I was really chuffed when Mary-Helen invited me to accompany her to her citizenship ceremony yesterday evening. I know I was an inadequate stand-in for Sandra, but as someone who loves ceremonies and rites of passage I was delighted to be invited.
I think the whole occasion was just right. It had that mixture of slightly ironic ceremony and informality that I think Australia does very well. Mary-Helen would probably include New Zealand in that comment as well. Why do I think it was 'just right'?
Well, first of all it was held in the rather faded grandeur of the 1880s Leichhardt Town Hall
We had a brass band to entertain us before and after the ceremony
whose repertoire ranged from the Mexican Hat Dance and Gounoud's Ave Maria though to a fitting finale of I Still Call Australia Home. It also accompanied our spirited rendition of the National Anthem sung after all new citizens had been presented with their certificates.
We had a very tall mayor dressed in his robes and chain who said all the appropriate things in a very friendly way and gave no unsolicited advice.
Most admirably, he conversed with Mary-Helen about knitting as he presented her certificate! (read more, here)
We noted with pleasure the variety of countries from which the new citizens originated; that most people pledged their citizenship rather than affirmed it 'under God'; and that within couples or families taking out their citizenship, most women had different family names from their partners. This all augurs well for the version of Australia I would chose to live in!
Mary-Helen received a gift of an Australian shrub to plant in her garden and we could have finished the evening with lamingtons - but chose rather to have a wonderful meal at a Southern Italian restaurant across the street.
But just before we left the Town Hall, Mary-Helen filled in her application to be placed on the electoral roll which was, after all, the major reason she wanted her Australian citizenship.
She is now not only eligible to vote in elections later this year, but, because voting is compulsory in Australia, required to do so.
All in all, to quote Barry Humphries as Sandy Stone, 'a nice night's entertainment'. And, if I put aside my levity for a moment, an occasion for gratitude to Mary-Helen for choosing to enrich Australia by becoming a citizen.