This seems odd. Doesn’t the whole world want to move over here? Aren’t people jumping aboard rickety boats, making perilous journeys across choppy seas for the chance – faint though it now may be – to call themselves ‘Aussies’?
Seven years ago, I got taste for it when I attended my wife’s citizenship ceremony in the Sydney Town Hall. There we were seated in a room packed with would-be Aussies of every denomination, ethnicity, faith and sexual persuasion, all full of joyous anticipation.
My principle memory of that day is not of my wife’s beaming smile as she received her certificate from Lord Mayor Clover Moore, but of a middle-aged, Middle Eastern-looking man who leaped up weeping with joy as his name was called out, completely overcome with emotion.
There were tears in everyone’s eyes as this humble man-made his way to the stage, embraced the diminutive Lord Mayor, yelping and hooting and proclaiming with joy: I am an Australian.
I can only begin to imagine the journey he had made from a life of struggle, possibly horror and brutality, to sit in a wood panelled room above George Street in the middle of one of the world’s friendliest, safest cities and take his place among the 23 million privileged citizens of this Great Southern Land.
I was jealous. Not even a permanent resident back then, living on a 457 work visa, I longed for the time when I would hear my own name being called.
Time has passed. I am now, through marriage, a permanent resident and have been eligible since about April or May of 2011 for citizenship and an Australian passport.
But apart from printing out the booklet that you’re supposed to read before doing your citizenship test, I’ve done nothing about actually applying.
Perhaps, I’m just addicted to those colourful visa stickers that have filled up my South African passport for more than 20 years.
Indeed, I almost wept with joy when I found by chance after more than two years of looking, an old South African passport of mine that I had given up as lost.
It was the one I used on a round-the-world trip backpacking trip I made with my wife in 2010 (a trip I faithfully recorded in a blog called the BEEG Adventure) The passport with the coat of arms long since faded was buried between the pages of a car manual in the glove compartment of our Ford stationwagon. I found it in February, when we were trading in our car.
It’s jam-packed with colourful visa stamps from Europe, the USA, Morocco, India, Egypt, Turkey and Thailand, tracing the journey we took over the course of a year, a fine souvenir.
It eventually became so full of visa stamps that I ran out of blank pages and I had to get a new one.
My nostalgia aside, becoming an Australian citizen would entitle me to an Australian passport and my visa application days would be a thing of the past.
I would also be proud to be an Australian having put down roots here for more than a decade, gotten married, had Australian kids and forged a career and a good life.
But the paperwork, form-filling and document gathering required (I must also apply to the South African government if i wish to be a dual citizen) put me off time and time again.
Perhaps, also, on some subconscious level I feel uneasy about becoming an Australia . For I feel revulsion at our refugee policies and those poor, desperate asylum seekers locked away in secret and in miserable conditions with little hope to cling to. Perhaps, they are more deserving then I of that coveted citizenship? Perhaps this is some form of protest?
Maybe this is not the greatest country in the world after all, despite what those liveability surveys may say.