That’s how the Australian citizen pledge reads. I read it. I pledged. On August 11, 2020, after 7 years in Australia, I became a citizen of this country. The website where the citizenship ceremony is explained says that ”All Australian citizens should understand what it means to be a citizen. It is a critical part of building our nation.” I agree, and yet still I feel I don’t fully understand what being an Australian citizen means.
I was born in Mexico, and I never had to pledge to become a citizen. I was just born, and it wasn’t until I migrated that I understood its culture better. I once read that stereotypes aren’t untrue; they’re just incomplete. Yes, tacos, tequila, and warm beaches are part of its culture, but they don’t fully define it. Living in Mexico teaches you the next cultural layer; cantinas (local pubs), football (soccer) and spicy candy are also part of its identity. Dive deeper into its culture, and you’ll learn there’s a story, a past that underpins its present and drives its future.
Similarly, Australia has an incomplete and superficial list of labels that define its culture. Are there kangaroos everywhere? Does everyone surf? Or, do you live around deadly animals? Are some of the questions I get all the time. Living in Australia uncovers another layer. This layer includes Chiko rolls, footy, and pub meals. Dive deeper into its culture and you’ll learn there’s a story, unknown to many, locals included, that underpins its present and is a critical part of building our nation.
This unknown story is the one I presume will help unlock part of my understanding of what it means to be an Australian. Yes, I’m talking about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the elephant sitting in every room, in every corner of this country. Although I pledged loyalty to Australia and its people, my knowledge of First Nations peoples is minimal. Even the superficial and stereotyped layers that start painting a picture are blurry to me.
This week is NAIDOC week, an excellent opportunity for me to learn more about the next layer of this land’s culture. NAIDOC stands for ‘National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee’. After a series of efforts and historic achievements, we now have a whole week every July to celebrate and learn about the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples all across Australia. I have explored the National NAIDOC Week website and I would like to share with you some of the things I learned:
- Day of mourning. On January 26 1938 (150th anniversary of the landing of the First Fleet ), a group of Aboriginal men and women gathered at Australia Hall in Sydney to “APPEAL to the Australian nation of today to make new laws for the education and care of Aborigines, we ask for a new policy which will raise our people TO FULL CITIZEN STATUS and EQUALITY WITHIN THE COMMUNITY.’
- Aborigines day. Starting as the Day of Mourning, the Aborigines Day was held annually on the Sunday before Australia Day. In 1955 Aborigines Day was shifted to the first Sunday in July after it was decided the day should become not simply a protest day but also a celebration of Aboriginal culture.
- Aborigines referendum of 1967. On 27 May 1967, Australians voted to change the Constitution so that like all other Australians, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples would be counted as part of the population and the Commonwealth would be able to make laws for them.
- Government presence. In 1972, the Department of Aboriginal Affairs was formed as a major outcome of the 1967 referendum (this department ceased to exist in 1990. Today, the National Indigenous Australians Agency implements the policies and programs to improve the lives of all First Nations peoples).
Do I feel I know more about this country? Yes, but not enough. On top of my citizenship pledge, I promise to continue to be curious about the First Peoples who have inhabited this country for tens of thousands of years to better understand what being an Australian citizen means.
This article was written on the traditional lands of the Wurundjeri people, whose sovereignty was never ceded. We acknowledge all First Peoples of this land and celebrate their enduring connections to Country, knowledge and stories. We pay our respects to Elders, both past and present, and acknowledge the tradition of storytelling that has continued on the continent known as Australia for more than 60 000 years.
We invite you to explore more about the history and the legacy of First Nations peoples: