Australia Day awards and new citizens

Lien Vo wore a traditional Vietnamese ao dai for the citizenship ceremony. She is pictured here with son Huy Cao (Thomas), 11 years, who also received his Australian citizenship on the day. She said: “I had the ao dai made last year during my last visit to Vietnam. I had to travel to another city to get it made, but it was very special to me to be able to wear an Australian version of my traditional dress at the ceremony.” Pictures: CHRIS MUNRO

By Jenel Hunt

For the sake of formality and ceremony, Southern Downs Mayor Vic Pennisi wore his fur-lined red mayoral robe and chain of office but he was sweltering as he welcomed a crowd to the Australia Day Civic Ceremony at the Stanthorpe Civic Centre on 26 January.

It might not have gone so far as courting heatstroke, but he reckoned he was losing a pound or two because of his self-imposed sauna. Still, he persevered with his garb to add a stately atmosphere to the proceedings.

Flags stood on poles near the stage, silent witnesses to oaths of allegiance and citizenship affirmations as six people became Australians and Australia Day awards were handed out.

In his welcome speech, Cr Pennisi reminded the audience that this year marked 75 years since Australian citizenship was introduced into law and created for the first time a legal status of being uniquely Australian.

“More than 50 per cent of Australians are either an immediate immigrant born overseas or a direct descendant of someone born overseas. These people have all made a contribution to the custodianship of this great nation,” he said.

“We should never forget where we have come from. It is the result of the contributions made by those past that now define us. Our regions have been forged over many generations, beginning with the original custodians and later with those born in a different nations. Together we have formed these unique communities that we call home, that I often refer to as a rich and colourful tapestry.

Stanthorpe was the scene of the citizenship pledge of commitment for six conferees, and councillors Cameron Gow, Stephen Tancred and Andrew Gale attended to assist with handing out certificates and native plants.

Cr Pennisi, in welcoming the six, told them they would be the people who contributed to the multicultural fabric in the future, helping mould and shape the community going forward.

“We live in the greatest country on earth, built on blood, sweat, tears, toil and turmoil. This is home to many different nationalities and Southern Downs in particular offers all new Australians a richness in culture and a safe, warm and loving environment,” he said.

“My parents arrived on a boat and their contribution to this country and the community they settled in is a story in itself. The son of a peasant farmer becomes Mayor can only happen in Australia, and I look forward to hearing your stories as time goes on.“

The Australia Day ambassador speech was given by Nerelie Teese, of Beaudesert, who said that as one of 300 ambassadors her aim was to help make Australia Day a time to reflect, value, respect and celebrate evolving national stories.

The daughter and granddaughter of dairy farmers, she has made her mark as a bush poet and as an educator for more than 30 years, with her area of specialty being teacher librarianship. She co-founded an international literacy project and helped source thousands of books for libraries in the Philippines as well as sharing her library reading programs at conferences both in Australia and internationally. Her poetry has taken her throughout Australia and to Canada and the USA. She has performed in Australia on radio and TV … and now in Stanthorpe, for she recited one of her bush poems as part of her presentation.

The southern region’s Citizen of the Year was Vince Catanzaro, a lawyer and the founder of the Italian Australian Welfare Association, for which he has been president for the past 27 years. He was at the helm during the IAWA’s beginnings when it provided services to Italians and others from non-English-speaking backgrounds on the Granite Belt to its expanded role offering My Aged Care services to help people remain in their homes as long as possible.

“It’s a great privilege and honour to be the recipient of this award. I started out as the son of an immigrant cane farmer. My wife Maria and I chose to make this our home and our children were born here.

“I didn’t know anyone here when we came and we’re still not related to anyone, but what we have achieved has been done with the support of the community.

“You need a strong, united family behind you to be able to succeed in life, and I’d really like to thank my family,” he said.