Virtual ceremonies deliver real joy to new Aussie citizens

Brimbank City Council has welcomed about 250 new Australian citizens through the COVID-19 restrictions with a bit of help from technology and a lot of enthusiasm from its community.

It became one of the first municipalities in Melbourne and the first in the west to hold online citizenship ceremonies after recognising this was a way to provide something positive to its community at a time when so many negative things were happening around them.

Brimbank Mayor Cr Georgina Papafotiou said Council was heartened by people’s response when asked if they wanted to take part in the virtual citizenship ceremonies.

‘These are milestone events which mean so much to our community and overwhelmingly they welcomed the opportunity to take part in these virtual ceremonies,’ she said.

‘We are proud to be a pioneer of virtual citizenship ceremonies ensuring that some of the things that matter so much to our community can continue safely during these challenging times.’

The work required for virtual citizenship ceremonies is different from the traditional events of the pre-COVID-19 era where ceremonies held over an hour saw at least 100 people make the pledge to become Australians. In 2019 Council welcomed 2180 new citizens.

During a virtual citizenship ceremony, as Presiding Officer Cr Papafotiou is able to perform about five individual citizenship ceremonies over an hour. This makes it a much more time consuming endeavour. But Cr Papafotiou insists it is a rewarding one.

‘People were making the Australian citizenship pledge in their living rooms, but insisted on wearing suits and formal wear, they displayed the Australian flag in the background, some cried with joy, their immediate family members stood in the background proudly – I was thrilled and honoured to be part of this.

‘A big thank you to staff who worked behind the scenes to make virtual citizenship ceremonies a reality despite the challenges that this has involved. I’m sure they will agree the end result has been worth it,’ Cr Papafotiou said.

So far Council has held six virtual ceremonies that have required Cr Papafotiou and Council support staff to hold online sessions for more than 40 hours. Each new Australian citizen has a one-on-one experience with the Mayor, who has recited the Australian citizenship pledge more than 250 times over these sessions. But who’s counting!