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Last Updated: Saturday, 26 January 2008, 07:20 GMT
New Australians mark national day
By Phil Mercer
BBC News, Sydney

Taikang Chen from China
For some, Australia Day means being accepted as an Aussie

Australia has been celebrating its national day, which marks the arrival of the first fleet of European settlers in January 1788.

Parties, concerts and other special events have been held across the nation.

Festivities on a fine summer's day in Sydney have included a 21-gun salute and the annual harbour ferry race.

Tasmanians got into the spirit of things with wheelbarrow races and sand sculpture competitions, while Melburnians will enjoy a fireworks display along the Yarra River.

For many, Australia Day means firing up the barbie and drinking a few cold beers.

For others it's a momentous time when as migrants and refugees they are formally accepted by their adopted homeland.

'Past and future'

This weekend, about 14,000 people from 114 countries have become new citizens.

"For this day, Australia Day, it is about celebrating our heritage, it's about pausing for a moment to reflect on how we best chart our future," Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said in Canberra.

Mugoni Katsande from Zimbabwe
Oh, it is great - fantastic! I feel like a new person
Mugoni Katsande
New Australian citizen from Zimbabwe

A ceremony in the Leichhardt district of Sydney brought together migrants from all corners, including Belgium, the Czech Republic, India, Moldova and Vietnam.

"Oh, it is great - fantastic! I feel like a new person," beamed Mugoni Katsande from Zimbabwe, proudly clutching a small Australian flag.

Taikang Chen from China, who is completing a Master's degree in finance, was equally enthusiastic.

"Very excited, very excited, yes," he said. "I'm looking for a job at the moment and certainly Australian citizenship will help me in my career."

A quarter of Australians were born overseas. Critics of multiculturalism believe this has eroded the country's traditional way of life and has generated racial and religious tension.

'Mixing pot'

That is not the view of Anthony Albanese, a minister in the new Labor government.

He told the BBC that Australia had shown an extraordinary ability to weave together so many different people.

"Australia attracts a broad range of migration," Mr Albanese explained. "Some people are very skilled people who've come here indeed as business migrants from a wealthy background. Others of course come here with literally the clothes on their back and nothing else.

"It is a great thing when people make that decision to become Australian citizens," the minister added.

"It's important to recognise it's not about walking away from their past and that they continue to celebrate their own heritage but add that to the great Australian multicultural mixing pot that is our nation in 2008."

Becoming a new Aussie can create the odd dilemma. There are questions of loyalty, especially when it comes to sport.

Pity a freshly minted recruit from Mumbai (Bombay) as Australia takes on India in the Adelaide test while both nations celebrate their national days.

Divided loyalties

It is a tricky issue for others too.

Christopher Perry, a 31-year-old accountant from Essex, said splitting his allegiances between two countries would not be easy.

A plane spells "sorry" in the sky over Sydney on Australia Day on Saturday
For some, it is time to apologise to those subjugated by the settlers

"I think it will take a bit of getting used to," he told the BBC news website.

"We live out here now. We are happy and settled here and all the rest of it but there will always be a part of us that remains in the UK."

There have also been events commemorating Australia's indigenous history, which stretched back at least 40,000 years before the arrival of European settlers.

A sign-writing plane has spelt out a giant "Sorry" - an apology to Aborigines - in the skies over Bondi Beach.

Prime Minister Rudd has promised to say sorry to Aborigines for past injustices, reversing an 11-year policy under the previous conservative government.

"We should be deeply proud of our country. Proud of aboriginal culture, which represents the oldest continuing culture in human history," Mr. Rudd said.

"We stand in awe as we hear the songs and the sounds and the stories and the music which have come down to us from antiquity," he said at a citizenship ceremony in the national capital.

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