Australians have always been a little uncomfortable with formalities. So it has been with our national day. The Americans may have their Fourth of July parades, and the French their Bastille Day processions, but insofar as there is a definitive way of celebrating Australia Day it’s a barbecue.
And yet, a new ritual is emerging across the country. In town halls and squares around the country this week, more than 10,000 people will become Australian citizens. They will 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 there is a lack of civic rituals in our national life, I can think of no better way for Australians, new and old, to come together and celebrate our fraternal bonds.
Australia Day is, after all, a day of citizenship. By this I don’t mean that it’s a day only for those who become citizens. Rather, I mean that it’s an occasion for us to reflect upon the things that we share as Australians. It's not all about landscape and lifestyle. We shouldn’t forget the democratic rights and freedoms that comprise the Australian tradition. Though we are a young country in some respects, we’re also one of the oldest democracies in the world.
It can be easy for many of us to take our membership of the community for granted. So this Australia Day, if you’ve nothing planned, think about popping by a citizenship ceremony in your town or city. Witnessing others naturalise as Australians is a reminder that citizenship is not for everyone a birthright. As any naturalised Australian will tell you, it is a status worn with immeasurable pride.
And you can be more than just a spectator too: after new citizens take their pledge of loyalty, you can affirm yours with the same pledge. It’s a humble ritual, more about substance than style. I’d say it’s just about right for a country that doesn’t like going over the top with its rituals.
Tim Soutphommasane is a political philosopher. His books include Reclaiming Patriotism and The Virtuous Citizen (forthcoming this year).