Every time I returned to Australia from overseas I found myself welcomed by the sound of the magpies. A sound that had once seemed so alien, was starting to bring the comfort of home.
Almost three years to the day since arriving in Australia, we became Australian citizens. For Vaughn it was a moment of elation. He was born in Zimbabwe and grew up in South Africa, but had never been an official citizen of any country before, although he held a British passport. I found myself in a guilt-ridden dilemma. To swear allegiance to Australia felt like cultural treachery. I had never felt the urge to become a South African citizen, and for all my fifty-seven years considered myself British. But fortunately Australia allowed you to have dual citizenship, so I could still be an Aussie Pom. Or a pommie Sheila.
The year before we went to Tonga there had been a military coup, and our news was full of how the government rushed in to get any Australian citizens out to safety. If that had happened while we were there, would we have been left behind, we wondered, with both South African and Australian permanent residence status stamped in our British passports.
So we went to the citizenship ceremony and pledged our loyalties to the Antipodes. We were greeted by the mayor and treated to songs from a bush band and some Aboriginal dancing accompanied by a didgeridoo. I found the sounds of the didge exciting and earthy and arousing. Then a local primary school choir sang some traditional Australian songs and I had to dig for the inevitable tissue at the sound of children’s voices, especially as there was a young Megan look-alike in the front row.
The thing that really thrilled me about the whole procedure was how welcoming Australians were. People seemed genuinely excited that we had made the decision to become Australian. I could be wrong, but I don’t think you would find that in Britain. We (that would be the part of me that is still English) seem far more parochial in our outlook. If I had been an Australian (or South African, or any other nationality) adopting British citizenship, people would look at me and say ‘But you’re not English. You weren’t born here. Your parents weren’t born here. How can you be English?’
It must be something to do with the multi-cultural society in Australia. Everyone who wasn’t an Aborigine must have come from somewhere else originally. But Vaughn and I noticed a strong feeling of patriotism in Australia that we had only felt in South Africa the one weekend in 1995 when South Africa won the World Cup rugby.
When we told our friends and colleagues that we had become Australian citizens, we received cards, plants, hugs and handshakes. Those people made us feel so welcome, how could we possibly not want to become one of them?
I began to accept that for me there would always be bleak days when the pain of missing my family was just too intense. On those days it did no good to count my blessings and remind myself how many people in the world were so much worse off. Those thoughts were for the good days when I could reaffirm my gratitude for being given so many privileges. Life is an adventure, and although I would never have chosen to emigrate even once, I am grateful to the men who have dragged me kicking and screaming to exotic places.