Becoming An Aussie Was My Proudest Moment But I’m Glad It Didn’t Happen On Australia Day
In a blustering bid to reignite his conservative base, the Prime Minister began his week by announcing he’d force councils to hold citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day.
It was in response to councils such as Byron Shire, which announced in September last year that it’d move its Australia Day event forward a day in order to acknowledge that January 26 marks “the day the cultural decimation and denigration of the First Australians began.”
Former Treasurer Wayne Swan tweeted the best reaction: “A desperate PM tries to reignite the culture war to camouflage his war on working people through wage suppression & tax cuts for the wealthy.”
It certainly feels like an odd issue for the most powerful person in our country to be spending his time on. Bill Shorten claimed there are 537 councils in Australia, about 530 of which already have citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day. But the Morrison Government said there are actually some 100 councils that hold citizenship ceremonies outside of Australia Day. It's unclear whether those councils also hold ceremonies on Australia Day -- some councils hold monthly or quarterly ceremonies, while others will move ceremony dates due to considerations like weather.
Regardless, it reveals a Prime Minister totally out of his depth and with a meagre policy agenda. Young people are dying at festivals in the midst of the Liberal Party’s dogged opposition to pill testing, yet that remains a “matter for the states.” And yet, the PM will intervene to tell possibly just seven councils when they can and can’t hold a ceremony. It defines poor leadership.
Not to mention the fact we’re still the only modern nation without a treaty with its indigenous peoples, and the progress that still needs to happen on Closing the Gap, to reduce disadvantage among indigenous people.
As it happens, I stand with councils who’ve taken a bold stance, changing the date of their ceremonies in recognition of the contention surrounding January 26 .
My own Australian citizenship ceremony was the happiest and proudest day of my adult life. I’m relieved it didn’t happen on Australia Day.
By a joyous twist of fate, it happened on my birthday in 2016 -- a double celebration, and double the Prosecco. It was also conducted by Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore, which tripled my joy. As I obviously couldn’t vote pre-citizenship, I’d exercised my democratic responsibility by campaigning for her in the most recent landslide election.
What made me proudest, though, was seeing the Australian, Aboriginal and rainbow LGBTQI flags all together on that stage. The ceremonies are lovely (I’ve attended three since, as a guest) -- they’re always surprisingly moving. It gives you the opportunity to reflect on the vast gratitude and respect for the new country you’ve selected as your home -- and that includes all its history, not just post-invasion.
Waltzing Matilda is played on the piano, you make a pledge to the country, you learn the words to your new national anthem and you're fed lamingtons. At mine, a wonderful speech was given by the Lord Mayor on why diversity is so important to her great city. I genuinely had spine-tingles. I felt so welcomed.
Recently my sister asked me who I’d cheer for if England played Australia in the World Cup. It did not compute, so I transferred it to a preferred interest: who do I cheer for in Eurovision since Australia was permitted entry?
And the answer is Australia. Every time*. I chose this country and, to quote Scott Morrison, I'm all for the idea that anyone who has a go, will get a go. But I won’t do it without the full respect due to our first peoples. (*Ok ok, the main reason is that Australia's entry songs have been well better than the UK’s).
There was, however, something the PM said that I must admit, I fully agree with. He tweeted: "[I'm] happy for people to put on the boardies and thongs for the barbecue afterwards, but sometimes people turn up in dress that's just not appropriate, doesn't show the appropriate respect both for our national day and for citizenship ceremony itself."
The reason the day was so important to me is because there are few ceremonious occasions in your adult life where you get to don a suit, polish your brogues and indulge in some pomp and circumstance -- outside of your wedding (then impossible for me; it was before marriage equality) and university graduation.
I'd worked really hard (jumping through a dozen visa hoops) and made many sacrifices to move here, so the occasion called for it.
It’s a rare privilege of Commonwealth citizens to be able to hold two passports. For that, I overflow with daily gratitude under the blazing sun on the glistening beaches sipping the world’s best strong soy mocha.
But the largest chunk of my gratitude is towards the Aboriginal people on whose land I work, play and sunbathe.
If you have a citizenship ceremony scheduled for Australia Day, I wouldn’t blame you at all if you requested a less divisive day, out of respect for our country’s elders. Who knows, you may hit the jackpot, like me, and have it rescheduled on your birthday.