It's a monumental month for migrants in Australia, with February 2009 marking 60 years of Australian citizenship. First introduced in 1949 through the enactment of the Nationality and Citizenship Act 1948, it marked the shift from Australian residents being regarded as British subjects to being fully acknowledged citizens of Australia.
It's interesting to look back at those early days of Australian citizenship and see how they contrast to today. For example, at the first citizenship ceremony on 3 February 1949, seven men were chosen to represent each state and the ACT. As a representation of the diversity of the migration population of Australia at that time, each came from a different country; Czechoslovakia, Denmark, France, Greece, Norway, Spain and Yugoslavia.
Were the same symbolic ceremony to take place today, it'd be a very different (and certainly less Eurocentric) group of residents on Australia visas taking part. According to the 2007-08 DIAC report, the top countries for citizenship applicants to come from today are the UK, India, China, South Africa, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea and Malaysia.
Additionally, 1949's Australian citizenship applicants didn't have to face the same hurdles as today's, with the Australian citizenship test probably the most obvious difference. While it was designed to "play a valuable role in both encouraging people to find out more about Australia, as well as understanding the responsibilities and privileges being an Australian citizen brings", the test has faced some stern criticism since its introduction on 1 October 2007.
For example, knowing the answer to "who is Australia's greatest cricketer?" (a question rumoured to have been personally implemented by former Australian prime minister and cricket fanatic, John Howard) seems like a curious way to gauge whether an applicant is worth of being granted Australian citizenship.
However, regardless of the various foibles and quirks of the process, the history of Australian citizenship still stands as something to be celebrated (regardless of whether you're already Down Under or just thinking of emigrating to Australia). While the government has the usual formalities set in place (commemorative coins and anniversary-themed conferral ceremonies ahoy!), we can't think of a better way to mark the occasion than by cracking open a cold one and raising a toast to the 4 million migrants who've been successful in gaining citizenship over the past 60 years. Join us, won't you?
- Tom Blackett is the Online Editor for the Australian Visa Bureau.
©Visa Bureau 2003-2013