Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Natural questions

Naturalisation is an odd term that roughly corresponds with the notion of citizenship. It was complicated in Australia by the fact that we were a British colony that wanted to maintain strong ties to Britain, and one in which many people felt themselves to be British rather than Australian. The whole idea of an Australian identity is a late twentieth century notion still rejected by some colonial stalwarts. According to the National Archives of Australia:

At Federation in 1901, ‘British subject’ was the sole civic status noted in the Australian Constitution. The Australasian Federal Convention of 1897–98 was unable to agree on a definition of the term ‘citizen’ and wanted to preserve British nationality in Australia. An administrative concept of citizenship arose from the need to distinguish between British subjects who were permanent residents and those who were merely visitors. This was necessary for the Commonwealth to exercise its powers over immigration and deportation. Motivated by the nationalism of Arthur Calwell, the Minister for Immigration 1945–49, this administrative concept was formalised in the Nationality and Citizenship Act 1948. In 1958 the Act was amended so that naturalisation could only be revoked if obtained by fraud. This prevented a naturalised person being stripped of citizenship and deported.

Throughout the 1960s, Australian citizens were still required to declare their nationality as British. The term ‘Australian nationality’ had no official recognition or meaning until the Act was amended in 1969 and renamed the Citizenship Act. This followed a growing sense of Australian nationalism and the declining importance for Australians of the British Empire. In 1973 the Act was renamed the Australian Citizenship Act. It was not until 1984 that Australian citizens ceased to be British subjects.

Wilhelm and his family would have been naturalised together under the umbrella of Wilhelm. Remember at this time, Wilhelmine would not have been allowed to vote or own property, so she was effectively an offshoot of Wilhelm. According to Ann-Mari Jordens, “Until 1969, children of married women could only attain their citizenship status through their fathers, and the definition of ‘responsible parent’ was amended only in 1984 to give equal rights to both parents. Before then, a father could take his child out of Australia without its mother's permission.” My partner who arrived in Australia in 1965, received his citizenship through his father qualifying for residency and then citizenship. I don’t know if he would have been required to leave the country if his parents separated before his citizenship came through.

In Wilhelm’s case, if he had died before he was naturalised, his widow would have had to remarry, not only for financial security, but also to obtain citizenship for her children.

The whole idea of naturalisation in the context of a German migrant arriving in Queensland in the 1880s is incredibly complex. Germany had only been recently unified under a Prussian government so the whole idea of being German was still new. Wilhelm probably would not have thought of himself as such. Federation of the colonies in Australia didn’t occur until 1901, so Queensland was a separate administration. Wilhelm would have become a British subject foremost and a resident of the colony of Queensland second.

On the other hand, I suspect that once migrants arrived and dispersed, provided they minded their own business, citizenship and such would not have been a big issue. The Beutels were landed at Rockhampton in 1880 as part of a government drive to settle migrants away from Brisbane and southeast Queensland. Yet by May, they were already as far south as Beenleigh and within a year, they were 50 kilometres from Brisbane. Somehow, in that year, they traversed 700 kilometres, probably by coastal steamer and on foot, to get to where the government would rather they weren’t. The determination of migrants to obtain a new home and a good life cannot be underestimated.

1 comment:

SybBrig said...

Fascinating, and a bit shocking to my ignorant USA attitudes, how recently Australia became Australia. I had forgotten the civics lessons my father taught us over our international stamp collections of the '70s -- those British Empire stamps from Canada and Australia (did we have some from Hong Kong? I don't remember). And of course we lived in Nigeria in the midst of a civil war, short years after it stopped being a British Colony, so we were ripe for the lesson.

But then I moved back to the USA and the insular teachings of a rural high school, where we didn't even get much in the way of USA civics lessons or history, and anything I knew faded to blank. So much for being a world citizen.