Australasia NAVIGATOR 2022
July 11, 2023
At Australasia NAVIGATOR 2022 in Melbourne, Australia, I was proud to be asked to deliver an Acknowledgement of Country at the commencement of the conference proceedings.
I truly appreciate that the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch® understood the importance of showing respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples by upholding their cultural protocols. By taking the time to acknowledge Country, it reminds us that every day we live, work, and dream on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander traditional lands and seas.
To understand why this is important, we must first understand the importance that Country has to our First Nations people. There is often some debate between the terms of “custodians” and “traditional owners.” As a child, I was exposed to many cultures and countries. I think most importantly, in my own Country, my exposure to our First Nations peoples showed me that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people didn’t “own” the land/water, but that the land/water “owned” them. Rather, they had an ongoing responsibility to look after Country, to nurture it, to be one with their Country.
In Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, the meaning of Country is more than just ownership or connection to land, as Professor Mick Dodson explains:
“When we talk about traditional ‘Country’… we mean something beyond the dictionary definition of the word. … 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. While they may all no longer necessarily be the title-holders to land, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are still connected to the Country of their ancestors and most consider themselves the custodians or caretakers of their land.”1
There are two ways in which we can acknowledge this deep and enduring connection to Country. A “Welcome to Country” might be appropriate, or as I did in this case, I gave an “Acknowledgement of Country.”
What is an Acknowledgement of Country? An Acknowledgement of Country is a demonstration of respect for the traditional custodians of the land on which a meeting or event is being held. An Acknowledgement of Country is usually delivered as part of Welcome and Housekeeping at meetings and events. It is recognition of the continuing relationship between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their Country that has existed for over 60,000 years.
Only Traditional Owners/Custodians of the land on which the event takes place can deliver a Welcome to Country. Protocols for welcoming visitors to Country have always been a part of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. Their boundaries were clear and crossing into another group’s Country required a request for permission to enter. When permission was granted, the hosting group would welcome the visitors, offering them safe passage and protection of their spiritual being during the journey. It was incumbent upon visitors to respect the protocols and rules of the land-owner group while on their Country.
As such, in the contemporary sense, in Australia a Welcome to Country is conducted by peoples of those lands upon which we gather. A Welcome to Country ceremony is a special thing. These ceremonies vary from speeches of welcome to traditional dance and smoking ceremonies. Additionally, other traditional cultural practices may be engaged with. For instance, in the Torres Strait Islander communities, due to the significant influence of the church, meetings will often have a blessing as part of the acknowledgement or welcome.
I ask you to take a moment when these ceremonies or acknowledgements occur, to pause and remember that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have continuously occupied their Country for over 60,000 years.
Australasia NAVIGATOR 2022 was held on the lands of the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung and Bunurong Boon Wurrung peoples of the Eastern Kulin.
Bob Hartley ESM, lives and works upon the lands of the Turrbal and Jagera peoples. He was born on Jagera, Giabal, and Jarowair Country.
- “Acknowledgement of Country and Welcome to Country.” Reconciliation Australia. 2020; Sept. 21. https://www.reconciliation.org.au/reconciliation/acknowledgement-of-country-and-welcome-to-country/ (accessed 2022).