I never thought it would be easy
I may have told you: I once knew a couple in the UK; she was an Aussie and he was a Brit. They got married and moved to Australia because that was where they wanted to bring up kids, in the great outdoors and the sunshine and all that. They returned in less than two years, however: Aussie bureaucracy had driven them crazy; in particular, having to get a new driving licence every time they moved interstate. Perhaps she'd forgotten the rules. The joke is, Brits who haven't lived elsewhere think the UK is a bureaucratic nightmare. Trust me; it's not.
The first hurdle when we moved here was, of course, the visa. My friend and I aren't married, and that makes-life-easier tick-box can eliminate several hoops of fire at a stroke. We had evidence of jointly designated utility bills (but for too few years); bank-statemented evidence of financial transactions going back to the '90s (but not a joint bank account); and even proof of being each other's beneficiaries (of pensions, for example). But none of that was good enough. We were asked to make declarations about our relationship, to be constructed around the answers to questions of such a deeply personal nature I decided moving to Australia wasn't such a good idea after all. I offered instead to be interviewed in Australia House in London to prove I wasn't a cling-on to an engineer seeking a different life downunder.
Was I prepared to sacrifice a wonderful opportunity for the sake of my privacy principles? I never found out because the visas were granted in record-quick time before I had to choose whether or not to write a fairytale romance.
Four years later came Permanent Residency, and a new range of obstacles, such as police reports – from the UK and Australia; medicals – requiring two appointments because we didn't realise we had to take our passports to the doctor's; and stat-decs (statutory declarations) by Australian citizens who had to have known us for three years. Fortunately, there were one or two.
In trying to be truthful, I inadvertently made more work for myself. In providing details for the British police, I listed another name I'd used in the past, the surname of my children's father. Way back then it had made life easier, because some people in small towns still found it odd if a child's name differed from its mother's, although I had never changed my name officially when I got married. I did not declare this name in the Australian paperwork because it wouldn't have been found here in connection with me. Some eagle-eyed legal in Sydney noticed the discrepancy and asked me to explain. Another stat-dec had to be generated.
A little over 12 months following the granting of Permanent Residency, we applied for Australian citizenship. So soon after PR, this proved to be a relative doddle. The only stress factor was that my friend got his before I did, and the cling-on factor reared its head momentarily.
You might think, after all this, that an Australian passport would be a formality. Nope. A different department presents new challenges, largely in the form of the Post Office, agents for the Passport Office. Last week I was in my local PO and witnessed a poor chap having his passport applications rejected. He'd used blue ink; his signature had escaped the box; and his children's birth certificates were not quite in order. He didn't say a word; he just looked awfully dejected, and completely lacking in the will to continue.
My friend and I checked each other's paperwork, and then checked it again. And one more time. Then, last Saturday, we took in the forms, with trepidation, citizenship certificates, Queensland driving licences, Medicare cards, and photographs duly witnessed by yet more Aussie citizens who'd known us for three years. We'd written in black and kept within the boxes. But we didn't get far: we didn't have our birth certificates with us. They hadn't been included in the list of documents required but were mentioned elsewhere on the form and we hadn't noticed. My photograph was rejected: I was ever-so-slightly inclining my face; my fringe was too long; and the hair at one side was obscuring my face. It wasn't hiding an eye or anything important, just cheek extremities. In addition, we hadn't initialed changes. (When you're afraid of making mistakes on a serious form, you're sure as hell going to make some, aren't you?) My photo-verifier had made a mistake in the naming of names; and my friend's photo-verifier had used blue ink. Go back to start.
My friend took his form into a PO near his office yesterday. His photo was rejected: it was too small, even though it had been taken there, last year. They took another one, and approved his application to go into the system. This morning, I returned to the same place as on Saturday, with most amendments as requested. A different person checked it. He had a query about my birth certificate that I couldn't have answered to save my life: why did it say 'Third' after the name of the town of my birth? I had never noticed that. I guessed wildly: 'Third administrative district?'. He would have to add 'Third' to my application form, he explained, or there'd be a discrepancy with the accompanying photocopy of my birth certificate. 'But, please,' I said in a small voice, 'They won't put "Stockport Third" as Place of Birth on the passport, will they, because there's no such place in the UK?' He went away to call the Department, and then noted my request on the form. He made no comment whatsoever about my photo, unchanged since Saturday. I paid the $254 fee, my application went into the system, and I left as quickly as possible.
Others have mentioned a high rejection rate; how they took the same form to a different PO and had it accepted. If my friend and I hadn't had two different experiences on two different occasions I might have some faith that new Aussie passports will eventuate (at the end of a maximum of 21 working days) without further ado. But I know we're not out of the woods yet. I know some random nit-picky job's-worth processor in the Passport Office – if their bus was late, or they were having a bad hair day, or their favourite team lost the footie last night – might take exception to my fringe. I'm also afraid I'm tempting fate by writing this before I'm clutching an Australian passport in my clammy little hand.
Go back to start? I'm just not sure I could bear it.