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I come from a Land Down Umbers

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Opus G’Dei: Bishop Richard Umbers is officially a proud Australian. Photo: Marilyn Rodrigues/The Catholic Weekly
Opus G’Dei: Bishop Richard Umbers is officially a proud Australian. Photo: Marilyn Rodrigues/The Catholic Weekly

Bishop Richard Umbers swapped Marmite for Vegemite a long time ago but now can officially call Australia home.

Kiwi-born and bred, the 53-year-old was granted Australian citizenship at a ceremony at the Leichhardt Town Hall on 15 April.

Waiting beforehand with his pledge in one hand and Bible in the other, he wouldn’t be drawn on which is better, Australia or New Zealand, the Wallabies or All Blacks.

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“The acceptance of one is not the rejection of the other, you can have the best of both worlds so I’m green and gold, black and white,” he smiled.

The young Richard Umbers was 20 and already a member of Opus Dei when he arrived in Sydney from his native Auckland to embark on a Bachelor of Economics at the University of Sydney, never guessing that he would later become one of the city’s bishops in 2016.

“Today is the end of a very long road,” he said, explaining that on his election he was told by then-president of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference Archbishop Denis Hart that he had to become a citizen.

“But between one thing and another you get busy as a bishop. It would have been much simpler if I had acted on it when I was 20, but things have ended happily.”

The bishop said he has formed many friendships with Aussies over the last three decades which still “run deep” today, even from those early university years.

“It is one of the things that has really grounded my life here,” Bishop Umbers said.

“But many Kiwis have taken up life here and tracked back and forth across the ditch, it’s really part of the Australian story, part of the ANZAC spirit,” he added.

“People have commented that my accent has become a lot blander, even in the space of time I’ve been a bishop.

“So it’s nice to feel at home both here and in New Zealand but I think it’s more the case—as Christians in general understand—that our homeland is in heaven.”

At a celebration for the bishop at St Martha’s chancery offices later the same day, chancellor Chris Meaney quizzed him on his grasp of essential Australiana (is Summer Bay a real location? Translate ‘flat out like a lizard drinking’) and found the bishop still has a way to go before he can consider himself fully true blue.

What he most admires about the Australian character is a ‘can-do’ attitude which is backed up by an aptitude for organisation.

“I think taking things to that next level of professionalism is something that you learn in Australia,” he said.

“In the sheer scale in which things can be done, especially in Sydney, if you think about World Youth Day, the 2000 Olympics and other large events, you can bring together a lot of very talented people and so dreams really can become a reality.”

So he won’t admit outright that life is better Down Under, but he was surprised to suddenly realise when visiting Auckland some years ago that he no longer liked Marmite.

“I grew up eating it, but now I wanted Vegemite. I thought ‘Oh gee, something has happened.’”

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