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To be Australian or not to be

Trading in my New Zealand passport has never, and will never be an option for me. I am a fiercely patriotic Kiwi, even though I am rapidly clocking up the years overseas and notably, here in Sydney. My home.

Sydney Opera House. Photo - Jessica Podzebenko

I am married to an Australian, I have Australian nationals as children and I own a home in Australia. Yet for most of the time I have been calling Australia home, I have strongly resisted the idea of accumulating another passport – in fact I would go so far to say I have baulked at the idea and uttered the words ‘over my dead body’.

Deep down I know it wouldn’t change my association with New Zealand – my spiritual home – but I was scared of the slippery slope that it might result in.

Lake Wanaka, New Zealand - my calm place. Photo - Jessica Podzebenko.

As a Kiwi married to an Australian and financially secure, I am on a good wicket here. Freedom to work, freedom to come and go as I please, access to Medicare, child care subsidies, and I dutifully pay my taxes. Fortunately I don’t have to worry about the lack of right to a number of basic social services and benefits which New Zealanders on ‘unprotected’ visas cannot access (e.g. unemployment benefit or loans for higher education fees).

But given the political turmoil of late, my bubbling anger at the ludicrousness of Australian politics and the small fact I hold a bachelors degree in Political Science, my voter apathy was slowly turning into one of engagement and activism. Perhaps if I did obtain the right to vote, could I then have an impact on the circus-like state that has been Australian politics? Perhaps not for my immediate benefit, but for the benefit of my Australian kids?

Wolgan Valley, New South Wales, Australia. Photo - Jessica Podzebenko

My husband did point out that even if I could vote in our electorate, it would really make little difference in the current climate. Our electorate is Wentworth – the Prime Minister’s home turf and an area where he has won convincingly for over a decade.

Not that I want to topple our PM – who, by the way, I am quite pleased is our leader. For the first time since moving to this lucky country in 2007 can I now proudly talk about our PM to the folks across the ditch. But you have to be in the game to win, and one day, my vote may make the difference. Or at least that is what democracy is inherently about – giving people a voice and a say.

A hot summer's day - Australian beach culture. Photo - Jessica Podzebenko

Bubbling alongside this growing sense of political engagement – or at least a desire to be more engaged – is the acknowledgment that we are home, here in Sydney. It is the place I have spent the most number of consecutive years living since my first 11 years in our family home as a young girl.

Alongside that, is the acceptance that moving back to New Zealand becomes less and less likely as the years go by. Part of me figures if I’m going to be here long term, committed to my family being settled here and my children growing up as Australians, then I may as well jump in the pool as well. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Even if you are a permanent resident with effectively unfettered rights, I still feel like I am a long term visitor – partly my own subconscious wanting to keep the option of moving ‘home’ to NZ alive in my back pocket, and partly the fact being that the rules of the game can change on us at any time.

Marrying an Australian was never part of the plan – and certainly me taking an Australian citizenship has never entered my thought process until recently. But I’m slowly flicking through the web pages on the government website to find out just how many hoops I may have to jump through to be able to stake my claim to lamingtons and under arm bowling. Taking that citizenship test would be a day of mixed feelings and a large degree of ribbing from my husband, so I’m glad it’s a slow process. But to participate fully in the country I now call home, to exercise my voice and feel truly part of the community I live – no longer an ‘ex–pat’, I see it as a necessary step.


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