Citizen Churl


From this time forward

I pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people

whose democratic beliefs I share,

whose rights and liberties I respect, and

whose laws I will uphold and obey.

If you’ve been an Australian citizen since birth, and you’ve ever wondered what the Australian Citizenship Pledge is, that’s it. Prospective Australian citizens have the option of pledging “under God”, but thankfully, this is not compulsory – that is, unless the people running the ceremony make a mistake and seat you in the “under God” section. This is precisely what happened to my friend when he decided, after 18 years as a permanent resident, that he would like to officially become an Australian.

Born in England to a couple of non-Australians, my friend (who I’ll call Dr. Bandit) moved to Australia at the age of four and grew up in the picturesque hills east of Melbourne in the ’90s and early 2000s. As an undergrad, Dr. Bandit realised that his access to HECS was limited by the fact that he wasn’t officially an Australian citizen. So, in order to continue his course, he decided to do the test, take the oath and accept the gift of a showbag, seedling and paper flag from the Australian people.

Now, I’d like to argue that Dr. Bandit’s experience of becoming an Australian is perfectly congruous with what it means, to many, to be Australian. I’m eager to avoid any jingoistic celebrations of ‘Aussie battlerism’, and I don’t want to imply that there’s an overarching meaning associated with being Australian. But there’s something in Dr. Bandit’s story that resonates with me – his experiences seem somewhat transgressive and punkish, kind of like he gave the finger to citizenship while reaping the benefits associated with it. Let me explain.

When it came to the citizenship test, Dr. Bandit’s attitude was blasé. I mean, he’d been through the Victorian public education system, he’d done his primary school projects on ANZAC day and the First Fleet – what questions could they possibly ask him that he wouldn’t know the answer to? The citizenship people gave him a book with all the information he’d need to pass, but he skimmed it, went ‘pffft’ and chucked it aside on the assumption that, well, he’dberight. When he turned up to take the test, however, Dr. Bandit’s examiner advised him to re-read the book, just in case. He skimmed it, went ‘pffft,’ chucked it aside and proceeded to take the test. First, he got a tick for being able to speak English (based purely on the initial pleasantries between him and the examiner,) and answered some questions correctly (tick, tick, tick.) When it came to knowing what documents Australian citizens are entitled to, Dr. Bandit got a little stuck, but the kind examiner prompted him with “for instance, if you wanted to go overseas, you’d need to take your…” Fortunately, Dr. Bandit’s response of “oh. uuuuummm…a passport?” elicited a tick, and he passed the citizenship test, thankfully without having to answer any questions about Sir D-Brad.

The citizenship ceremony took place on the last day of Dr. Bandit’s exams for the semester. Exhausted, he got home from uni after his final exam and decided to celebrate. A couple of hours later, he arrived at the local town hall to take his citizenship oath, fairly stoned and in quite a happy place. He thought it was a little weird that they gave him a card with the “under God” version of the Australian Citizenship Pledge written on it, especially seeing as he’d opted for the non-religious one, but he nevertheless sat down where they told him (in the front row, directly in front of the lectern where the JP stood) and waited to say his pledge, on the assumption that he could just ignore “under God” and stick to saying the secular pledge.

Unfortunately, at Australian citizenship ceremonies, prospective citizens are segregated into those who want to pledge “under God” on one side of the room, and those who don’t on the other. Poor, stoned Dr. Bandit was on the side of the room that was “under God,” and failed to stand when the JP instructed those “under God” to do so. Three times. Eventually he cottoned on, said his pledge under God (much to his confusion) and waited to sing Advance Australia Fair, Verses 1 and 2. Which he’d forgotten the words to, not having sung the national anthem since he was in primary school. After all of the official standing, pledging and singing, it was time for the proud new Australian citizens to recieve their Australian plants and showbags, have photos taken with their families and get their papers signed by an Australian citizen friend. But poor, stoned Dr. Bandit went to the ceremony stag, so he spent the rest of the evening trying to find a “friend” to sign his certificate, eating some fingerfood and stealing a glass. Then he went home.

It’s too bad that while pledging his loyalty to Australia’s democratic beliefs, Dr. Bandit’s own beliefs (that is, his non-belief in God) were so carelessly ignored, albeit due to an administrative error. If becoming an Australian citizen is to be ceremonialised with such solemnity, these kinds of mistakes make a mockery of anyone who sincerely pledges to respect the rights and liberties that are ostensibly granted to all Australian citizens. So, snaps to Dr. Bandit for managing to flout the (drug and property) laws that he pledged to uphold and obey – right before and  directly after he pledged them – under a God that he doesn’t believe in.


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2 Responses to “Citizen Churl”

  1. Nick Says:

    That’s a nice story. And thanks for beginning with the pledge, which seems almost designed to repel any kind of civic enthusiasm. In the USA, they get “governments are instituted among people, deriving their authority from the consent of the governed”. France says “the source of sovereignty resides essentially in the nation”. And Australia? It talks tremblingly about democratic “beliefs” and asks people to “respect” their own rights (not to mention the nonsense of pledging loyalty to a “people” which, unlike in those 2 republics, has no constitutional standing).

    I sympathise with Dr. Bandit and his mercenary motives, but I side with my dad, who has been here for fifty years and never bothered to become a citizen. What’s the point? We aren’t even guaranteed habeas corpus anymore.

  2. kathi Says:

    that is a classic story! particularly the bit about the test. i hope they give that much leeway to non-anglo applicants.
    rest assured, even though dr bandit doesn’t believe in God but swore under Him/Her/It, God still believes in dr bandit and i’m sure will look out for him nonetheless 🙂

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