Herself and I had the honour recently to be invited to the Citizenship Ceremony of dear friends.
There is rare opportunity for the amorphous body of the State to impress upon its subjects the import and high value of being a citizen.
Australia like most former colonies has suppressed admiration for the pomp and ceremony practised by the colonial overlords of former years, but hides it under a veneer of mateship. State ceremonies should therefore be serious and memorable with an acceptable ritual, but men can wear shorts and women slacks and sandals.
So, on Australia Citizenship Day, as befits serious occasions, we arrived early at the Community Leisure Centre (that could have been a clue), to be greeted by a melee of smart fellow guests and citizens-to-be, under direction of slightly flustered bureaucrats, one of whom was a long serving town councillor.
It appears that nobody had told the local Kung-fu Klub that they could not have the hall for their practice that night and martial arts were in process. The sensei had growled at suggestions by the Councillor that a ceremony of State should have precedence – he explained to us in a whisper “they are very big men!”
So we had to make a plan as we were told Australians had always done – set up in a smaller hall and split the function into 2 sessions to abide by the Covid space limit of 35 people.
This was also under the faint anxiety induced by the need to ensure Safe Coronavirus Hygiene was observed and necessary tracking details were recorded as well as issue of all important documents for the Citizens- to- be.
There were not enough chairs to allow for all to be seated so attendees spread around the walls, all decorously looking solemn and anxiously trying to observe Covid safe distancing.
I was quite comfortable on the kitchen sink. When every seat was taken and safe spaces were diminishing dangerously, an explanation and apology was made by the Councillor who kept his cool, even as the walls were closing in…
As is fitting the elders of the land were acknowledged and the event proceeded.
The certificates were given out with only a minor confusion of some Singhs, and the two Oaths of Affirmation (a separate one for non-Believers) were completed with everyone invited to join in.
The old Councillor was so relieved that he despatched us all to tea and cake in the Karate Hall, only to be met with an outcry – we haven’t sung the Anthem!
Everyone was remarkably calm and accepting of this bureaucratic balls-up of a ceremony, waiting patiently for their certificate and posing sweetly for a photo with the old Councillor, clutching their gift of a spindly indigenous seedling and a Labor Party holdall.
The Guest of Honour, a state MP who made an inaudible speech, was soon forgotten and slunk away into a corner.
Everyone sung the Anthem with serious demeanour and then we were released.
It was an interesting batch of new citizens, mostly European but with some Filipinos, Middle Easterners, Chinese and Indians – all on their best behaviour to avoid losing the prize at the slightly vague finishing line.
They weren’t yet Australian enough to barrack at the bureaucrats for stuffing up what should be a smooth, sedate ritual reinforcing the competence and effectiveness of a modern State.
People seemed genuinely happy if somewhat bemused by the awkward shambles – it was almost heart-warming and definitely memorable in an unintended way.