Receiving citizenship in a new country is a life-changing event, bringing with it new privileges and responsibilities—and a new community. The event warrants a celebration and warm welcome, but in Australia, it has traditionally been marked with a large, impersonal ceremony where newcomers are simply faces in the crowd. So when the Australian government offered local service clubs the opportunity to provide new citizens with a more personal welcome, members of the Tweeds Head/Coolangatta club leapt at the chance to cultivate new friendships.
For the past two years, these Quotarians have hosted citizenship ceremonies for about 20 new citizens, so they can meet one another and make contacts in their community. These events have both formal and festive elements. Club members consulted with the Federal Member’s office and the Department of Immigration to ensure that they met requirements, and invited a range of guests, including federal and state representatives, the Shire Council, and members of the Aboriginal community. This year, Federal Member for McPherson, Margaret May, conferred citizenship and helped the guests take the Australian pledge.
Once the formalities have concluded and their citizenship is official, the guests are then inducted into Australia’s vibrant community with food, gifts, and entertainment. Quotarians arrange for a supper that features traditional Australian fare—meat pies, Vegemite sandwiches, and lamingtons—and then provide entertainment that includes poetry readings and performances by local musicians. Throughout the evening, the new citizens have the opportunity to talk with each other, Quotarians, and other guests, establishing connections that will root them in the community.
Federal Member May recognizes the impact this welcome has on all involved. “The thought and commitment that have gone into the organizing of these functions have been excellent,” she says, “and the warmth and generosity of club members in welcoming new Australians to our local community has been commended by all who attend these ceremonies.”
The warmth and generosity extend beyond the evening, as guests leave with their hands full of welcome gifts. In addition to May’s New Citizens Bag, which includes an Australian flag and emblem, Advance Australia Fair CD, and Book of Australian Animals, they receive a bag of Aussie goodies assembled by Quotarians. Among the goodies are Vegemite, Anzac biscuits, an Australian Biro pen, a stuffed koala, and an Australian bookmark. And, of course, all attendees leave with the most valuable gift of all: friendship.
“There is no better way to have fun and enjoy friendship than to share with others,” program chair and past governor Janet Ahrens says. “Australia is a multicultural society, and our members are thrilled to have the opportunity to meet and welcome citizens who have come to Australia from other countries.”