Respect and acknowledgement are common conventions in Australian public life. As a sign of respect to the traditional custodians of this land, more and more speakers at public events are opening their addresses with an ‘Acknowledgement of Country’.
An ‘Acknowledgement of Country’ simply recognises the particular Aboriginal country on which a meeting takes place and shows consideration to the traditional custodians of that country. An Acknowledgement of Country can be offered by anyone to show respect for a specific place and its caretakers.
A ‘Welcome to Country’ can take the form of a speech or a dance but can only be performed by an Aboriginal Elder of that country. More often given at major events and meetings, the greeting welcomes people to visit and meet on the traditional area. If an Elder or appropriate member of the Aboriginal community is not available to give a ‘Welcome to Country’, it is appropriate to offer ‘Acknowledgement’ instead.
This practice has its roots in long-established Aboriginal meeting protocols, where the traditional owners welcomed visitors to a particular area, who in turn acknowledged hospitality. Both greetings represent the proper form of address and acknowledgement and show respect for Aboriginal people as Australia’s first peoples.
Hailed as an important milestone in Reconciliation, this practice is now common at state and federal functions, and in New South Wales is performed at school and TAFE functions also. The Northern Beaches Councils offer ‘Acknowledgement of Country’ at the opening of council meetings and events.