It was 1978, Thursday, late night shopping. I was at Liverpool Westfield’s but I wasn’t buying anything. I was witnessing my parents’ Australian Citizenship ceremony. Yep, right there on Centre Stage. You know, where they hold the fashion parades, and where Santa sits in his throne at Christmas time waiting to be is swamped by small children.
In those days shopping malls didn’t have eateries so Centre Stage was also the cool place to hang. Everyone, well not everyone, the kids from the high school, and the unemployed kids who wished they were still in high school, and a whole lot of old people who needed to sit down, could be found there. On this particular night there was no fashion parade, and it wasn’t Christmas, instead Westfield’s was hosting a parade of New Australians.
This was still in the day when we called people “New Australians”, and also reffos, wogs, wopps, dagos, gino, guido, greaser etc. And it was before we took being Australian so seriously. Nowadays citizenship ceremonies are conducted on Australia Day at places like Parliament House or at local councils, and there is a dress code.
So there I was standing next to my parents on the stage, staring back at the old women that had stopped to rest on the plastic chairs and the teenage boys who were gawking at the ‘reffos’. My family weren’t actually refugees. Although we’d come to Australia by boat, it was a rather large one, a cruise ship actually. And the only risk we took was that of dying of clogged arteries from night after night at the buffet.
We were very lucky. We’d been able to bring with us everything we needed for our new life in Australia; stored safely in the cargo hold was our television set, the family car and all our household appliances. We’d been told we’d need these to pass the citizenship test. We didn’t bring our house because my parents wanted to participate in the Great Australian Dream. Which is how we found ourselves two years later, the proud owners of a McMansion, complete with exorbitant mortgage, in a brand new suburb with no public transport or infrastructure.
I got to stand on the stage, but it was my parents that took the oath on the bible even though they were atheists. In acknowledgement of their new status they each received a citizenship certificate and the gift of a palm tree from the local council. I thought that would come in handy to sit under on the average 38 degree western suburbs summer day. I don’t think you have to swear on the bible anymore to become a citizen but you still get a palm tree. You can always tell the suburbs that have a lot of new citizens by the number of palm trees.
Although this event happened thirty seven years ago I have recently begun to worry about it. On that night that I stood on the stage with my parents I never actually got my own citizenship certificate. Apparently my name appeared at the bottom of my father’s certificate. But my father has since passed away and I don’t know where that piece of paper that made him (and me) an Australian is. And recently my passport expired. I had no travel plans so I didn’t renew it. So now it seems that it is only the electoral roll that stands between me and statelessness. Which is why, every election day, I vote early and often, in a huge effort to prove that I am an Australian.