New citizens formalise their place in Bega Valley community.

Sittikai Henchaichone, Kannaphat Henchaichone, Deerana Kuskel, Brittany McConnell, Jason Badham, Saul Nightingale, Pavan Tenali, Dr Krishnankutty Rajesh, Parvathy Rajesh, Kiran Rajesh, Jennifer Watson. Photo: Ian Campbell
Sittikai Henchaichone, Kannaphat Henchaichone, Deerana Kuskel, Brittany McConnell, Jason Badham, Saul Nightingale, Pavan Tenali, Dr Krishnankutty Rajesh, Parvathy Rajesh, Kiran Rajesh, Jennifer Watson. Photo: Ian Campbell

Giving up your citizenship is a hard thing to get your head around if you were born in Australia.

Generally speaking, being born in Australia is the Wonka Golden Ticket of citizenship.

I guess there are Australian’s that renounce their citizenship – Rupert Murdoch comes to mind, but Aussie’s choosing citizenship of another country over the green and gold isn’t something you come across or hear about.

Other people becoming or wanting to become an Australian citizen is much easier to understand.

Around this great southland, 13,000 people made a pledge to Australia and its people on January 26, 11 of those in Bega, people born at all points of the global compass.

Nationally, people of Indian descent were the second largest group to take part in citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day behind the British, something that was reflected locally.

Indian born Bega residents, Dr Krishnankutty Rajesh, Parvathy Rajesh, and Kiran Rajesh, along with Cobargo’s Pavan Tenali are now Australian citizens.

Cobargo's Pavan Tenali. Photo: Ian Campbell
Cobargo’s Pavan Tenali. Photo: Ian Campbell

“This is a lovely community and very peaceful, a good place to stay,” Pavan says.

With Australian Crawl’s hit “Boys Light Up” playing in the background, Pavan tells me he has been in Australia for 10 years, in recent years working at the Cobargo Service Station.

“India is a good place too, but now I live here and the feeling is good,” he says.

Skype helps Pavan keep in touch with his large family in India, he says they are very happy for him and support his decision to become an Australian citizen.

“It was a big decision, but I am very happy, my family have peace of mind.”

India and the United Kindom weren’t the only nations represented in Bega, others pledging loyalty to Australia’s democratic beliefs, rights, liberties, and laws came from Thailand and the United States.

Bermagui's Saul Nightingale. Photo: Ian Campbell.
Bermagui’s Saul Nightingale. Photo: Ian Campbell.

With the day’s soundtrack moving along to Men at Work, Saul Nightingale says his heart has always been Australian.

“I moved here when I was five, that’s forty years ago,” Saul smiles.

“Mum and Dad are from the UK and they just saw the way things were going there, they thought this is not a place to bring up a family, in terms of opportunity, safety, and employment.

Saul calls Bermagui home now and when he isn’t playing music he works for the not-for-profit training organisation – The Centre for Community Welfare Training.

“My earliest memory of Australia was pulling into Sydney Harbour on the P&O Canberra on a stunningly beautiful day, Sydney was showing off, Australia made a pretty good first impression,” Saul laughs.

While becoming an Australian citizen was a formality for Saul, it was something that came with a sense of duty.

“I have a responsibility to have a say politically, as all Australians do,” he says.

“It’s all very well to talk about politics and to support certain causes but if you can’t actually put a vote to that then there’s a level of hypocrisy there.”

Merimbula's Brittany McConnell. Photo: Ian Campbell
Merimbula’s Brittany McConnell. Photo: Ian Campbell

Merimbula’s Brittany McConnell has been in Australia for six and half years with her Australian husband, her background is a jumble of the United States and England.

“It is a big decision to take Australian citizenship, but now I just feel so happy and proud, it feels amazing,” Brittany says.

Like Saul, this nurse from Pambula Hospital is looking forward to having her say.

“Back home you don’t actually have to participate [vote] if you don’t want to, so it’s quite nice to feel that obligation and be involved in decisions and feel like you have a voice,” she says.

As the band starts with Mondo Rock, I chat to Jason Badham who was born in the United States and has found love, life, and work in the Bega Valley.

Wolumla's Jason Badham. Photo: Ian Campbell.
Wolumla’s Jason Badham. Photo: Ian Campbell.

Living in Wolumla, Jason is a website designer with 2pi Software.

“I’ve been thinking about taking out citizenship for almost eight years, but the final decision came at the end of January 2017, ” Jason says.

The Trump inauguration seems to have played a part in Jason’s decision but more so the influence of his Australian partner Kirsten.

“I was in the States and I discovered my wife here in Australia because she was breeding the same kind of parrots that I was, I found her website and it was an encyclopedia of information,” Jason says.

“One thing led to another, I helped her build a website, we started having a friendship and I decided to come over here – it’s the best choice I ever made.”

Australia Day remains a tangle of issues yet to be sorted, but the role the citizenship ceremony plays is beyond question. Those who already have Australian citizenship are reminded by those who are new to it why Australia is such a good place to be and why diversity makes us stronger.

*About Regional content happens through the support of members – thank you to The Crossing Land Education Trust at Bermagui, 2pi Software, Snowy Monaro Regional Council, Fiona Firth, Scott Halfpenny, Bruce and Julie Williamson, Sue Hill, Robert Hartemink, Maureen Searson, Bruce Morrison, and Kerry Newlin. Thank you!

Bega Valley Mayor, Kristy McBain calls on us to “Advance Australia”

Kristy McBain, pic from Bega Valley Shire Council
Bega Valley Shire Mayor, Kristy McBain. Photo: Bega Valley Shire Council

Through her Australia Day address, Bega Valley Mayor, Kristy McBain has tried to advance the conversation about our national day.

“With courage let us all combine in a celebration and conversation about our country,” the Mayor told the 200 people gathered in Littleton Gardens this morning for the Shire’s official Australia Day ceremony.

An hour after the Bega ceremony concluded a Survival Day event was held in Bermagui, reflecting the undeniable loss many Aboriginal people feel on January 26.

The Bega Valley was split in two, and those overwhelmed by the debate went to the beach.

Communities divided or not engaged on our national day – surely this is not healthy?

Rather than waiting for Federal leadership on the issue, perhaps the people of South East NSW could lead the way and create an event that truly unifies and inspires all Australians.

It’s a conversation the Bega Valley’s Mayor seems keen to have and lead…

To address you on a day such as this is a tremendous honour and something I have spent a lot of time thinking about.

Australia Day is an event that generates conversation and thought, and rightly so. Thank you for being here to consider my thoughts.

There is a sigh of relief that comes with being Australian, our country is truly blessed in natures gifts and the beauty of our people and way of life is rich and rare.

The people we honour today with an Australia Day Award remind us that being Australian is active citizenship.

People like Dane, Junee, Ron, Shaun, Geoffrey and Marshall are people within our community that point the way. They inspire us and remind us of the power we each have within our hands and heart to shape this land that is girt by sea.

I am so glad you are here today to share in their wisdom and experience, and perhaps ask yourself – What can I do to Advance Australia? How can I respect and support the people, environment, and way of life we celebrate today?

Today we also stand up and cheer as new Australian’s join our ranks and deepen our proud multicultural heritage.

Twelve people will today become Australian citizens, people from across the seas to share our boundless plains. The stories of these people and the talent they bring make us stronger.

Central to our time together today is a history that spans one of the oldest living cultures on the planet as well as European settlement and exploration.

Australia Day is a history lesson that presents a range of ideas and experiences to consider; stories that take in the full scope of our country’s history and human emotion.

How these shared and at times conflicting histories sit side by side and are remembered is an ongoing dialogue for our community and important work for us to do so that in history’s page, every stage, does Advance Australia.

As different and conflicting as those histories are at times, there are often shared values and ambitions that rise to the surface as those histories are shared.

At our core, we are a nation of people who value being Australian and what that means to us and says to the world.

It’s freedom that comes as easy as the next breath, a celebration and acceptance of different cultures, an emphasis on friendship, a spirit that has a go, a sense of fun, and an empathy that steps up when we see a need.

A successful nation has been built on these lands over many thousands of years, each chapter adds something new, each chapter has its own challenges, and each chapter calls on us to help shape the next.

So in 2018 I encourage you to mark Australia Day however feels right to you, remembering all that we have to be grateful for, all that we have in common, and the future we all create together.

With courage let us all combine in a celebration and conversation about our country.

Happy Australia Day!

Bega Valley Shire Mayor, Kristy McBain

The increasing hurt and frustration around Australia Day damages the potential and delays resolution, while ever it continues people will run from any organised event, the only people attending will be those at the extremes of the discussion, the rest will opt for a swim and a good book, and Australia Day will become just another public holiday when it could be so much more.

The leadership shown by Cr McBain this morning is perhaps the start of something better, let’s get the local discussion going now and not wait for next January to roll around.

Always interested in your thoughts.

Ian

 

*Author is part-time media officer for Bega Valley Shire Council and acted as MC for Australia Day 2018 in Bega.