Citizen Brislen: Becoming a Kiwi

12:08 pm on 15 May 2019

By Paul Brislen*

First Person - Watching the stupidity of Brexit from afar made Paul Brislen realise he had crossed a mysterious line - it was time to become a Kiwi.

The current New Zealand flag flies up a flag pole.

Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

The Fickling Centre is one of the least lovely buildings in all of Auckland.

With its low ceilings and green plastic chairs, it's tucked under the local library and behind the gym.

It resembles a motel conference facility of the kind a Pizza Hut might rent out for staff training purposes, for example.

But last week it turned into something quite special, and for 62 of us (and our family, friends and support crews) it will always be the place where we finally became Kiwis.

After many years of mocking my children for the way they say "bed" and for their rising inflections, I have made the leap and become a New Zealand citizen.

It's taken quite a while: we moved to New Zealand in 1983 to escape some lunacy in the UK. Back then there was almost 3.2 million Kiwis, two television channels (both in colour!) and there was a newly anointed Closer Economic Relations free trade agreement with Australia.

Paul Brislen

Paul Brislen Photo: Supplied / Paul Brislen

It was Brexit that finally drove me to it. Watching the stupidity from afar and unable to play any role, I realised I was no longer a Brit living in New Zealand but had crossed that mysterious line somewhere and become a 'migrant'.

And I'm not the only one. Our ceremony is one of dozens conducted around the country each month. With only 62 of us, this was a smaller one for Auckland (normally they're a bit over 100 apparently). They're conducted by local councils in conjunction with the Department of Internal Affairs. No town hall visit for us - we're locals and the Puketāpapa mix was well reflected with my batch of proto-Kiwis.

We came from 25 different countries - from Afghanistan, India and Pakistan; China and Vietnam and Korea. We came from the US, the UK and the EU. From South Africa and from Egypt and from Australia, all there on a dreary autumn night to swear (or affirm) our allegiance to a Queen and her successors.

There was a pōwhiri, some excellent poi work, a couple of speeches on what being a Kiwi means (do the right thing, look after each other, conquer mountains), we all stood up and said our bit (en masse, less we waffle), a couple more speeches and then we were called up individually for our certificates and then sang the song. It wasn't Slice of Heaven but it might as well have been.

Then we watched a video that was basically an ad for New Zealand, heard from the Governor-General (who has much better video people than the mayor who followed) and we were done.

It was like a school assembly but without the telling off or the notices.

And then, like the true Kiwis we had become, we were fed a feast of sausage rolls and caramel slices and club sandwiches washed down with orange juice and coffee that, if I'm really honest, was definitely Gregg's Instant.

Afterwards we were encouraged to loiter and to take our photos with the flag and our new citizenship certificates and most of us did, snapping each other on phones and cameras and getting everyone looking in the right direction all at once. Nobody had to say "smile" because we were all beaming.

This year New Zealand will reach the once-inconceivable population milestone of five million Kiwis. It's easy to forget just how young this country is and how quickly we have grown. But as a better writer than me once said, I think of what may yet be seen, in Johnsonville or Geraldine. There's a hope here that certainly isn't as prevalent in the old country and, if this latest crop of Kiwis (always upper case, lower 'k' is for brown birds and the New Zealand dollar) is anything to go by, we've all come here for a better life.

So I guess I'll have to stop mocking the kids for their accent (although quite how I'm supposed to rhyme 'star' with 'war' sensibly is beyond me. I'll stick to the Māori version) and get to tick the 'New Zealand' box more often.

It's really quite a good feeling.

* Paul Brislen is a technology commentator.