On Saturday, my dear friends Alice and Dougall and their son Jasper became Australian citizens.
It's been a long road for them to get to this point. Alice lived in Australia for a year in the nineties, and she loved it, vowing to return in years to come. Five years ago she was sponsored by the company for which she was working to come out and work here. As she was packing to emigrate, she found out that she was pregnant with Jasper and the whole thing nearly fell through.
Australian citizenship has been Alice's dream for as long as I've known her. An Essex girl, she's bright, snappy and fun. We bonded at work over a love of the Pixies, cups of tea and an unfailing need to out nerd each other.
Permanant residency came about two years ago, and that was a great thing - they could stay, but Alice would be bonded to the company she was working for. "Didn't Ned Kelly say "Such is Life"." She would respond when asking her what she though of being tethered to a downwardly mobile company and a job that wasn't really taxing her. "You have to do what you have to do."
So Saturday, five long years later, we met up with her friend Amelia and went to the MCG to witness the ceremony.
I've mentioned before that I'm not the best advertisement for patriotism - decidedly un-Australian in many ways I'm not one of those "out there" Australians, with a tempered British accent and no hint of a Southern Cross tattoo on my skin, no inclination to drink Fosters or XXXX and I don't like meat pies.
However, this ceremony got to the pit of me.
Firstly, the ceremony was held at the MCG. I pass the place daily but I've only been in the structure once when I ran the Melbourne Half Marathon last year - finishing the 21 kms with a lap of the central oval. It was interesting being in such a large structure with such a different group of people. Normally you go to the "G" and everybody is wearing football scarves, duffel coats and smelling of footy chips.
On this occassion, there were people from every imaginable nationality, some dressed in suits and formal garb, others in national costumes, others with their football scarves firmly in place. The latter I believe was a knee jerk reaction to the fact that Collingwood Football Club were hosting the event that would see 3000 new Australians made and I think they were on a bit of a recruitment drive. I very nearly took my Crows scarf along for good measure. (Collingwood, phah! Can't barrack for Collingwood - I have all my teeth, thank you)
They took the soon to be citizens off in one direction and the visitors in another. In my naivety I thought that these people were about to go through a last round of citizenship proving - you know, turn a chop on a barbeque, go three times round a Hills Hoist, get run through a sheep dip, drive the ute around the oval once and clap a pair of thongs. Something like that. It appears that this was just a formality as Amelia and I spotted the three of them three rows from the pitch near the front, sitting happily waiting for the ceremony to begin.
The ceremony started on time. The speakers talked of the bravery and courage of the people sitting in front of us. They had chosen to be Australian. They all had their stories to tell - from those like Alice who wanted to make this sunny warm land her home to others who had escaped unseen atrocities. They talked of the pride these people had, and the hope they all felt in coming to start over here. They talked of Australians having the ability to give anything a go, to overcome adversity and to see the positives in everything.
Amelia and I were nearly in tears. We were both choked up. Maybe it's because both of us have seen the world, travelled extensively, lived in other countries and we know exactly how good we have it over here. Maybe it's because we are fortunate enough to have been born here and to not have to had made the choice. Regardless, as the 3000 odd people sat there affirming their allegience ot this country, a huge feeling of pride came over the crowd. It was something I've never felt before.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, Amelia and I missed what would have been the sight of the day. Alice and Jasper sneaked onto the ground - a gate had been left open. Jasper, aged five, is as Aussie Rules mad as every other Melbourne five-year-old. He had brought his Sherrin along. Alice and Jasper made a break for the goalposts and Jasper, triumphant, kicked the ball straight through the posts.
I wish I had seen that. What a perfect ending to what was a great day.
Walking back home from the ceremony I made my way down Bridge Road. A family followed me - apparently from somewhere in the Middle East, dark skinned, dark haired children ran around with a football, mother in a salaar kameez, kohl eyes, dark hair under a scarf, father, late thirties, in a suit. They spoke in Arabic. Each had the sappling and a showbag of a new citizen (Everybody who became a citizen was presented with these on the day) I smiled and nodded at them. I bid them congratulations. The father gave me a wide smile back. "Thank you. It's not every day you get your dream come true."
At the after party later that evening we dined on the coat of arms (kangaroo and emu sausages), cheese on sticks, pavlova, iced vovos, lemon polenta cake and washed it all down with cold beer.
Saturday will go down as one of my favorite days on record.
To witness somebody's ultimate dream become reality is a truly wonderful thing.