Maintaining our heritage (or: the law is an ass)

Today Helen and I have been shaking our heads in puzzlement – and smiling broadly.

For years one of my sons has been urging me to try to reclaim my Dutch citizenship.  This has hardly been at the top of my agenda.  I was born in the Netherlands and many things Dutch are part of me.  When I’m in the Low Lands I feel quite at home in many ways: this small nation’s battles against the sea and foreign domination over many centuries move me to wonder and pride, and the Dutch Reformed branch of the Christian Faith has produced its good share of fruit for Jesus’ worldwide farm (as well as some dark episodes).

But in 1951 my parents took up what they believed was God’s challenge to them: Go and work for Me among the masses of post-War Dutch migrants moving to Australia, and they did this to the considerable accolades and gratitude from the people and churches they helped.  My parents’ five children all call Australia home, but we all have a deep love of our old “homeland” and are now able to visit from time to time.

It has to be said that my parents’ decision to become Australian citizens in 1959 was a sound one: God tells us that if we believe God wants us to move to another country, we should put our roots down there and give it our best.  Objectively too it made sense.

But Dad and Mum were of course people of their times: as I have written elsewhere, they seem to me to have had less than 20-20 awareness of some of their children’s inner workings and to have made little effort to include them in sensitive matters.  Naturalisation meant renouncing our Dutch citizenship and loyalty to (the late) Queen Juliana of the Netherlands.  Being a passionate and stubborn Dutchy by birth, and an almost 14 year old teenager to boot, I dug my heels in (as I’ve done on several occasions) and had an self-pitying evening alone at home while the rest of my family went to Kogarah Town Hall to renounce their Netherlands citizenship and listen to the Mayor address to the new Aussie subjects of the young Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain.

What was also notable was that all four of my parents Dutch-born children were under-age and therefore included de facto in their parents’ decision – and my father’s Certificate.

My wife Helen’s story was somewhat different.  At the tender age of 16 she showed another aspect of being Dutch, making up her own mind to become an Australian and being independently naturalised about a year after my family, 1000 km to the south of Sydney in Kingston, Tasmania.  Her very own Naturalisation Certificate is archived with our documents.

In light of this long story, it’s me that two of our children have been targeting to get my Dutch citizenship reinstated so that they can if they so choose travel and work more easily in the Netherlands, Europe and the UK.  My response has been: It’d be for your benefit, not mine, so do your homework, tell me what I have to do, and I’ll certainly support you.

The prospect of our being in Sydney for almost 8 weeks brought matters to a head, so as requested, Helen and I each took our relevant documents with us to Sydney and our daughter here contacted the Netherlands Consulate in Sydney.  The staff there were friendly and interested, and encouraged Helen and me to call in at the Consulate office.

What we were told there bemused us as much (I believe) as the young woman who spoke to us and supplied us with a folder-full of information, address, and application documents.  So what were we told?

Dutch law regards under age-children who were included in their parents’ Australian naturalisation as having renounced and extinguished their Netherlands citizenship with the parent on whose Certificate they were included.  I cannot apply for my Dutch citizenship to be restored or reactivated.  End of my story.

Helen, on the other hand, because she was a minor who decided on her own Australian naturalisation, has (without her knowledge) retained her Dutch citizenship (yes, for 52 years now!) and can apply for this to be reactivated and to be given a Dutch passport.  For this she does not have to renounce her Australian citizenship – so under Dutch law she retains dual citizenship.  Not only that, but our four children are in a similar position because of their mother’s status, and provided Helen’s Dutch citizenship is recognised, they can apply for it also – as can their children.

Go figure!

Our story seems to confirm that laws and regulations sometimes have consequences which may be unfair in isolation although they form part of a responsible legal framework.

I’m glad that one if not the other of us can apparently do something that would help our children – and to us that’s worth a big wry smile!


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