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The day before yesterday was a red letter day, the culmination of an interminable wait that had us holding our breath for some time now. An email notified us that our status in this country has been dignified with some semblance of legitimacy. We are now, finally, “permanent” residents.

The red sticker in my brand new US passport says “permitted to remain in Australia indefinitely.” The idea that one is going to be around indefinitely is very pleasing, in Australia or anywhere else.

We began the process that led to this point back in the spring of 2006, when my wife was offered the position at the University. It didn’t occur to me what a time consuming business it was going to be until I started assembling the supporting documentation for the first visa– subclass 457, a short-term, temporary business visa.

In October of 2006, we sent off certified copies of our birth certificates, marriage certificates, New York, California, Ontario and Quebec bar certificates, all my wife’s academic degrees (which had to be removed from picture frames, photocopied and certified), employment references, and passport picture pages. Along with the pre-departure questionnaire.

Then, we needed health certificates and chest X -rays by doctors living in our part of Florida who had been certified trustworthy by Australian immigration. The nearest clinic offering this service was a two hour drive away. The doctor appeared to be from India, though he may have been Australian.

The medical exams and x-rays would be repeated here in Melbourne later, toward the end of process that would stretch well over a year.  I failed to comprehend the time scale involved, the grinding bureaucracy, the big wait.

I have no doubt the same process would be an absolute nightmare in my own country. It would no doubt have me extracting my last remaining hairs in absolute despair. We were like amateur mountain climbers making an attempt on the bureaucratic equivalent of Everest wearing tennis shoes (trainers).

The application for employer sponsored migration to Australia (form 47ES) is 26 pages long.  It requires careful consideration and still more documents, as well as the production of clean police checks from every country in which one has lived a year or more during the last ten years.  Considering the first immigrants on record, you would think we would be required to prove that we were criminals in good standing.

Hong Kong, the Philippines, and the F.B.I. were asked to look into our nefarious backgrounds.  This was not exactly a priority for the federal bureau of investigation, and I was warned it would take some time.  I used to say that everything that taxed my patience was glacial, but I’ll have to come up with a different metaphor.  It’s a brave new world.

We now have the opportunity to consider taking out citizenship. According to a recent article in the “Age,” fewer and fewer immigrants are taking a run at that one. Thanks to a newly-introduced citizenship test, the numbers of applications have plummeted.

A dense, 42 page booklet, from which questions are drawn, describes the use of the “stump-jump plough,” the location of Phar Lap’s heart, and, in the sports section (which should, by my reckoning, be the size of a city telephone book), questions such as, who is the “greatest cricket batsman of all time.”

There is some concern that the booklet may be “impenetrable” for newly arrived migrants, and that potential citizens fear they may be deported if they fail.  Eventually, 95% do pass the exam as long as they know the name of Sir Don Bradman’s bat.

Next time I’m coming back as a cat. She just had a rabies shot, a chip and quarantine. I’ll take that any day.

P.S. The movie, by-the-way, (see a previous post), the Canadian one we waited forever and a day to get in the mail. It wasn’t very good. If you have “Away from Her” on your list of DVDs, you may want to reconsider. Get “Kenny” instead.


This was the week the clouds broke. Following what seemed like weeks of gray, the sun emerged, gracing Melbourne with blue skies and light. September 1st was the first day of Spring. North American readers will have a hard time with that. It is a bizarre notion for me and I’ve had some time to get used to the idea.

The writers came to town for the Writer’s Festival. There were luminaries like J.M. Coetzee and Dave Eggers as well as charmers like Alexander McCall Smith and John Lanchester.  I got a handful of tickets and enjoyed a feast of wordsmiths talking about subjects from family secrets to the impact of a materialistic culture on spiritual life.

I came home with books, of course. More for the stack on the bookshelf, the pile by the bed, the coffee tables. I learned that I am a rare bird, a male reader. Apparently, anyone who plows through anything thicker than magazines is a woman, almost by definition.

I am the odd man out, currently reading “Fiasco” by Thomas Ricks, the “True History of the Kelly Gang” by Peter Carey, “Pegasus Descending” by James Lee Burke and “A Commonwealth of Thieves: the Improbable Birth of Australia” by Thomas Keneally.

And now, of course, I can listen to books, a wonderful way to fill up hours at the gym, on the tram or bike path. I just shook off the magical spell of “The Emporer’s Children,” by Claire Messud, followed by the powerful and depressing “The World Without Us,” by Alan Weisman. As an antidote, I am deep into the charming tale of “Balzac and the Little Seamstress” by Dai Sijie.

The one time I attempted to ask a question at the Writer’s Festival, my tongue simply refused to get itself around my thoughts and the two eloquent writers at the front of the room found themselves completely baffled. I am often incoherent in the public forum and I don’t know why I expected to be able to express myself well this time.

With a blog you get a second chance. The panelists were Marcella Polain, an Australian writer who has a novel out based on her Armenian family history, and Nancy Huston, a well-known, Canadian-born writer who lives in Paris and usually writes in French. The discussion subject was triggered by Tolstoy’s famous line about families.

My question was intended to be: since family forms the template for all later relationships in life, from the worker in a company to the citizen in a country, are differences in social structures around the world reflecting differing family dynamics? When JFK said: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can you do for your country,” was he really just saying, “Grow up.”  You are welcome to fill in the gap with comments.

There was a big hole in my schedule on Friday so I walked across the river to see the Immigration Museum. It was fascinating. I loved the televised mock interview, where I was able to assess various candidates. The interviews were supposed to take place when this country took in great numbers of immigrants, Brits, of course, Chinese, Greeks, Italians, Somalians, Sudanese.

I loved the Greek sponge fisherman’s wife, who didn’t speak a word of English and kept up a constant stream of chatter while her husband did his best to listen to the questions and squeeze out appropriate answers.  With our fluency in English and my wife’s job offer, we would be considered  “champagne immigrants,” but I can still identify with that fisherman.

One of the wonders of imagination. One of the benefits of growing up in a world of books.  Everybody I saw in the interview booth got thumbs up.  Welcome to Australia, I said, in my head.  May the blessings of this land make you grow strong and be happy.

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