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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Bmag Dec 3rd 2013 - I'm not the only non-citizen in the village!

I’ll be honest. I was a bit nervous about the reaction I would get to the revelation in my last column that I had lived here for over thirty years without becoming a citizen. I thought some might have judged me harshly for remaining a pom all this time. Instead, I’ve been overwhelmed by readers and listeners ‘fessing up’ that they too have been tardy. I tell you – this country is full of immigrants who have lived here for decades without taking the plunge!

Valerie Kerr writes: “We arrived in 1976 and none of us kids has done it yet.” Valerie goes on to say she’s never really felt the need. And that’s where I was until recently. You can’t pressure people into becoming citizens. It’s a deeply personal and individual decision. Barbara Richards tells me her mum came from England as a two year old in 1911 and never became naturalised. Her younger sister eventually signed up when she turned eighty!

Others, like Ron Martin, have shared with me their epiphany moments: “I woke up some years back and realised there was no need to hold on to the past. So proud to own an Aussie passport and be in the best state and the best country in the world”.  I may have inspired Chris Williams, who says: “I came from the UK in 1964 and I must do the same! I should have done it years ago!”

Then there are stories like Phil Eldridge’s tale. Phil moved here from England, aged two in 1950. He was conscripted to fight for Australia, married an Aussie, then in 1983 they moved to New Zealand. When Phil’s wife died, he tried to move back to Australia. After all, he’d lived here over thirty years. He was told he would have to live here four years before he could even apply! Phil writes: “Spencer, this is an excellent decision”.

Aside from emails and social media comments, wherever I’ve gone in these past couple of weeks, people have wanted to talk to me about becoming true blue. I was in Regents Park the other night, recording a fabulous radio piece about a bloke’s love affair with his LED lighting. Gary Jones has multi-coloured flashing strips behind his wall-mounted plasma screen and is in the process of installing the same in his kitchen, at ceiling and floor height. He even has a device on the bottom of his kitchen tap that flashes rainbow colours when the water’s turned on!

Anyway, to get back to the story, when I rocked up to Gary’s place, his brother and sisterin- law, from Wales and Scotland, were having a cuppa. All three of them have lived here twentyplus years and immediately launched into this conversation about how they know they should, and will soon, apply to become Aussies! For those who are wondering, assuming you’re eligible, the process is incredibly swift and simple. You can do it all at From applying online, which took around an hour by the time I’d located and scanned all the documents you need, to sitting in the Immigration Department office on Adelaide Street completing the twenty question multiple choice citizenship test, took just four weeks. That said, there is a delay in being allocated a citizenship ceremony. At the moment, you’re looking at July of next year.

As for the test, it’s relatively straight forward, if you’ve lived here a while and have a good grasp of English. I felt for the woman who was in the booth next to me – I’m guessing she’s a more recent arrival – who had just failed for the fourth time.

Finally to Bill of Rosalie, thank you for your poem. Too long to print in its entirety, it starts: “Here’s to Spencer Howson, who’s finally seen the light. He’s going to become an Aussie. Now that’s a bit of alright.” Bill ends with the footnote: “Congratulations old mate, you’re a true blue, fair dinkum sport and your blood’s worth bottlin’. We’ll have to sink a few tinnies of the amber fluid at the Aussie Day barbie. All the best as you adopt the land of Oz.” Thank you Bill and everyone else who has extended the welcome mat. It seems I had nothing to fear in coming out as an unconverted pom!

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