When we talk about traditional ‘country’... we mean something beyond the dictionary definition of the word. For Aboriginal Australians...we might mean homeland, or tribal or clan area and we might mean more than just a place on the map. For us, country is a word for all the values, places, resources, stories and cultural obligations associated with that area and its features. It describes the entirety of our ancestral domains.In recognition of this view of ownership, because I live and work in Queensland, in addition to acknowledging the custodians of the land on which the particular ceremony is being held, I like to acknowledge the many different nations who are custodians across the wider region, and pay respect to the elders who are the holders of the memories, traditions, culture, and spiritual well being of both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples across this state.
An Acknowledgement of Country is very different from a Welcome to Country. While An 'Acknowledgement of Country' can be done by everyone, Indigenous or non-Indigenous, to pay respect to the fact that one is on Aboriginal land, a Welcome to Country can only be done by traditional owners, usually elders, to welcome people to their land. Usually a Welcome to Country involves dancing and singing, whereas an Acknowledgement of Country involves a speech.
When Scott Kneebone, a Bangerang man based in Canberra, is talking to children, this is how he explains the difference between the two:
A Welcome to Country is like if you're hosting a birthday: you do a welcome and say thank you for coming to my birthday. And an Acknowledgement of Country is like if you're a guest at the birthday: you would say thank you for having me.
Protocols for welcoming visitors to country have
been a part of Aboriginal culture for many thousands
of years. There is a formal process because it is a
In modern Australia, the 'Welcome to Country' ceremony was first conducted at an official ceremony in 1999 during the NSW Supreme Court's 175th anniversary. Welcome to Country was first introduced at the start of Federal parliament in 2008. It now forms a regular element of Australian political process. Since 2015 it also now forms part of Sydney's widely televised New Year's Eve celebrations, with Year's Eve fireworks being ushered in with a Welcome to Country that puts local Gadigal, Wangal, and Gamaragal traditions front and centre.
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