Citizenship dreams come true

Citizen - Deputy Mayor Mike Bodsworth, David Rubin de Celis Leal, Cr Gary Allen.JPG

For a moment during the ceremony which certified him as an Australian citizen, David Rubin de Celis Leal wondered if he was dreaming.

Surf Coast Shire Council’s chambers in Torquay were a long journey from his home at the dry heart of Mexico.

“The decision to stay here was a good seven years ago, so it has taken a lot of patience,” David said.

“It was like the cherry on the cake … an official seal from the government to accept me as an Australian. Knowing that you have this place that is yours, that this country is now mine with everyone else – that is a great feeling.”

As he stepped up to receive his certificate from Deputy Mayor Mike Bodsworth after having made his pledge David felt emotion he couldn’t suppress and let loose a whoop.

“Finally when they called my name I didn’t know what to do, so I made a bit of noise like good Mexicans do!” he said.

“It was very exciting, and very meaningful, and a dream come true.”

David was one of 22 conferees who became Australian citizens at Council’s July citizenship ceremony.

The event typically glowed, with the pride of conferees warmly elevated by the cheers, applause and excitement of their families and friends.

Council hosts at least five citizenship ceremonies each year on behalf of the Australian Department of Home Affairs and during the past year 137 people – hailing from Peru to Poland, Namibia to Norway and countries in-between and beyond – have become citizens.

While each person pledges to embrace the ideals and expectations of Australian citizenship, none are expected to renounce anything of their cultural identities, customs or traditions.

“It is always such a privilege and pleasure to be part of these ceremonies,” Cr Bodsworth said.

“Formalising such a big step in someone’s life is a great honour and seeing and feeling the pride and excitement of the conferees and those closest to them is really special.

“I can identify strongly with how much acquiring new citizenship means as my wife Isabelle, who is from France, became an Australian citizen in January.”

David Rubin de Celis Leal has called Jan Juc, Anglesea and Bellbrae home during his years in Surf Coast Shire, and has now settled in Deans Marsh with partner Carly Merlo and children Venus, 7, and Marte, 4.

“I think it’s heaven mate. The community where we live here is absolutely amazing,” he said.

When he shifted from home city San Luis Potosi in 2011 to complete a PhD in advanced materials at Geelong’s Deakin University, he figured three years in Australia might be a good experience.

“I’m not a believer, but there is a saying in Mexico that I quite like: If you want to make God laugh, just tell him your plans,” he said.

“I had this plan to go back, and then I met Carly.”

After having achieved his PhD, David worked in advanced materials at Deakin, then after pandemic lockdowns moved to industry as a laboratory technician with Bulla Dairy Foods in Colac.

He now works between the two, and in community life enthusiastically shares his Mexican culture through food, dance, song and stories.

Frenchman Olivier Bonnici was also among July conferees fulfilling a long-held dream.

“I just love the feeling that I belong in Australia,” he said.

“I love the idea that I’m going to be able to vote, especially with that big referendum coming up, and it’s nice to feel I’m really putting my anchor down here.”

Olivier has lived in Surf Coast Shire for seven years after having spent the previous two decades in Oxford, England, where he worked as a classical violinist and met his Geelong wife Rosalind, also a classical violinist.

He works as Head of Strings at Melbourne Presbyterian Ladies’ College and with Rosalind has established a concert series – Musicians of the Great Ocean Road – to bring classical music to the region.

“Australia is so welcoming of other nationalities. I feel Australian in a way that I could never have felt becoming English in England,” Olivier said.

“I always wanted to come here. The weather is much better than England and people are friendly and relaxed. Rosalind wanted to come back, she missed the gum trees, although Oxford was obviously a beautiful place.”

Marianela Tobon Cortes, from Mexico via China, said pledging her citizenship felt amazing.

“It was good to finally feel it. I have been made very welcome here and have always felt part of the community, but you still have that extra place for making it more official,” she said.

“I love everything about Australia. I love the nature and how close to nature life is here, and I like the people and the community, safety, everything.

“I can compare with other countries where I have lived and this is very, very good – paradise.”

Marianela shifted from home city Puebla in Mexico to China to study 12 years ago and met her Torquay husband Zachary Rudd there.

They shifted to Australia five years ago and are now parents of Salvadore, 5, and twins Santiago and Teodoro, 3, who were born acutely premature and required extensive medical support in Melbourne.

“I am very happy and very grateful to be here. With the twins we were very glad we were in Australia and not somewhere else,” Marianela said.

“I am extremely happy to be in Surf Coast Shire because I know how amazing my husband’s childhood was here, so I’m happy to give that to my kids. That’s my goal.”

People seeking more information about Australian citizenship can call the information line on 131880 or visit

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