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Model citizen

18 September 2018, Action for Change

Kupakwashe Matangira: National Australian Citizenship Day

In 2006 my family decided to pack up and move to Australia from Zimbabwe because my Dad got a job here. I was 5 years old when we arrived, and both my parents worked extremely hard to build a new home for us here. The move was daunting because, unlike the rest of my family, I could not speak English, yet was immediately put into pre-school. All the while I was being told we were on ‘holiday’. 

Much like my family’s experience, Zimbabwean migration has mainly been sought to find new opportunities for work as skilled migrants, as opposed to fleeing more serious situations. Zimbabwean migration to Australia is not new, dating back to the 1950s, with two-thirds of the total population coming in the past 20 years. The majority of people are of English or Scottish background, but there are also growing numbers of indigenous Shona and Ndebele people.

Adjusting to Australian life was not easy for a 5-year-old child who is trying to understand the world. In Zimbabwe, I did not look different. I did not have to worry about people whispering racist comments when I walked past, calling me hurtful names. I hated being different, eating “odd food” and not sounding like everyone else at pre-school. I was surrounded by difference. I felt alone. This could be a similar experience for more than 137,000 people in 2016-17 who became new citizens, representing more than 190 different countries of origin.

My local community would play a vital part in instilling a feeling of acceptance. People were eager to hear my family’s story and to share their own. This is one of Australia’s honourable traits – a country made up of people from across the globe.

In the end my solitude was only temporary. In time I made friends, learned to speak English and the barriers that once hindered me from enjoying the world began to be dismantled. I began to call Australia home, sung the national anthem with pride, picked up “Aussie slang” and felt a sense of belonging. I connected on the mutual love for this great country that embraces diversity as central to its identity. Now, I could not imagine calling anywhere but Australia home. 

Australian political debate has politicised immigration and made the citizenship process more complex. In fact, in 1949 the qualifications were simple, migrants needed to be in sound health and under the age of 45. Granted, the White Australia Policy period would favour those of European backgrounds until multiculturalism would begin to be embraced in the 1970s. Immigration policy was strategic for population growth, however, like previous times in Australian history, compassion was tempered with discrimination. Our citizenship process should be making Australia a harmonious country that provides new chances for people from across the globe.

Since Australian citizenship was introduced in 1949, more than 5 million people have become Australian citizens. To many who have undergone the arduous task of citizenship it is more than just a piece of paper, it’s having shared values and honouring Australia’s diversity. My family chose to call Australia home because we believed in its values and echoed the ideals that all Australians strive for – egalitarianism and the right to a fair go.

Each year many families are given Australian citizenship because they believe in these ideals and share Australian values. These families choose to become Australians because they are connected by the shared bonds of belonging and wanting to make Australia a better place for themselves, and for everyone who lives here. 

Kupakwashe (far right) is one of our 2018 Youth Ambassadors. Read more about the Youth Ambassadors.

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