Names are being called at the Cairns Regional Council chamber along with countries of origin as row upon row of people rise in their turn to become Australian citizens.
It's a touching sight. Who are the people, and what are their stories? Why did they leave their country, and why are they promising allegiance to another?
Yet, the mood is jovial, with a light smattering of laughter, some nervous smiles, as ceremonial proceedings begin.
Beforehand, people have been congregating in the foyer and spilling out into the street, with friends and family; well wishers for the big day.
A family from Rwanda is laughing with friends, some in traditional dress, from Burundi, Congo, Rwanda and Vanuatu, while their children play.
In the chambers just outside the auditorium an Indian family sits quietly in concentration, filling out last minute electoral forms.
There's a rehearsal with two families having their names called, then traipsing to the front in a mock-up of what they will later do for real.
The lights have turned off with temporary darkness falling on the packed room, the result of an eager or perhaps nervous citizen-to-be leaning on a light switch in the remaining standing room.
But now with the ceremony in full swing, as people rise to become Australian citizens, the names of their countries of origin fall on the air; Canada, Ireland, UK, Poland, Sweden.
As they line up and prepare to promise allegiance to a new land, with its responsibilities and privileges, to the left outside a door where everyone will retire after the ceremony, traditional Australian fare is arriving; lamingtons, pies, scones and sandwiches.
The path from one nation to another, at this stage, has never been so short.Some will lose citizenship of the home of their birth, others will hold dual rights. But for all the disparity of origins and reasons for migration, from refugees to economic migrants to those who just want to live in a sunnier climate, the desire for citizenship is the same – a resolution for a new start, a new country and the desire to truly belong to the Australian community.
JASPREET SINGH AND BALDEEP KAUR, INDIA
Jaspreet and his family came to Australia in 2007.
"We're from Punjab in the northwest of India," Jaspreet says. "We came here for higher education studies."
Jaspreet’s wife, Baldeep, had already completed a bachelor of arts in India and wanted to study hospitality management and commercial cooking.
"When we married, Baldeep had plans to study overseas," Jaspreet explains. "We had relatives in America and Canada but no family here. We chose Australia."
The couple first arrived in Sydney, where they stayed for four weeks, but Jaspreet says he wasn't impressed by the amount of roads and he found it stressful.
His view of Australia changed completely when he arrived in Cairns, where six years later the couple now has some extended family.
"We came to Cairns, then I relaxed and thought Cairns was a beautiful place for living," he says. "The people are friendly and we've never had a problem here."
Baldeep worked as a chef but now stays home to look after the couple's baby boy, Simar Breet, aged two-and-a-half years. Jaspreet is a taxi driver.
The family became Australian citizens on December 13.
"We can only hold one passport but we came here on overseas student visas so we have multiple travel for life back to India," Jaspreet says.
"We became permanent here but we realised after fi ve years we would have to renew the visa and we knew we were going to live here permanently. We are proud to be Australian."
For Jaspreet's first Australia Day as an Australian citizen, he planned to take his family to the Esplanade for celebrations.
"What I find here is good people, friendly people, and it's a good system," Jaspreet says to sum up his reasons for becoming Australian.
"What I wanted, I have found."
FABIAN MAILOS, ARGENTINA
Fabian Mailos works as the retail manager of Deep Sea Divers Den in Cairns.
From Cordoba, Argentina's second largest city, with a population of about one and a half million, Fabian's journey began, after studying tourism, with a trip to Ireland and a stay in the capital of Dublin.
"I went for the fantastic weather," Fabian says with a grin.
In actual fact, Fabian travelled to Ireland to learn English. His mother is Italian, so securing a European passport was not a problem.
Fabian started a job in USIT Travel, a leading Irish travel agency specialising in work and volunteer programs overseas, in the heart of Dublin on O’Connell Bridge. He was besieged on a daily basis with customers talking about Australia.
"People were buying round-the-world tickets and all the Irish were going diving in Cairns," he says.
Much as it gave Fabian the idea to go and teach diving in Cairns (he was already a holiday diver), the Emerald Isle didn't relieve her clasp on him very easily.
"I went for six months but I stayed for six years because I kept getting promotions," Fabian says. "I had started the process to become Irish but it was too complicated."
Instead, Fabian followed his heart and travelled to Cairns in 2005 on a working holiday, loved it, became a diving instructor and began work for dive company Ocean Spirit.
As the visa only allowed him to stay three months in any one employment, after three months he moved to Deep Sea Divers Den and the company sponsored him. Fabian had already met the girl he was to marry, a Sydney girl, born in Auckland, New Zealand.
“When work wanted to sponsor me, I asked her if she wanted me to do it, and she smiled," Fabian says.
Not happy with just becoming a permanent resident, Fabian was eager to become an Australian citizen, despite a false start when the ceremony he thought he was to attend on December 1 didn't happen.
"It just felt right, like the right thing to do," he says about becoming an Australian on December 13.
Fabian now enjoys ribbing his wife, Vanessa, who hasn't, as yet, taken out citizenship.
"She kept her New Zealand passport because it's good to travel with but she's Australian, until the All Blacks play," he says.
He stayed in Cairns particularly because it's where he met his girl and because it felt like home.
"Every time I would get back, I would think it"s good to be home. I’ve always had that feeling of belonging."
ROLLIE AND ALMA AGCALAO, THE PHILIPPINES
Rollie and his wife Alma endured long years of separation before coming to Australia.
Today, in their home at Parramatta Park, a large Australian flag adorns their wall; a symbol of their new life together in a new land.
From the Philippines in the capital of Manila, the couple met in 1996 when Alma was an electronics production operator and Rollie, a mechanic.
Grabbing opportunities when they came, in 1999 Alma, also a performance artist, took work in Japan for six years as a dancer, while Rollie worked in Dubai for six years.
"We were living in separate worlds at the same time," Rollie says.
The couple, who married in 2001, would take their holidays and meet back in the Philippines, before separating again to return to work.
Back home in the Philippines for just a couple of years after their six-year stint, Rollie once again took his chances when an opportunity arose to work in Australia.
"I was hired by Pacific Toyota," Rollie says. "The opportunity came for us, otherwise we would have been hanging around in poverty."
Once more, the couple was separated, with Rollie arriving in Australia five years ago for friends used to tell me Australia was a very good country so I grabbed the opportunity right away," Rollie says.
"About two years ago, I started my working visa, then the company sponsored me for an Australian residence visa."
Rollie was reunited with his family for good once he became a permanent resident, exactly two years and three months ago.
He had no hesitation about becoming an Australian citizen, although sometimes he misses his home in the Philippines.
"I miss all the happiness, all the friends and family," he says.
Yet Cairns, he says, is similar to the Philippines with its tropical climate, and he is very pleased with what he has gained.
"I think what I feel is that I am living in a very strong and reliable country," he says.
"I didn’t move here just for me, but for my wife and for my kids. I feel good that my family is living here because there is a very excellent way of life."
Today, on Australia Day, 99 new Australians are at Cairns Council chambers, from 30 countries around the world, bringing new stories, a wealth of talent and a desire for a new life.
And so while lamingtons, endless sunny barbies, beer, beaches, Home and Away, Skippy, Neighbours, Kylie, Hugh Jackman, koalas and Crocodile Dundee may be the world’s idea of Australia, for those who travel from their birth country and stay, it is so much more.
It is home.
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Singh family: Jaspreet Singh and Baldeep Kaur with their son Simar Breet
Aussie rules : Fabian Mailos always felt at home in Cairns
Agcalao family : Rollie and Alma Agcalao with their children Almarie, Meryl, and Miguel