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Citizens rapt in golden welcome

Date

Ian Warden

Four new faces of Australia, from left, Sarah Balduchelli, Siobhan Frankis,  Raihan Ismail and Lex Koh.

Four new faces of Australia, from left, Sarah Balduchelli, Siobhan Frankis, Raihan Ismail and Lex Koh. Photo: Colleen Petch

 

H

ow character-building it is for anyone who might take the great good luck of their Australian citizenship for granted to go to an event like yesterday morning's Wattle Day Citizenship Ceremony. More than 100 newly Australian faces (of people from 35 nations) of a lovely variety of multicultural complexions were lit up with delight as their owners achieved citizenship.

Ella Hallock got her certificate with a happy husband Grant and baby daughter Grace there in support.

Ella Hallock got her certificate with a happy husband Grant and baby daughter Grace there in support. Photo: Colleen Petch

Margaret Frankis from Zimbabwe (four tall, statuesque members of her family, herself, husband Owen and daughters Ramona and Siobhan all appeared on the dais together yesterday to receive citizenship) rejoiced afterwards. She is a nurse at Calvary Hospital and came here alone, in 2007, to pave the way for the others. They joined her in 2008. Now they all live at Charnwood.

''I was a little bit scared to be here by myself. But we wanted to make good education for the kids. They were all coming up to the age when they'd go to university. But Zimbabwean university kids were always involved in their politics and going on riots so we didn't want our kids involved in that. And now they are at university here and they're really happy. And I'm so happy. So happy to be a citizen and all the family at the same time. Now I'm one of them. I'm one of the Australians. It's lovely.''

Raihan Ismail, from Malaysia (''but I'm half-Egyptian'') is married to an Australian and living in Reid. She's a PhD student at the ANU. She came here in 2007. All of her large Malaysian family is still in Malaysia. Yesterday, wattle-bedecked like everyone else, she said, ''I feel honoured to be an Australian. I think it's something I've always wanted to be. There are so many people trying to be Australian, to come to Australia. I feel privileged to be an Australian.''

Four new faces of Australia, rear, from left, Siobhan Frankis, Lex Koh, front, Sarah Balduchelli and Raihan Ismail.

Four new faces of Australia, rear, from left, Siobhan Frankis, Lex Koh, front, Sarah Balduchelli and Raihan Ismail. Photo: Colleen Petch

The Wattle Day Association had provided so much wattle blossom for yesterday's event in a packed function room of the Theo Notaras Centre (there was wattle in baskets on the dais and on the lapels of every candidate and his or her family members) that the aroma of it hung around us. The Arawang Primary School Choir sang a sentimental song about wattle and a wattle devotee gave an evangelical address about wattles. A visitor from a different culture might have mistaken us all yesterday for members of a wattle-worshipping cult.

The Arawang Primary School Choir got things underway with a medley of Australian songs which included a terrific version of our unofficial national anthem, Waltzing Matilda. How its words and sentiments, its story of a sheep thief driven to suicide, must have baffled some of the migrants there! In the choir's version we were left in no doubt that the squatter, mounted on his thoroughbred, was the baddie. The choir had him shouting arrogantly, rudely at the swagman,

''Where's that jolly jumbuck you've got in your tuckerbag?'' he interrogated. One took an instant dislike to this squattocrat and his whole vile, oppressive class.

Didgeridoo virtuoso Duncan Smith roared, growled and thundered didgeridoo pieces all about Australian creatures. He even made his didgeridoo cackle like a kookaburra.

Chief Minister Katy Gallagher, soon to confer citizenship on the candidates and present each, individually with his or her certificate, said that Canberra was blessed with ''a rich multicultural population''.

Why, Canberra had people from 200 different countries, speaking 170 languages! She urged everyone, while showing the essential suite of loyalties to the ways and laws of our democracy, to keep treasuring and cultivating and spreading among their society all the fine things they'd kept from the cultures they'd come from. John Howard and Tony Abbott and their insular Anglo-Saxon ilk (people like the squatter on his thoroughbred) couldn't have thought and said from the heart those sorts of humane, generous-spirited things. This member of the congregation felt almost as proud of our Chief Minister as of our national flower.

Speaking of which, the day's wattle worship was then taken to fever-pitch by Wattle Day Association president Terry Fewtrell, who in his speech said that everyone becoming an Australian yesterday was fortunate because they'd always remember the coincidence of the time of year of that happy occasion with the annual blooming of wattle, ''that blaze of colour that lights our landscape every year''.

He said that wattle taught us resilience and adaptation. The resilient wattle had bloomed here for ''millions and millions of years'' while it waited to welcome us. Then the fact that there were more than 1000 wattle species that had adapted to all sorts of Australian soils and climates was an inspiration to us, too, urging us to ''blossom'' in our own lives whatever our circumstances. Many Christian sermons about Jesus lack the passion of Fewtrell's sermon yesterday about our wattles.

Then Ms Gallagher presided over a moving spell of pledge-making (one version of the pledge gave ''God'' a guernsey while one could chose one without Him and yesterday's whole event was, save for the wattle-worship, as secular as anything).

Everyone who gambolled up on to the dais for their certificate was rapturously applauded by everyone in the room. Rapture reigned. Ms Gallagher, a trouper, posed obligingly for almost 100 photographs, because almost every new citizen posed with her while a rello snapped away.

Led by the piping Arawang choristers we all sang the national anthem, including, alas, its second verse with the thumping hypocrisy (given what we're doing to asylum seekers) that ''For those who've come across the seas/We've boundless gifts to share.''

All of us there, new citizens and old, were invited to join the Chief Minister in reciting the sweet, secular, shyly patriotic little pledge of allegiance to Australia. At this point a slight allergic reaction to all the (sacred) wattle in the room required this columnist to reach for a tissue.

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