According to a report of Australia Tibet Council, His Holiness the Dalai Lama touched down in Melbourne Wednesday morning, looking healthy and radiant despite the early flight from Christchurch of New Zealand, where he had met the earthquake-hit victims and offered special prayers. As he exited from the airport terminal, he recognised a familiar Tibetan face in the welcoming crowd and said, "Oh, you are here. Are you happy?" The elderly man nodded and bowed. His Holiness then stepped into his waiting car, and put his hand out to the driver. The man at the wheel clearly hadn't expected a handshake with the Dalai Lama!
The theme of this year's visit - Man of Compassion & Wisdom, His Holiness the Dalai Lama's Journey - couldn't be more apt. After taking Tibet's political leadership at the age of 16, the Dalai Lama retired from his formal role as the head of the government this year. He turns 76 next month - and in his first media interview today, he said he is a free, happy man. He explained, "I, voluntarily and happily, gave my political power to the Tibetan people. I have always wanted to reform Tibet's political and social structure. They are ready now."
His Holiness has been to Australia four times in the last five years, and the media just can't seem to get enough of him. He addressed a packed press conference at the hotel this afternoon. Questions ranged from his life after political retirement to achieving unity in a diverse society and from same-sex marriage to anger management. One journalist asked if he was disappointed that Prime Minister Julia Gillard has not committed to meet him. He replied in a matter-of-fact manner, "No, I am not disappointed. I don't have a political agenda."
In true Melbournian style, Collingwood footy player Harry O'Brien presented His Holiness with a Sherrin football and his team jumper with "Dalai Lama" on the back with a number 8. The two shared an emotional moment as His Holiness reached up to hug the tall footballer and practised a Maori hangi (nose-touching greeting), which he learnt on his New Zealand trip.
The Nobel Peace Laureate was very engaged during the one-on-one interviews with some of the well-known names in Australian media. He had a lengthy chat with Peter Hartcher from the Sydney Morning Herald with whom he discussed the evolution of Tibetan democracy and his sense of optimism with the changing socio-political trends in China. He was also asked about the current political debate on climate action and the Australian government's approach towards asylum seekers. Regarding climate change, His Holiness said we live in a new reality, which is one of increasing interdependence between countries and that there is a responsibility to put global interests above personal needs. Regarding asylum seekers, he said that this is a complicated issue. His Holiness encouraged the government to take a humanitarian approach but at the same time he recognised that there are unscrupulous people seeking to take advantage of the situation.
His Holiness had his share of lighter moments with Australian media personalities Karl Stefanovic from Channel 9's Today show and Dave Hughes from Channel 10's 7 PM Project. Karl tried hard to share a joke, which didn't quite come off. But His Holiness was quick to comfort him for his failure to make a "world figure laugh". His Holiness enjoyed Dave's banter and commented that he is "open, not serious and has strange eyes".