I’ve been an Australian citizen for a week now. In that time I’ve said “G’day” approximately 18 times, eaten approximately two pavlovas, drunk beer (approximately too much) and taken the piss out of some Kiwis. I’ve started every other sentence with the word “mate”. I even said “fair dinkum” at one point – although strictly speaking that’s an English phrase in its origin.
Perhaps most significant, I own and have worn an Australia football shirt with my name on the back. So I reckon I’m fully fledged.
It’s been a long journey to this point – almost a third of my life. It will be 11 years this August since I first arrived on the shores of the place many locals refer to as “this big brown land”. I landed with dreams of working on the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games – a dream I ultimately fulfilled. Work and love have been major reasons for staying since those days, but both have come and gone in that time. Ultimately, lifestyle is the key to the longevity of my stay, and within that I count some amazing friendships.
A yearning to vote got me thinking about becoming a citizen about two years ago. Australia was under the rule of John Howard – a Prime Minister I never liked for a number of reasons. As it turned out, I wasn’t the only one, and my vote, had I been able to cast it, would have simply added one to his humiliating defeat at the hands of our current PM Kevin Rudd. But now, as a citizen, I can vote and I can have my say. I can even run for the office messers Howard and Rudd have occupied should I so desire. Hey, you never know. I can also get an Australian passport.
The journey culminated last week in a citizenship ceremony, almost a year after the paperwork began. That happened at Sydney’s magnificent Town Hall, where I was sworn in as an Australian Citizen by Lord Mayor Clover Moore MP, and sung the Australian national anthem to the accompaniment of the largest pipe organ in the southern hemisphere in the newly renovated Centennial Hall. I sang both verses without referring to my cheat sheet. Not many native Australians can claim an ability to complete that task.
The emotion of it all that surprised me more than anything. There were tears – only a few, but tears nonetheless, and I certainly hadn’t anticipated them. I thought about it afterwards, trying to figure out why I’d felt like that. I guess up until that point, it had been all filling in forms, doing stupid “tests”, and other administrative tasks that for me are nothing new. I’ve already had several visas that require the same level of bureaucracy to obtain.
But aside from that, it also struck me what a big step becoming a citizen of another country is. It’s certainly not one I have taken lightly. I fully intend to embrace Australia as my country. While England – or the United Kingdom more correctly – will always be home in my heart, Australia is certainly a country I feel proud to belong to. In many ways, it’s like a mini-UK – incredibly diverse, wonderfully multicultural, tolerant of all peoples, a place where freedom is respected and encouraged and so much more. Sure, the weather is better and they – sorry – we win at sport more often, but essentially, the two share many similarities.
Becoming a citizen also feels like a new beginning to me – a renaissance of sorts. Those closest to me know I have found these past few years extremely tough to get through. Pledging a loyalty to Australia somehow doubled as a wiping of a giant slate of shit from past years to a squeaky-clean sheen. I hope to fill all the blank space with wonderful memories and experiences. I have much to look forward to.
I do miss the UK, though, even after all these years. I have compiled a top five list of why:
1. Family … so much it hurts.
2. Beer – Britain’s is simply the best in the world.
3. Football – while it’s growing in Australia, it will never reach the level it is in England in my lifetime. And crowds here in more popular sports have no idea.
4. The live music scene – frankly, it sucks in Australia.
5. A diverse and brave media – from drama to news, film to theatre, innovation in Australia in the media space is extremely rare.
So that’s it. As Men At Work sang, now “I come from a land Down Under” … and the Vegemite sandwiches taste all the better for it.