Once I knew we were definitely heading overseas for a year, I had an incentive to do something I’ve been meaning to do for years: take out New Zealand citizenship. Australians in New Zealand have it pretty easy, having almost all the same rights as New Zealand citizens (the same does not apply in reverse for New Zealanders in Australia, it must be said). But while there has been no real need for me to take out New Zealand citizenship, New Zealand has been my home since 1999, and I think people should be citizens of their home countries if they can. I just hadn’t got round to filling in the citizenship application.
Our travel plans finally motivated me to go through with applying for citizenship – partly so that I could get a New Zealand passport in my current name (my Australian passport was still in my birth name). As it turned out, though, applying for citizenship when I knew I was going to be moving overseas wasn’t straightforward. People wanting to become New Zealand citizens are supposed to have an intention to continue to reside in New Zealand, but here I was about to bugger off for a year. So I had to provide evidence of my continuing ties to New Zealand and my intention to return.
The other problem was that, even if my citizenship was granted, I wouldn’t have my New Zealand passport in time to apply for my UK visa. So I needed to apply for a visa on my Australian passport, which was still in my old name. My Australian passport was also going to expire while we were in the UK. So, while my New Zealand citizenship application was under consideration, I also went through the process of getting a new Australian passport – which, in turn, required me to first register my change of name in Australia. What a rigmarole! With new Australian passport in hand, I could apply for my UK visa – which is perhaps a story for another day.
A couple of weeks ago I finally got the good news that my citizenship application had been approved, subject to taking the oath or affirmation of allegiance within 12 months. Therein lay the rub. Citizenship only becomes official once you attend a citizenship ceremony and take the oath or affirmation. You have to attend a ceremony in the local government area in which you live. My problem was that the only ceremony in my area in the period before we left for Edinburgh was the following week! I rang, visited and emailed the Department of Internal Affairs, but it was looking like I would miss my chance. Then, on the day of the ceremony, my citizenship case officer rang to say I had been added to the programme. Halelujah!
So, last week, Fiona and I went along to the Hutt City Church so I could complete the citizenship process. It was a low-key event but I was surprised at what a warm feeling it gave me. There were military cadets (for some reason), and a welcome from a local Maori leader. The mayor of Hutt City spoke and his wife was the MC. The head of the local multicultural council handed out souvenir booklets about New Zealand citizenship.
Almost 100 people received their citizenship, and they came from a wide range of countries: the United Kingdom, Samoa, South Africa, Myanmar/Burma, the Philippines, China, and more. When people went up to receive their citizenship certificates, the flags of their countries of origin were projected onto a screen behind the stage. The mayor asked each of us a little bit about ourselves. When I went up, doing my best impression of an Australian brushtail possum in the headlights, he told me that he and his wife has recently visited the Gold Coast.
The central part of the ceremony was the taking, en masse, of the oath (for those who wanted to mention God) or affirmation (for the rest of us unbelievers) of allegiance. This was the hardest part for me, because I had to promise to:
be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of New Zealand, Her heirs and successors according to law
As a lifelong republican, this really stuck in my throat, and I must admit I did go rather quiet during that part. I seemed to find my voice again when it got to the promise to:
faithfully observe the laws of New Zealand and fulfil my duties as a New Zealand citizen.
I would have liked to have said the affirmation in Maori, but there was no time to arrange this, and in any case if I had done so I probably would have been on my own, and wouldn’t have been able to mumble the part about the Queen.
After all the formalities were finished, everyone sang the New Zealand national anthem in Maori and English, and then there were cakes and savouries and the threat of the ‘loyal toast’ to the Queen – luckily, perhaps, we had a dinner engagement and couldn’t stay for that!
So, I am now a New Zealand citizen and am currently waiting on my New Zealand passport. Coincidentally, 2016 is 30 years since my family first moved to New Zealand. I have now had an association with New Zealand for more than half of my life, and have lived here for around a third of it. I still think of myself as an Australian, although these days my Australianness seems to come out mainly when New Zealanders make what I consider ill-informed or sweeping generalisations about Australia. But I’m a New Zealander too, and very happy to be one. When people in Edinburgh ask me where I’m from, I’ll say “New Zealand”- though, if they seem interested enough, I may add: “but I’m originally from Australia”.