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As of October 1, all prospective Australian citizens, be they from Britain or China, must pass a 20-question multiple choice test on the topic of – to quote the Department of Immigration – “Australia’s values, traditions, history and national symbols.” Presumably the oft-cited yet ill-defined concepts of “mateship” and “a fair go,” will be involved at some point. Throw in the phrase “working families” and it’ll have the full cliché set!

Many people have, without even seeing the questions, predicted that most born and bred Australians would be unable to complete the test, written by some WASP bureaucrat in Canberra who graduated from the National Party school of uber-conservatism. I tested it myself, by asking people I know basic things such as “when was Australia settled by Europeans?” or “who was the first Prime Minister?” Most of them didn’t know (the answers are 1788, and Edmund Barton). Then there was that idiot on the Chaser who thought settlement only dated back to the 1960s or 70s.

People should know these things. But not knowing them shouldn’t be grounds to bar them from citizenship.

Out of curiosity, I found a website called http://www.aussietest.com that apparently exists to give prospective Australians a dry run of the ordeal. The site’s validity is dubious, considering that it’s supported by Google Ads, but I signed up anyway (as Yusuf Aziz, the loveable Syrian linguist!) and took a shot at it. Here’s a sample of some of the bullshit it vomited at me:

2. When is Wattle Day?
– September 1
– April 25
– January 26
– February 2

I answered this with a question of my own: what the fuck is Wattle Day? Seriously? After finishing the test I looked it up and discovered that it’s some kind of celebration held in New South Wales only. Bad luck for the immigrants planning to live in one of the other five states, I guess.

5. What are the colours of the Torres Strait Islander flag?
– Blue, green, black and white
– Gold, green and white
– Red, black and yellow
– Red, white and blue

I do not know the answer to this. I don’t see why I should, since I’m not a Torres Strait Islander, and live on the opposite side of the country from the Torres Strait. I especially don’t see why Yusuf Aziz should know, since it would in no way help him contribute to society.

As an aside, I hate it when you have to fill out a form and it asks “Are you an Aboriginal OR TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER?” Jesus, just say “indigenous.” You don’t need to clutter the page up with a clunky, unwieldy phrase because a minority group making up less than 1% of the population demands to be held distinct from Aboriginals.

6. When is Boxing Day?
– May 30
– January 26
– December 25
– December 26

How does this relate to Australia? Boxing Day is celebrated across the world…

Oh, wait! No it isn’t! It’s celebrated in Commonwealth countries. Clear bias towards citizens of the former British Empire.

7. When is Christmas Day?
– May 30
– January 26
– December 26
– December 25

More clear bias towards Christians/Westerners. Celebrating Christmas isn’t mandatory, if I understand my constitutional rights, so I fail to see why this is relevant.

9. How many Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders(*) are there in Australia today?
– 13 000
– 243 000
– 120 000
– 483 000

Since the government doesn’t care, why should Yusuf?

*See what I mean?

13. What is the name of the passage of water between Australia and Tasmania?
– Cook Strait
– Macquarie Strait
– Torres Strait
– Bass Strait

I knew the answer to this because of my detailed knowledge of global geography, but I can guarantee you any Australians outside of Victoria or Tasmania would have a hard time of it.

15. When is New Year’s Day celebrated in Australia?
– January 26
– January 1
– December 25
– December 26

Why, this question should be easy to answer for any culture which uses the Gregorian Calender! But I guess if you’re from the Middle East or China then you’re in trouble. Short of putting up a sign that says “Sand niggers and ching-chongs need not apply” at the Department of Immigration, the intent behind this question couldn’t be much more obvious.

Incidentally, Australians don’t celebrate New Year’s Day. We celebrate New Year’s Eve, and spend New Year’s Day sleeping in, throwing up, or driving halfway to Mandurah because we don’t realise that we live in the northern suburbs, Dave.

20. When was the Aboriginal flag first displayed?
– September 3, 1901
– May 30, 1955
– July 12, 1971

I would gamble my Australian citizenship on the bet that John Howard would be unable to answer this question.

The Department of Racial Profiling is processing your test...

Test Completed

Yusuf, you have completed the test.Time spent: 5 min. 55 sec.
Score: 16 / 20 (80%)
If this was the official test then you would have Passed with distinction – You’re a dinky-di Aussie!

Hooray! Thanks for celebrating my new citizenship with the obligatory, patronising slang that nobody actually uses!

Of course, “Yusuf” has my nineteen years of experience in Australian life behind him, not to mention some lucky guesses on a lot of the questions. In real life I doubt he would have made it. Sorry Yusuf, but your degree in linguistics from Harvard University is no good here. You don’t know when the Aboriginal flag was first used, so you can fuck off back to Syria like the terrorist you are.

Ultimately, it’s clear that this test unfairly favours immigrants of British or Commonwealth background, with the likelihood of success gradually decreasing the darker your skin gets. This sure is ironic, since the Constitution specifically prohibits discrimination based on race, religion or nationality. You might say they’re not giving ethnic immigrants much of a fair go. It’s also hypocritical, since a lot of Australians would be unable to pass.

But beyond the clear racist agenda, the other huge flaw in this test is that none of the questions matter. Why the hell should somebody need to know where the Bass Strait is or what colours are on the Torres Strait Islander flag? There should only be two questions on a citizenship test: Can you speak English, and do you have any skills? If the answer is yes to both, in you come. Otherwise, you’re free to live here, but don’t expect citizenship. Xenophobia and ethnic arrogance can fuck off back to the fifties where they belong, along with John Howard and the rest of the Liberal Party. This election can’t come soon enough.

_____________________________

Australians all let us rejoice
For we are young and free
With golden soil and wealth for toil
Our home is girt by sea
Our land abounds in Nature’s gifts
Our beauty rich and rare
On history’s page, at every stage
Advance Australia Fair!
In joyful strains then let us sing,
“Advance Australia fair!”

Beneath our radiant Southern Cross
We’ll toil with hearts and hands
To make this Commonwealth of ours
Renowned of all the lands
For those who’ve come across the sea
We’ve boundless plains to share

With courage let us all combine
To advance Australia fair
In joyful strains then let us sing
“Advance Australia fair!”

Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy has always been one of my favourite novels categorised in the dubious genre of “young adult”, right up there with Harry Potter and Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines series. It takes place in an alternate universe, using the adventures of a young girl as a device for the discussion of atheism. Sort of an anti-Narnia, if you can imagine such a land. The movie comes out in December. James Bond is in it. Anyway, in this alternate world, people’s souls are manifested on the outside of their body as a “daemon”, an animal spirit. As a child the daemon can take any form, but when you become a teenager it gradually settles on a single animal reflective of your personality, as this wise old sailor in the first book explains:

“Why do daemons have to settle?” Lyra said. “I want Pantalaimon to be able to change forever. So does he.”
“Ah, they always have settled, and they always will. That’s part of growing up. There’ll come a time when you’ll be tired of his changing about, and you’ll want a settled kind of form for him.”
“I never will!”
“Oh, you will. You’ll want to grow up like all the other girls. Anyway, there’s compensations for a settled form.”
“What are they?”
“Knowing what kind of person you are. Take old Belisaria. She’s a seagull, and that means I’m a kind of seagull too. I’m not grand and splendid nor beautiful, but I’m a tough old thing and I can survive anywhere and always find a bit of food and company. That’s worth knowing, that is. And when your demon settles, you’ll know the sort of person you are.”
“But suppose your daemon settles in a shape you don’t like?”
“Well then your discontented, en’t you? There’s plenty of folk as’d like to have a lion as a daemon and they end up with a poodle. And till they learn to be satisfied with what they are, they’re going to be fretful about it. Waste of feeling, that is.”

Like any other reader, I always wondered what my own daemon would be. And now, thanks to the wonder of viral marketing, I’ve found out!

edit: It won’t show up, so I’m reduced to using a simple hypertext link. Like a fucking savage.

You should really read the books. On thematic and philosophical merit, Pullman is far better than Rowling or Reeve, though Reeve certainly has him beat on swashbuckling adventure – which, as we all know, is the only true indicator of literary genius. Pullman’s armoured polar bears and sea gypsies are strong contenders, but simply can’t compete with Reeve’s flying cities, Himalayan mountain fortresses, desert raiders and airship battles. Two men enter, one man leaves.

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