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Thousands welcome Oprah in Melbourne

“We’re so lucky to have her here,” the MC told the crowd of up to 8000 people who had come to see American TV queen Oprah Winfrey.


We – the taxpayer – paid about $3 million to be so “lucky”, with the federal government and Tourism Australia luring Winfrey across the Pacific to boost Australia’s tourism industry.

The big crowd at Melbourne’s Federation Square didn’t care, though – they wanted to see the talk show legend in the flesh after watching her on TV for 25 years. Many had been waiting for hours, some since the night before, but the wait was worth it when she arrived a tick after 4pm (AEDT).

Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu – the latter having rushed back after visiting flooded areas of the state – took to the stage with her, receiving as many boos as cheers.

“This is what I call a welcome, I’ve seen nothing like this in my life, my life, my whole life.

Wow!” Winfrey told the crowd, who gave her nothing but cheers. She told them Australia was her chat show’s greatest international audience and that was why she was filming her show in Sydney.

“I love the fact that you all have supported me and supported this show and cared enough to get up and shower, find something to wear and come down here to Federation Square to say hello,” she said.

“This is a place I always wanted to visit … I’m so happy to be here in the third most liveable city in the world … do you all go to friendly school? Everyone is so darn friendly. “I am here with 300 members of my audience to say thank you Melbourne.”

Her appearance lasted barely five minutes, but the crowd were entertained beforehand by musicians Jessica Mauboy and Human Nature and they met some of the American “fans” Winfrey has flown to Australia.

Her schtick was to be excited about us and how “friendly” we are, about the koalas that copulated in front of her in the Whitsundays, about our “breathtaking” country, as well as getting the crowd to sing “Hey Jude”, something she also did with Sir Paul McCartney last week.

After telling the crowd she wanted to see how Australians lived, she then went to be entertained at the Toorak mansion of a fan who happens to be a millionaire jeweller.

So why do so many Aussies love the 56-year-old who was born into poverty but rose up to host the highest-rating talk-show in history and become the richest African American of the 20th century.

“She’s inspirational, to come from her background, what she’s been through, she’s shown that anything’s possible if you want it enough,” said Kenyan-born 20-something Melbourne woman Gloria Owino.

Melbourne filmmaker Peter Cannon said Oprah – who is a leading philanthropist – had done a lot of good in the world.

“She’s changed a lot of things for a lot of people. I take my hat off to her,” he told AAP.

Both thought the $3 million of taxpayers’ money spent on Winfrey was worthwhile because Australia would be “endorsed and promoted” around the world.

Curious young male German tourist Juraj Kolibar claimed to have never heard of Winfrey until Friday but was going to watch her on stage anyway.

However, young Melbourne mother Peta Levi described the event as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity”.

“I thought she was amazing.

To see her in real life is beyond words,” she said.

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