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This is the first post on A Pair of Boots and a Backpack that’s being brought to you by a true blue Australian. And no, it’s not a guest post — I became a true blue Australian on Australia Day!
After being approved for citizenship on August 28, I had to wait over five months to attend a ceremony since Brisbane City Council doesn’t seem to have a lot of ceremonies. I had the option of trying to rush the ceremony through, but that would have meant it would be in the back rooms of City Hall and I’d lose the experience of a true citizenship ceremony.
Why is this ceremony so important? Well, it’s a great day to celebrate something that will probably never happen again in your lifetime — becoming a citizen of another country. Plus, importantly, Australian immigration will not give you a citizenship certificate until you have attended one.
I had no idea what to expect from my ceremony. Would it be the long, drawn out pain of a graduation? Or would it be short and sweet, encapsulating what it is to be an Australian?
Luckily, it was the latter. I would say the most long, drawn out part of the entire process was lining up with the other 1200 people that were being granted their citizenship. Apparently it was the largest ceremony in the entire country (which makes sense, since Brisbane is the largest city council in the entire country).
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to meet up with my family and friends after checkin as I was told I had to proceed directly to the auditorium — with a stop on the way to enroll myself to vote. Voting is mandatory in Australia, so they wanted to make sure they got everyone enrolled while they had them there.
Since I’d arrived quite early, I had plenty of time to sit in the mass of new citizens that were all looking into the masses in the Convention Centre’s Great Hall trying to find anyone I knew. Everyone was waving the Australian flags we’d been given on arrival, which seemed to make it even more difficult to spot anyone. After a few phone calls I was able to find a few people, but I still couldn’t find everyone — and they couldn’t pick me out either! At least we had the shared experience and they knew I was there…somewhere. It was great to feel so supported by the people that have made my Australian experience as good as it has been.
You’ll be surprised to know that I did not touch a single camera for the entire ceremony. As soon as the lights dimmed and the first notes of ‘I Am Australian’ began, I gave my full attention to the stage (with the exception of quite a few glances around to my family and friends). I wanted to be fully in the moment and not miss anything because I was fiddling with a camera setting.
After a beautiful slideshow opening that was more than a little tear-jerking, the Nunukul Yuggera Aboriginal dance troupe performed a welcoming ceremony for us. I loved their impressions of kangaroos hopping (and lying on their backs scratching their stomachs!) but the best part was the traditional lighting of the fire, using sticks and kindling native to the Brisbane area. Within seconds, they had a live fire burning on stage, which one of the dancers then held in his hands as he danced on. It was very impressive, especially since it didn’t set off any fire alarms!
I was also very impressed by Lord Mayor Graham Quirk’s speech. In it, he told us that he understands that many of us have come from difficult backgrounds in countries where there is a lot of hate…but that we needed to leave that hate at the door as we became Australians. I was surprised that he said it so bluntly, but at the same time, it’s a valuable message.
Another valuable message from the Lord Mayor: “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!”
Even though we hadn’t said the pledge yet, we replied as true Aussies would with “Oi! Oi! Oi!”
Instead of having all of us file across the stage one by one to receive our citizenship, we were given our sealed certificate envelopes at checkin. When it came time for us to make the pledge, he invited three “representative families” up onto the stage to receive their certificates on behalf of all of us. The father of a South African family gave a poignant speech about how he moved to Australia to give his children the best, and safest, environment to grow up in. They were even going to give up their South African citizenship completely, which I certainly couldn’t do with my American citizenship.
The pledge was taken in two groups, depending on whether we wanted to include ‘Under God’ in the first line. It went as follows:
From this time forward
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.
When we were all told to open our certificate envelopes, the Great Hall erupted with cheers. I could see James and his family high above me with Australian flags in the air. What a feeling. I didn’t cry, but I think I would have been forgiven if I had!
The new citizens weren’t the only people that got to take a pledge. Everyone in the auditorium was given the chance to say a pledge reaffirming their loyalty to the sunburnt country.
The ceremony ended with the Australian national anthem, which got a giggle out of everyone when the lyrics of the second verse came up on screen. Ask any Australian you know — hardly any of them will know the second verse. I knew it had something to do with the ‘radiant Southern Cross’ so I was very happy they gave us the lyrics!
After the ceremony was over, I was finally given a chance to find my friends and share the moment with them. I was able to show off my citizenship tree (which we are supposed to plant in Brisbane to help make the city more green) and was showered in every Australian novelty item possible. I loved it. I loved that I was finally able to become an official Australian in such a beautiful ceremony.
And don’t worry America, I still love you. I’ve got room in my heart for both of you (although from what I’ve seen on Ellen, your citizenship ceremonies have a way to go to catch up with Australia)!