Last night I attended the Oath and Allegiance ceremony of migrants receiving their Australian citizenship. It was held in a small but neat community centre filled with pride. At the end, each new citizen received a small indigenous plant, a Kangaroos Paw, to cherish as the day they received ownership of Australia’s wealth.
Some took an oath by swearing allegiance on God; others just swore allegiance, not on god, but on the principles of what they believed in.
In the speeches they are reminded that Australia is a multicultural society and they are encouraged to maintain their cultural links. In fact, one of the recipients in the patriotic video run before the ceremony said this:
“My love for my old country is like the love I feel for my mother; my love for Australia is like the love I feel for my wife. A love full of possibilities”. Well. The cynic in my can analyse modern marriages and why they fail so often, or even worse, why they do not happen at all and compare that to citizenship. At which stage it would be easy to conclude that citizenship is doomed.
But citizenship is not doomed. In Australia it comes with an obligation to vote. You can spoil your paper but you have to attend the poll, or face a fine. It comes with an attempt to accept all culture on the surface of politeness, but the power is there to wash them weakly and just leave a few innocent and quirky traditions and festivals to liven up the desert landscape.
The opening of the ceremony was embarrassing, as the master of ceremonies mumbled respect for the people whose land they now occupy, and held a moments silence in respect. That is what defines Australian citizenship; a desire to be correct, to acknowledge a multicultural background but to be white. If only they could be made to pay for the evil they have committed, like their white counterparts in South Africa have been made to pay for Apartheid.
I remember how proud my father was when he received his Greek citizenship to the European Union. And equally proud when he had secured his children the same. Here was a loyalty to the culture but not the politics. No apology to any group. No indigenous tree to plant. Just a fire to burn in your heart.