Last Friday I attended the citizenship ceremony for a friend from my church. It was a profoundly moving experience. Just on 100 people were becoming citizens and what a marvellously diverse bunch they were. They came from 30 countries and every inhabited continent. They aged from the young to the old. They included a buddhist monk, a Catholic nun, at least one Muslim, and two Sikhs. The majority were “straight”, but there were also some who openly identified as gay. They all pledged their loyalty to Australia, its democratic beliefs, rights, liberties and law.
I wasn’t expecting to be so emotionally moved. I am sure that part of it was knowing all that my friend, a refugee, had been through to get to this point. But there was something more. In this ceremony I saw the promise that Australia offers.
We are a nation with a troubled recent history. After 60,000 years of indigenous habitation, around 250 years ago Europeans invaded this land, dispossessed the indigenous nations, and, through the implementation of the White Australia policy, set about building an Anglo enclave in the South Pacific. It’s hard to believe that ended less than 50 years ago. What a remarkably different nation we are today!
There we were last Friday, continuing to forge a new history. We were welcomed to country by an indigenous elder, which struck me as an act of generosity and grace given Australia’s past. And in that welcome was a plea to recognise and respect the claim our indigenous nations have to this land, something we have been inching toward ever since the 1967 referendum and which we will have the opportunity to progress further when the Constitutional Reform Commission brings its recommendations.
In this group of new citizens we continued the process of exorcising the ghosts of the White Australia policy, trading an Anglo enclave and Christendom for a culturally and religiously diverse Australia in which we are bound to one another not by a common language, creed or culture, but by respect for each other and a promise that we will forge a society where each of us can live freely.
This new Australia was present in that room, as people of diverse faiths, sexualities, cultures and histories celebrated not only those things that united us but the perspectives, values and cultures that were unique to each of us.
It was bloody marvellous.