As millions of Aussies celebrated Australia day by firing up barbecues or spending the day with family and friends, pockets of the nation were taking part in another rite of passage: Becoming Australian citizens.
In a record-breaking year, when 17,863 people from 155 countries became citizens, Victoria led the way with 4500 new Australians.
In Canberra, Prime Minister Tony Abbott conferred citizenship on 24 people at the national flag-raising ceremony, while Immigration Minister Scott Morrison presided over a Sydney ceremony to welcome 30 new citizens.
At the Kevin Wheelahan Gardens in Sunshine, west of Melbourne, the second largest citizenship ceremony in Victoria and one of the biggest nationally, 180 of Australia’s newest citizens brimmed with good cheer as people waited to hear the magic words:
“Congratulations, you are now an Australian citizen”.
The stage was flanked by three prominent emblems – the Australian flag, the Aboriginal flag, and the Torres Strait Islander flag – while native greenery swayed gently in the fan-forced wind. The ceremony was introduced by a Wurundjeri elder, who celebrated reconciliation, but lamented the exclusion of indigenous people from the Australian constitution.
Alice Pung, Australia Day ambassador and Melbourne author, lawyer and teacher, recalled her parents’ wonder of traffic lights upon their arrival from Cambodia in the 1980s.
“They called me Alice after the story Alice in Wonderland – because to them, Australia was the wonderland.”
Omoghene Stanley benso told fairfax Media he had left Nigeria in 2008 to “better my life, to give my kids a better opportunity in life and to contribute to society”. He said now that he was an Australian citizen, he felt ‘’fulfilled to be in a multicultural society like this and in a country which has a very good system of government, great aged care, and where everyone is treated equally’’.
Similarly, Sukhbir Gehdu, his wife Paramvir and two sons, Triman and Hunarbir, were excited to be part of Australia’s newest cohort of citizens. “I’m quite excited. I was waiting to be a citizen for so long, and it will be a great life for us now that we’re citizens,” Mr Gehdu said.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten gave a speech welcoming Australia’s new citizens.
Story taken directly from theage.com.au, written by Caroline Zielinski. Published January 27, 2014.