Australia Day is a scorcher. Couldn’t I just go to the counter and get my certificate? I’ve been in this country for decades, voting, using expressions like beaut and good on ya. When people ask how I am I don’t say Well, thank you, I say Good.
I want to go down the beach. That’s what it means to be an Aussie. But here I am, lining up with a hundred and forty others at Hawthorn Town Hall armed with a pledge, a badge and a tissue in case I wet myself or find something up my nose, travelling south. After thirty years I’m here to become Australian.
The foyer is like a holding pen at a shearers’ bash in Bourke. Hordes are milling, spruced like dogs’ dinners. The Indian women are splendid in saris of ochre, turquoise and peacock green, their piercings are elegant and exotic. But the men look uncomfortable in cheap, dark suits that are too big. Their stiff collars ride up under their ears. Think Aziz in Passage to India. They wear ties. What are they?
This is unAustralian but secretly I hope it will take on. Something needs to replace tracky-dacks and tee-shirts and homage to stretch everything. Australians dress like their children. Tits, bums and balls bounce about like pumpkins on party drugs. It’s enough to put you off your rocket salad.
There’s a pair of white runners. One, mercifully. White runners have spread like a bad virus world wide with all generations infected, particularly older Australians and grey nomads in RSL clubs who can be spotted eating the Roast of the Day using a Seniors Card and spilling gravy on these ugly bunion concealers. You wouldn’t catch me dead in a pair. This pair is on a fellow Pommy which is typical and ironic since the British neither walk nor run. They drink and make a lot of noise. The British are responsible for introducing several bad practices to this country and bad dress is only one of them. Whingeing and queueing are others.
As a Pom myself, I feel uncomfortable and faintly passé. I shouldn’t be here at all. Not any more. Not at my age. I should have stayed home in the cold, moaning about the Government, the weather, the price of petrol, resigned to my ugly regional accent that I still haven’t managed to disguise.
We’re given numbers and herded into the hall. It’s like lining up at Safeway for a roast chook on a Saturday morning. Aussies now accept queuing, so new citizens will have no trouble assimilating here. Australians are now so good at waiting in lines that they will camp out for days in the hope of getting a ticket to the cricket, a 60c stamp, fifty dollars of their own money, and for the chance to get to work over the Westgate Bridge.
Surrounded by these young hopefuls with smiling, distinctly non-Western faces, I think, What can I contribute to this country now; arthritis, early onset dementia, general irritation with everything?
Anyway, there’s not another country that would take me now. The US might, temporarily, but only if I came with a Latino accent, a toilet duck and a scrubbing brush. Sweden wouldn’t because I’m not a natural blond and I’ve so far resisted the temptations of IKEA. France wouldn’t take me because I won’t eat brains and I don’t piss in the street. I shave my underarms and I think the parterre at Versailles has no charm.
At the end of the ceremony, (pronounced cereMONY, thanks America), it was time to sing the National Anthem. Our new citizens didn’t have a hope of getting through this in spite of the words on the screen but they tried very hard. In this way they were fully assimilated already. Not the trying hard bit. The Prime Minister is the only Australian who can sing our anthem. The rest ofAustralia, particularly footballers lined up before a match with vacant eyes and emptier heads couldn’t give a rat’s arse. And that’s another expression a New Arrival’s going to find handy.
Our land is ….WHAT?? Girt by sea. Yeah! Work that one out.
Our new citizens are younger than me. I have the whitest, wrinkliest skin, the shortest name and the widest arse, except for one obvious American in patterned Crimplene. She is girt by lard.
When presented as Australian, many cried, overcome with emotion. I felt embarrassed about being old, privileged and British and past my best-by date. But I would like to assure you that I would still chant Warnie, Warnie, if he appeared on our cricket pitch rubbing a red stain into his white pants. I even let my cynical self go and cried when Bindi got up and spoke about her dad, and continued to sniffle as I watched the ute nose its way out of the Crocoseum.
It could be that I’m a true blue Aussie after all; a mongrel, like the rest a youse.