Tag Archives: Discrimination

Bogan on board

We had been discussing the issue of hard-line community attitudes towards Muslims over the dinner table. I was quite chuffed when my daughter Laura told me, in the course of this discussion, that I was the most non-judgmental person of anyone that she had ever met. Whilst being enormously pleased with her declaration, I was under no illusion. Almost everyone, including myself, carries the invisible baggage of our prejudices with us through life. Sadly, I had to face up to this reality just a few weeks later.

Laura and I had boarded our flight in Fiji to fly back to Melbourne, when one of the passengers came up the aisle and sat down in a seat across from us. He was a large, unkempt bloke wearing shabby, loose-fitting jeans and a T-shirt with a slogan and picture of a motorbike on the back of it. He had a few days’ stubble on his face.

Bloody petrol-head, I thought to myself. Being of the tree hugging persuasion myself, I have a somewhat negative attitude towards petrol-heads. The fact that some hoon had done wheelies and snakies a fortnight earlier on the sodden lawn of the lovely park that I pass on my daily walk had done nothing to endear me to such people.

Once the flight was on its way a little girl crossed the aisle and sat down on the empty seat next to this fellow. He opened a picture book and quietly read the story to her while she leant against him. I realised that he was part of a family group. His partner and their child had been sitting across the aisle from him.

My attitude towards him softened somewhat. In my opinion anyone who reads books to children picks up quite a few Brownie points.

An hour or so later he got up to go to the toilet. On his way back to his seat I had a clearer view of the writing on the back of his T-shirt. Above a picture of a motorbike traveling at speed it read:

MEET THE CHALLENGE

100% survival Children’s Cancer

Snowy Ride 2015

 By now I was choking on my attitude and on the ease with which I had cast judgment solely on the basis of this man’s appearance.

Not long afterwards it was announced over the intercom that there was a medical emergency on the plane and a request was made that any doctor or nurse on board should make themselves known to the cabin crew as a matter of urgency. The fellow in the T-shirt immediately got up and waved to the stewardess. He opened the hand luggage locker above his seat, delved into his bag and extracted a stethoscope, before following the stewardess down the aisle.

Fifteen minutes later he returned to his seat. “How did you go?” his partner enquired from across the aisle.

“No problems. It’s all been sorted,” he replied nonchalantly as he was putting his stethoscope away in his bag.

I overheard one of the other passengers asking him whether he was a doctor. It transpired that he was a nurse and that he and his partner had just completed a two year stint training health workers in Fiji.

When Laura had described me as non-judgmental at the dinner table I had been really pleased with myself.

Non-judgmental??

I hang my head in shame.

A chance encounter with the Primrose Rugby Club

Primrose Rugby Club 2

On a blustery day in September 2012 my wife and I were relaxing in our seats in the rear of a plane on the tarmac at Cape Town’s international airport on our way back to Australia, when a babble of excited voices filled the aircraft and a group of young boys, accompanied by some adults, made their way to where we were sitting. We quietly braced ourselves for a long and noisy flight.

The boys were all dark-skinned and clearly belonged to some sort of sporting club.

Whilst growing up in South Africa during the Apartheid era, I had never once played sport against, nor even sat next to anyone who was not white. Under the laws of the time everything relating to racial matters was separate or ‘apart’ – sport, public transport, park benches, churches, schools, toilets and even public parks.

Having been active in the Anti-Apartheid movement for many years, it was a novel and heart-warming experience for me to share the plane with these excited, dark-skinned youngsters.

Their coach’s seat was not far from mine, on the other side of the aisle. I could tell that he had an excellent rapport with the kids. One of the boys came past and ruffled his hair. When they became too excited and noisy, he called them to order and they quietened down immediately.`

“What is the name of your club?” I asked the coach.

“The Primrose Rugby Club. Our boys are going to compete in a rugby competition for Under 13s in New Zealand.”

I had never heard of the Primrose Rugby Club, so I asked him how long the club had been in existence. “It started in 1896,” he said. “It’s a community club. I used to play for them myself when I was young. We have at least one boy here who is going to play for South Africa one day,” he added confidently.

The separation or ‘apartheid’ between races when I grew up was so comprehensive that this rugby club, which had existed not far from where I had lived as a schoolboy, was unfamiliar to me.

“Do your teams sometimes fly to other parts of South Africa to compete?” I asked him.

“Oh no, very few of our players would ever have been in an aeroplane before.”

The excitement amongst the boys was palpable. One of them had taken more than a hundred photos on his digital camera in the plane even before take-off. Another exclaimed: “Look! They even have little televisions in here.” He turned to me. “Could you please show me how to switch this on?”

The plane started moving towards the runway. I asked the young fellow across the aisle from me if he had ever travelled in a plane before. “No, never,” he replied. “I’m very scared!”

As the plane gathered speed on the runway the boys’ voices grew louder and some of them cried out aloud in fright when it lifted off the ground. Suddenly, one of them started singing the post-Apartheid South African national anthem, “Nkosi Sikilel iAfrika” (“Lord Bless Africa”, in the Xhosa language) and all the others immediately joined in to sing their fear of flying away. It was an enthusiastic and beautiful impromptu performance.

Later, back in Melbourne, I googled the Primrose Rugby Club and found an amateur video of the boys on a New Zealand rugby field, standing in line and facing a long line of their young New Zealand opponents, who were performing the haka. I could imagine just how immensely the boys of the Primrose Rugby Club would have enjoyed that moment, and I was grateful that something like this had become possible in my lifetime.

Some months later I googled the Primrose Rugby Club again, curious to know how their tour of New Zealand had gone. One website informed me that they had made history as the first ever international team to have been invited to compete in the prestigious Annual New Zealand Junior Rugby Festival. Then I found a photo on another website that caused me to be overwhelmed with great emotion, as well as with a strange feeling of immense pride. There was the trophy for the Under 13 Champions of the New Zealand Junior Rugby Festival, perched on the shore of Table Bay, with Cape Town in the background.

Primrose Rugby Club trophy