Sense of identity … Scout leader Bruce Mills with Monica Li at the Cherrybrook Scout Hall. Photo: Janie Barrett
STANDING to attention, with an optional hand-on-heart, they affirm allegiance to their nation and its people, with liberty and justice for all. As pledges go it all sounds peculiarly American. Except that's the Southern Cross, not the Stars and Stripes, running up the flagpole.
More than 30,000 Australian citizens are expected to stand likewise on Saturday to publicly vow fealty to this country and its beliefs. Such ceremonies have no legal status or effect. Yet the numbers taking the voluntary pledge on Australia Day rose 37 per cent between 2011 and 2012.
The Cherrybrook Scout leader Bruce Mills, who was formerly on the Hornsby Shire Council, said he ''never failed to be moved'' by citizenship and affirmation ceremonies.
Alex and William Mills at Cherrybrook Scout Hall in Sydney, where their dad, Bruce Mills is a scout leader. Photo: Janie Barrett
He included the Australian affirmation in a mock citizenship ceremony for his Scout troop. ''Watching my young children develop their sense of Australian identity has really reminded me how important it is for young children to feel they have a role in building our society,'' said Mr Mills, a father of four. ''I believe that affirming our citizenship really matters because it is something we can too easily take for granted.''
People increasingly want to ''show their pride in being Australian'', said Fiona Dolan, a project manager at the National Australia Day Council. Patriotic citizens are awarded a certificate for publicly affirming ''my loyalty to Australia and its people, whose democratic beliefs I share, whose rights and liberties I respect, and whose laws I uphold and obey''.
Ms Dolan conceded the wording was similar to the US pledge of allegiance to ''one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all''. But the Australian affirmation was ''much more libertarian'', she said.
Coupled with the increasingly popular display of the national flag, particularly among young people, such pledges have added a patriotic flavour to the usual fare of beers and burnt sausages. ''Traditionally the Australian position was to mock American patriotism of flying flags, hands-on-heart pledges of allegiance and now here we are singing the national anthem at the under-12 football final,'' the social researcher Hugh Mackay said.
''There is an edging towards a more patriotic dimension in our culture and I relate that to an underlying insecurity about what's happening to us and our place in an increasingly insecure world. We never used to worry about these things.''
More than 100 local councils, as well as some community groups and schools, will this year host affirmation ceremonies, which were first held in NSW in 1999 to mark the 50th anniversary of Australian citizenship. Warringah Council, which previously limited such ceremonies to citizenship events, will encourage residents to pledge allegiance at a big barbecue at Dee Why beach.