Welcome to Country vs. Acknowledgement of Country

Learn the difference and the significance of these traditional ceremonial practices

By Welcome to Country

We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future

Roebuck Bay Staircase to the Moon (2019) by Tourism AustraliaOriginal Source: Tourism Australia Image Gallery

Smoking Ceremony (Short)
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We wish to acknowledge the diverse nature of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across Australia, and share a little bit about some of the respectful practices used to welcome guests onto Country.

AIATSIS map of Indigenous AustraliaNational Portrait Gallery

Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander 'Australia' is made up of more than 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language groups, defining ownership of land or Country.

Each group has its own unique culture, traditions and language, and is commonly known as your people or your mob. Despite the absence of formal fences or visible borders, Aboriginal peoples have clear boundaries separating their Country from that of other groups.

Smoking ceremony under a tree at Aboriginal Heritage Walk, Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne (2018) by Visit VictoriaOriginal Source: Tourism Australia Image Gallery

Protocols for welcoming guests to Country - allowing safe passage and providing knowledge of the land - have been a part of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures for thousands of years. This protocol continues today through a Welcome to Country.

Smoking Ceremony Performed by Matthew Doyle and Tim Bishop on Bidjigal Land by Matthew Doyle, Tim Bishop and Welcome to CountryOriginal Source: Welcome to Country

What is a 'Welcome to Country'?

A Welcome to Country is a formal ceremony delivered by an Elder, Traditional Owner or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person who has been given permission from Traditional Owners to welcome visitors to their Country. Traditionally it is a ceremony to not only welcome an outsider to Country but to also grant permission for the visitor to enter their land.

Smoking ceremony performed during the Aboriginal Heritage Walk at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne (2018) by Visit VictoriaOriginal Source: Tourism Australia Image Gallery

A Welcome to Country occurs at the beginning of any gathering or event. It can take many forms, including singing, dancing, smoking ceremonies or a speech delivered in traditional language, English or a mixture of both.

Smoking Ceremony Performed by Matthew Doyle and Tim Bishop on Bidjigal Land by Matthew Doyle, Tim Bishop and Welcome to CountryOriginal Source: Welcome to Country

Watch Tim and Matt perform a Smoking Ceremony on Bidjigal Land.

Sand Dune Adventures guide leading an Aboriginal Culture and Quad Bike Tour in Port Stephens. (2021) by Destination NSWOriginal Source: Destination NSW Content Library

Today, much has changed and these protocols have been adapted to contemporary society. However, the essential elements of welcoming visitors and offering safe passage remain in place. It also now serves to distinguish Traditional Owners and their enduring connection to Country.

The wukalina Walk at sunrise (2018) by The wukalina WalkOriginal Source: Tourism Australia Image Gallery

What is an 'Acknowledgement of Country'?

An Acknowledgement of Country is an opportunity for anyone to show respect for Traditional Owners and the continuing connection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to Country. It can be given by both non-Indigenous people and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Maruku Arts, Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park, NT (2018) by Tourism AustraliaOriginal Source: Tourism Australia Image Gallery

Similar to a Welcome to Country, an Acknowledgement of Country is generally offered at the beginning of a meeting, speech or formal occasion. There are no set protocols or wording for an Acknowledgement of Country, though often a statement may take the following forms:

General: "I’d like to begin by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet today. I would also like to pay my respects to Elders past, present and emerging."

Specific: "I’d like to begin by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet today, the (people) of the (Nation) and pay my respects to Elders past, present and emerging."

Spirits of the Red Sand Evening Experience (2020) by Tourism and Events QueenslandOriginal Source: Tourism Australia Image Gallery

Why is a Welcome or Acknowledgement so important?

In Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander cultures, the meaning of Country is more than just ownership or connection to land (read more). Including welcoming and acknowledgement protocols in official events recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners of the land - appreciating their ongoing connection to place and showing respect for Traditional Owners.

Watch this video of Aunty Rhoda Roberts AO discuss the significance of including a Welcome to Country ceremony at contemporary events.

Credits: Story

Citations and Additional Resources:
- Lindsay Stanford, "What is the Difference between a Welcome to Country & an Acknowledgement of Land?" Blakworks Employment Solutions, 19 September 2016
- Reconciliation Australia: Acknowledgement of Country and Welcome to Country
- AIATSIS: Welcome to Country

Visit Welcome to Country and continue your journey of learning and engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and Country.

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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