Australian Citizenship And What It Really Means
By Sue Ellson
As a ‘refugee’ from Adelaide who moved to Melbourne in 1994, I could certainly relate to the concept of adopting Australia (or Victoria) as my new home. There were people from all walks of life there, smiling and happy to officially become an Australian.
I first met the conferree 11 days after his arrival in Melbourne from Brazil on 13 April 2007 at one of the monthly Welcome to Melbourne events I have hosted since 16 January 2005.
He was extremely excited to become an Australian citizen but was also disappointed that someone else he knew was becoming a citizen ‘as a safety net and back up option’ – and he wondered whether or not the Australian Government could change the rules to perhaps allow more people to live here (with the relevant visa) but ONLY give Australian Citizenship to those people who truly wanted to be Australian.
Unfortunately I could not imagine a test that would assess someone’s true heartfelt feelings about their adopted country. How could any government create a test or process that would ensure only ‘true believers’ would become Australian citizens?
On the way into the MCG, he was interviewed by Natalie Craig from The Age newspaper and was again given an opportunity to reflect on his reasons for moving to Australia. Natalie’s story from the day is online at The Age here.
I first became involved with Australian Citizenship on 27 May 2003 – when I was approached by the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (now the Department of Immigration and Border Protection) to promote the concept of Australian Citizenship to English speaking arrivals, many who had lived in Australia for years but never become Australian Citizens.
On 15 August 2003 I was very priviliged to be able to attend the Highest Australian Citizenship Ceremony at the Rialto Building in Melbourne and then on 4 September 2003, the first airborne Citizenship Ceremony in a Qantas aircraft that departed from Melbourne’s Tullamarine airport, flew over Victoria and Melbourne city and then returned to Tullamarine (sitting in a seat across the aisle from Mao’s Last Dancer – Li Cunxin and his lovely wife Mary McKendry).
Shortly after on 9 May 2004, I attended the previous largest Australian Citizenship Ceremony at Melbourne’s Exhibition Building (the site of Australia’s first Commonwealth Parliament in 1901).
As glamorous as these events sound, they did not compare with the feeling of the 19 June 2010 event, as I was seated by someone whom I met soon after his arrival, have seen his trials and tribulations over the last three years and then saw the culmination of his life goal of moving to Australia and making it his new home.
His other guest was an Australian who has lived in other countries around the world and the three of us sat next to a man from Israel who was there on his own. For some reason, he assumed the conferree with us was British (perhaps because both of his guests were Anglo Australians).
But I wondered at the time, how many newcomers go through these milestones in life without new friends to share the experience?
As the Founder and Director of Newcomers Network, I was reminded once again of why I do this work – because I know it makes a difference and it is my absolute honour and privilege to be able to work with such proactive people. My tips and advice to this conferree insured that he had friends – not only at the Australian Citizenship ceremony but at celebrations associated with this special occasion.
In a harmonious society, we are often reminded to view people who look different and consider how much the ‘same’ they are to us. However, as my local church minister suggested, sometimes people look the same but feel different. I only moved from Adelaide to Melbourne, but I really related to this comment too. I would like to pass on my hearty congratulations to all of the new Citizens of Australia who have attended their own Australian Citizenship Ceremony.
Australian Citizenship Pledge
From this time forward, [under God],
I pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people,
whose democratic beliefs I share,
whose rights and liberties I respect, and
whose laws I will uphold and obey.
[under God] is optional.
Australian Citizenship Day is celebrated on 17 September each year.
Harmony Day is celebrated on 21 March each year.
To become an Australian Citizen, there are various pathways.
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