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Monday, February 2, 1998 Published at 11:46 GMT

Special Report

Australia's identity crisis
image: [ Thousands of refugees from Western Europe  went to Australia after WWII ]
Thousands of refugees from Western Europe went to Australia after WWII

As Asians begin to replace Europeans as the largest immigrant group in Australia, the country is struggling to come to terms with its national identity. A Constitutional Convention is discussing whether Australia should become a republic and abandon Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state. In the final of his special reports on the convention, Michael Peschardt examines the new face of Australian patriotism.

In the week before the start of the Constitutional Convention, the Republican Movement tapped into Australia's patriotic fervour.

[ image: Sydney harbour packed for Australia Day celebrations]
Sydney harbour packed for Australia Day celebrations
Australia had just celebrated its national holiday, Australia Day.

The outpouring of celebrations is part of a new search by Australians to establish a sense of their own national identity.

Following the convention, a referendum will be put to the Australian people on whether Australia should become a republic.

Malcom Turnbull, the chairman of the Australian Republican Movement, says he thinks there is a lot of enthusiasm for it: "I think there will be an immense sense of disappointment, and in fact shame, if we go into the 21st century still with the Queen of England as our head of state."

[ image: Many Australians feel no sense of allegiance with Britain]
Many Australians feel no sense of allegiance with Britain
The turning away from Britain began after the Second World War, with the mass migration to Australia of tens of thousands of refugees from Western Europe.

Jenny George, herself a migrant, says that "a lot of people like me came to this country after the Second World War, so we don't have that affinity with British rule and the British heritage."

The European migrants have now been joined by an influx of refugees from Asia, owing no allegiance to the crown.

[ image: Becoming Australian]
Becoming Australian
On Australia Day more migrants became Australian citizens at special ceremonies around the country.

The many Asians who took part in the ceremonies emphasised the changing balance of the population.

But some believe there is no doubt about the true Australian identity.

One of them is Bruce Ruxton, a monarchist delegate at the constitutional convention: "I'm proud of being an Australian, and I'm proud of being a part of the British Commonwealth. And I still salute the Queen as the leader of my country."

There is also another force driving this entire debate: Sydney is staging the Olympics in the year 2000. They are determined to sort out what kind of country this really is before the games begin.

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In this section

Australia decides on its future

The glamorous side of Australia's Republican Movement

Australia's stormy relationship with Britain