You may have attended an event and heard a Welcome to Country or an Acknowledgement of Country. It’s important to understand what these are and what the difference is between the two. Knowing this helps us understand why these practices continue today.
These practices aren’t new – they’ve been part of First Nations cultures across this continent for many thousands of years and are of great significance to many First Nations people.
Welcome to Country and an Acknowledgement of Country recognise the continuing connection Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have to their land. You can learn more about connection to Country here.
"(Welcome to Country and Acknowledgement of Country) is a very important way of giving Aboriginal people back their place in society … It's paying respect, in a formal sense, and following traditional custom in a symbolic way.” 
Joy Murphy Wandin – Wurundjeri Elder.
What’s a Welcome to Country?
A Welcome to Country is a ceremony performed by Traditional Custodians to welcome visitors to their ancestral land. It can only be done by Traditional Custodians of the land you're on. If no Traditional Custodian is available, a First Nations person from a different nation, or a non-Indigenous person, may do an Acknowledgement of Country instead. A Welcome to Country usually takes place at the beginning of an event. The ceremony can take many forms, including singing, dancing, smoking ceremonies or a speech, depending on the particular culture of Traditional Custodians.
How to arrange a Welcome to Country
To arrange a Welcome to Country you’ll need to get in touch with Traditional Custodians of the land you’re on (or will be on for the event). Remember, there are many different Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nations across Australia. You may be able to find out who Traditional Custodians in your area are by visiting your local council website.
When you know who local Traditional Custodians are, you can make contact through a local First Nations organisation or land council. Contact the person or organisation early, allowing plenty of time for discussions.
Payment is generally required. The organisation you book the Welcome to Country through should be able to advise you on this.
What are the origins of a Welcome to Country?
Welcome to Country is a tradition that‘s practised when one First Nations community seeks permission to enter another clan’s ancestral land. The ceremony varies from clan to clan.
Joy Murphy Wandin describes Welcome to Country as it’s practised by her People, Wurundjeri People:
“When there was a request to visit Country, the Werrigerri (a young man selected by the Elders of the community) would go on behalf of the community under the voice of the Elder, the Nurungeeta. There would be this negotiation and that could take a long time, it could take months. Everything could take a long time in traditional Aboriginal culture …
When agreement was reached with the Wurundjeri, when you came to Country, first of all you must accept the law of the land, and that was about respect that contained all things.
The other thing was that you could only stay for a short time. Why …? Because our people were seasonal travellers … you knew what resources were available, you knew how to get them, you knew how long they would last. So that staying here with us was about sharing … but sharing it with your neighbouring community that could be twice your size was a big effort.
The traditional ceremonies were quite big. The Yarnabool (visiting communities) would come with bark torches in their hand … to cleanse that journey, ‘swept away’ as my mother would say. And so, when they came onto Country there (was) a set up of two fires, and the eucalyptus around were used as gifts … Then the two Nurungeetas would come together at the fires, they would exchange whatever was necessary … and then there would be a big celebration. … It was a very long process and a very beautiful process.
So that is the background of Welcome to Country. It is not a new thing. It is not … because our land was dispossessed; it has nothing to do with that. It is all about respect for our culture and who we are. It is paying respect, especially to our ancestors.”
What’s an Acknowledgement of Country?
An Acknowledgement of Country is a statement that shows awareness of and respect for Traditional Custodians of the land you’re on and their long and continuing relationship with the land. Unlike a Welcome to Country, it can be delivered by a First Nations person or non-Indigenous person.
Acknowledgements of Country can take place at the beginning of events. They can also be printed in publications and websites, and on signs; for example, near the entrance of your site.
Suggested words to use
An Acknowledgement of Country commonly involves saying something along the following lines:
“I’d like to acknowledge that this meeting is being held on traditional lands of (appropriate group) people of the (name of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander nation) nation, and pay my respects to Elders both past and present.”
Personalising and localising an acknowledgement helps to make it as meaningful as possible. When preparing your acknowledgement, take time to find out a bit about the local First Nations people, land and history. Be aware that not all land borders are agreed upon by everyone, and there could be tensions between neighbouring groups regarding land boundaries as a result of colonisation. If this is the case in your area, we recommend you make a general statement such as:
“I’d like to acknowledge Traditional Custodians of the land on which we meet today. I’d also like to pay my respects to Elders past and present.”
If you’re not sure if an acknowledgement is appropriate, or if the words you’ve chosen are appropriate, speak to your local First Nations organisation or land council.
For more information about Welcome to Country and Acknowledgement of Country, see Reconciliation Australia's factsheet, Acknowledgement of Country and Welcome to Country.