which, conveniently, was a walking distance away. I soon noticed that the people didn’t stare despite the fact that we were blacks dressed in brightly coloured African attire in a place where blacks were a rarity.
I noticed because I was half expecting it so I had looked out for it. I also noticed that if you missed your way, you were not going to get help from passers-by very quickly. Everyone, well almost everyone, had their ears stuffed with plugs connected to one gadget or the other and didn’t much appreciate interruption or distraction. And that’s another thing. Sydney is big on electronic devices.
Anything that could be electronically operated was preferred to manual. You could spend a month where we stayed without meeting the housekeeper, receptionist —if they had one-or even your neighbour. Your life within the apartment was so electronically controlled and confining that it could be lonely.
Another big thing is in its orderliness and time consciousness. The International Conference Centre hosted thousands of delegates across the world, yet not once was there a press of bodies. We were fed about twice a day, yet not once was there a scramble for food and drink or a need to. In all of these, not a single paper for direction or agenda was lying around. It is also instructive that not a single conference paper was issued out.
Everything was electronic. There were apps to show you which lecture to attend and where. As for timeliness, everything started and ended when they were supposed to start and end. If you asked to be picked up at five past two, then someone would knock on your door not later than five past two.
But what impressed me most is how they have put their natural assets to use. The conference centre is sited in Darling Harbour which is almost the epi-centre of the down-town area. The most dominant feature is the lagoon around which commercial and recreational activities have sprouted. Banks, hotels, shops, the famous Sydney Opera are complemented by restaurants, clubs, lounges, cafes and tourists attractions.
The water itself is kept busy with entertaining but money spinning activities. It has different motor sports, water taxis and of course, cruise ships that vary in content and price. You could go to Darling Harbour everyday for a month and still not cover its various activities.
All I could think of as we walked the harbour was our own lagoon in Lagos and what we could have done with it especially the area around Falomo and KofoAbayomi Drive. But it is not only with the Darling Harbour.
A visit to the Blue Mountains, a two hour journey away, also typifies their use of natural resources. ‘Blue Mountains of Sydney’ as it is called is nature’s wonder. One million hectares of ravines, gorges, aged rocks and trees and lush green vegetation.
The mist atop the mountain is bluish in colour; hence its name. You can explore the mountain through helicopter, cable wire or road. Nigeria is not shy of nature’s wonders. But how many of them have been developed?
Again, a small enterprising community has been developed around the mountain. There are restaurants, lounges, and shops for artefacts. The place is marketed as having cleaner, cooler and crisper air so schools and estates have developed. Think of how many of these places we have in Nigeria and think of how many of our unemployed youths they would have absorbed.
Added to its orderliness and cleanliness, a first time visitor to Sydney will easily feel its attachment to good old Britain as exemplified by its generous use of British names and right-hand driving. However, you could not but notice planning and foresight.
Its ancestors might have been cast-offs from Britain but they have successfully made lemonade out of the lemon handed them. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the original land owners, the aborigines are almost extinct.