The absence of the traditional in-person Citizenship Ceremony for Australia Day couldn't dampen the delight of the Blue Mountains' new Australians.
Due to the latest surge in COVID cases, Blue Mountains City Council held its Citizenship Ceremony online this year via Zoom. In total, the Council welcomed 35 new citizens in the Blue Mountains, from 19 countries.
One of those is Imtiyaz Basha who lives in Blaxland. Originally from Hyderabad, India, Mr Basha works in IT.
"I came from India five years back and started working for the Commonwealth Bank," he said. "I was training in Parramatta, but moved to the Blue Mountains in January last year. I filed my application for citizenship in March and it happened pretty quickly."
Mr Basha believes becoming a citizen will help him professionally, and he hopes to bring out members of his family to Australia next year. He said that the Blue Mountains, and Australia generally, have given him a new lease of life.
"Living in the Blue Mountains has changed my life a lot," he said, "living peacefully and with nature.
"I came from India where everything is chaos, and in the first six months here I realised what it is to live in an organised manner, in terms of systems, driving a car, everything."
Another new citizen is Holly Killham, originally from the UK. Mrs Kilham had to endure some drama on the day of her citizenship test in June, when the latest addition to her family chose to make his entrance.
"I revised the night before and packed my bag with all the ID documents I needed," she said.
"The morning of the test, I rolled over in bed and my waters broke. Our son, Rocky, was born later that day, seven weeks early. So, I didn't quite make it to that appointment!"
Mrs Kilham lives in Winmalee where she works at iFly Indoor Skydiving. For her, a life in Australia had long been a dream.
"I have an Australian half-brother and sister, so Australia has always been this magical place that we'd hear about as kids.
"When an opportunity to work in Australia came about I jumped at the chance. That was in 2013 and I'm still working for the same company now."
She adds that one of the major benefits of citizenship is participation in the political process through voting, as well as more personal aspects.
"It's an important uniting of my family. My husband is from Estonia and we now have two Australian kids - can you imagine how we are all meant to queue up at passport control?"
Scott Warnock, a carpenter based in Springwood, has been in Australia since 2010 when he moved to Melbourne from Glasgow, Scotland. He also values the chance to be involved on election days.
"Having a say politically would be the biggest advantage [of citizenship]," he said. "Coming from a Commonwealth country, my rights and benefits aren't really affected by becoming a citizen. The biggest thing is to have that voting right, to have my say, and to have a passport."
Mr Warnock moved from Melbourne to Queensland in 2015 where he met his partner, who hails from Springwood, prompting a recent move to the Blue Mountains.
He lamented the lack of an in-person ceremony to mark his becoming a citizen.
"I was really looking forward to it," he said, "and it was a bit of a blow when they pulled it. But I'm really excited to become a citizen and feel a sense of belonging."
Another new citizen, Jenny McGrane, has swapped Dublin's River Liffey and the Irish city's steepled majesty for the Nepean and the lush bush surrounds of Glenbrook. She moved to Australia in 2013, and lived in Sydney before moving to the Lower Mountains, where she works as a risk and compliance senior manager with an accounting firm. She married her Australian partner in 2017 and welcomed a baby boy in 2019.
"I am really proud to have made Australia my home, and am so grateful to have been able to build a happy life here with my husband, and now my gorgeous little son. They are both Australian citizens so in a way it makes me even closer to them.
"Even though I felt very at home in Australia, becoming a citizen really seals the deal and makes me feel even more like I belong here. I am really looking forward to being able to vote, so I can have my say, and contribute to the community.
"I am particularly excited to become a citizen in the Blue Mountains. Four years ago, my husband and I chose this beautiful place to be our home and raise our family, and we haven't looked back since."
Countries of origin represented in the ceremony were: Canada, China, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, India, Ireland, Italy, Lebanon, Malaysia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, United Kingdom, United States of America and Vietnam.