Australian citizenship and the Multi-word

My last post attracted the attention of my old mate in Louisiana, so I thought it might be a good idea to outline what I mean by the M-word.

Not a bad starting point is the pledge of citizenship.



The new citizens above are saying one of these:

1   Form of pledge no. 1

From this time forward, under God,

I 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.

2   Form of pledge no. 2

From this time forward,

I 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.

So long as the citizen conscientiously keeps that pledge then it does not matter where they do or don’t worship, what clothes they might wear, what food they eat, what school they choose, what language they speak among themselves, what gender they are, what sexuality they identify with, what political views they might have. Respect for diversity within the scope of the pledge is and ought to be what we mean by multiculturalism in Australia – and generally speaking that is what happens.

I, being born here, never took such an oath of course. In fact though born here in 1943 I couldn’t really be an Australian citizen until 1969! I was until then a British Subject.


Passport as of my date of birth


6 thoughts on “Australian citizenship and the Multi-word

  1. Actually, Neil, you were both an Australian citizen and a British subject. I was a bit confused on this one myself when I went to Thailand at the end of 1965. What did I put under nationality on the immigation form? The answer was Australian.

  2. Yes, there had been an earlier Act clarifying that c 1948, but it wasn’t until 1969 that it was fully sorted.

    As to the –ism, it’s simply the noun formed from “multicultural”. It’s true that abstract nouns can be a worry especially when they have generated various and contentious definitions, but I embrace both word and concept very happily, proudly in fact, so long as everyone is clear what I mean by it, and what Australian governments have meant by it.

  3. Neil, one of the difficulties with the way the term came to be used, or at least perceived, is the lack of a common definition. You can see this if you look at the comments on the Oz article you referred to. Factually, Australia is a multicultural society in the sense that it contains many cultures. Factually, people can maintain their individual cultures so long as they do not breach Australian law or, more problematically, core majority values. Factually, there have been powerful social processes that encourage integration; last year when I shut my eyes on the train to Parramatta and just listened to the school conversations around me, all the visual differences and markers vanished. Factually, there has been remarkably little inter-ethnic or inter-cultural tensions.

    Did the official multicultural policies help all this? To really answer this question would require a detailed study. My gut judgment would be yes, but also no. I suspect that the policies were especially important earlier on, especially important in particular areas such as schooling. However, they also bred resistance in the broader community that we still see in discussion. I stand to be corrected on the facts, but I don’t think that there was any initial resistance. This came later and for a variety of reasons that included other social changes in the Australian community and especially a rise in insecurity. It is much easier to accept difference if you feel secure.

    What I am unsure about and also uncomfortable about is the extent to which the social underpinnings that have supported a multicultural society have shifted and, if so, what we do about it. One thing is to do as you do and keep beating the drum for tolerance and acceptance of diversity. I think that’s necessary. Beyond that I’m not sure.

  4. Thanks for this comment, Jim. My drum beating is simply a continuation of what I did every day as an ESL teacher, and I found the real problem was, sad to say, very often plain and simple xenophobia. Such xenophobia was also apparent in the 1970s when Vietnamese were the focus of people’s anxieties, fed in my experience in Wollongong at that time by a left-wing opposition to Fraser’s generosity towards boat people. (That does seem far away and long ago, doesn’t it?) Incidentally it was at that time I first heard the word “multiculturalism” and it did take some getting the head around at the time as we had all blandly made assumptions about what the dominant culture was and were assimilationist at heart. You will observe that I am still in favour of integration, but have learned there are in fact positive reasons, let alone humanitarian ones, for being more accepting (not merely tolerant or patronising) of difference than we used to be. For example, foreign languages are an asset rather than something to be stamped upon.

  5. Interesting, Neil. Xenephobia is a real problem in all societies.

    We have spoken before about the way our different experiences mold us. At the time you speak of, in the seventies, my friendship group in Canberra had a strong Vietnamese influence and had been involved in campaigning on behalf of Vietnamese refugees. I also lived in Queanbeyan, one of Australia’s early multi-cultural communities. Then Canberra itself was pretty tolerant. Your experiences were obviously different. I think that I already saw Australia as multi-cultural, where you saw a country that needed to become so.

    Where we are absolutely in agreement in our different ways is the need for and also value of recognition of plurality.

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