What is a Welcome to Country?

A Welcome to Country is an important part of our Cultural protocols, the process of entering into other peoples Country, to do business or visit, and has been so for at least 65,000 years.

When a visitor or traveller comes into Country, they never approached a camp directly, they would set up a small camp some distance away and wait for someone to come and greet them and take them into camp and be announced. This wait could be a couple of hours or a couple of days. During their wait, they would be observed and assessed. This would be similar to seeking an appointment to see a professional person, a politician, or for some families visiting a relative.

A welcome is in response to the arrival of a visitor, a trader or a news person arriving at your place or camp, wanting to do business but waiting for an invitation and a welcome. It is then that a Welcome to Country is performed. This may be verbal, but sometimes includes singing and dancing, or a performance of some kind. For a more significant welcome a ceremony may be performed.

Welcomes to Country today are delivered by a Traditional Owner. A Traditional owner is someone who has family, or kinship connections, or as some people to a particular place or ‘Belongs to Country’ The Traditional Owner attends the opening of an event at an arranged location and may acknowledge the Country, other Elders and Traditional Owners past present and signify that the business may proceed.

A Welcome to Country today generally means recognition, acknowledgement, respect and acceptance and, while these things are symbolic, they can break down many barriers, build bridges and trust. It also enhances the potential for acceptance and a willingness to undertake meaningful engagement. As such, it is often the beginnings of a good working relationship.

Currently, a Welcome to Country happens at the beginning of a forum, before introductions take place, and before any decisions are made to do business.

Other than a thank you for your Welcome, there has been generally no other response to the Welcome to Country, often no statement about if or how the Traditional Owners can or will be included in the business that is going to take place during that forum, or beyond, or what benefits there might be for the Traditional Owners, or community.

As Welcomes to Country have become more frequent there has been a trend towards making a simple request to do a Welcome rather than the Welcome being done as part of the business of the meeting or event and requiring a respectful and honourable process.

To help groups and organiser’s undertake a respectful process the following guidelines have been developed.

A request for a Welcome to County should be considered during the planning stages of the Forum and not at the last minute. It is disrespectful to not allow representatives of the Aboriginal Community the time needed to consider and prepare a Welcome to Country. At a minimum the request should include a budget and information on the following;

  1. Who is requesting the Welcome
  2. What is the event or activity
  3. Where is the location of the event or activity
  4. When is the event
  5. Who will be attending the event
  6. What resources are allocated for the Welcome

The response to a Welcome to Country is equally important, it should reflect an understanding of what it means to take responsibility for being welcomed including recognition of past histories and the process for developing shared and mutual recognition, and benefits to Community.

A response to a Welcome to country should incorporate the following elements

  • Recognition
  • Acknowledgement
  • Commitment to Action or to a relationship
  • Acceptance of responsibility to not do harm and to create benefit.

Acknowledgement of Country is something that happens when there are no Traditional Owners present, or a Welcome to Country has not been organised. It may also be used at informal gatherings. It also acknowledges and pays respect to Country and people. Usually this is done by the person chairing a meeting or the person leading the function (like a Facilitator), gathering or meeting, and sometimes another speaker. It is not advisable to ask an Indigenous person to do an Acknowledgement of Country simply because they attend an event. This could diminish the importance of the leaders of the event taking responsibility for acknowledging the first peoples of this land. By asking an Aboriginal person at the last minute may be seen as disrespectful and an indication that a Welcome to Country was not considered.

A sample Acknowledgement of Country might go something like;

“I acknowledge the land that we meet on today, is in the Traditional Homelands of the ??? people, and I acknowledge and pay my respect to the Traditional Owners past and present.”

If it is not possible, or is confusing to identify the particular name of the group, it is acceptable to Acknowledge the Traditional Owners of this land in a statement like;

            “I acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet today and pay respect          to Elders, past, present and future.”

It is important that the wrong information is not given in an Acknowledgment nor is role of a facilitator to create confusion within the community.

In the Murray Region, there are a number of different Traditional Nations along the Murray, and each Nation straddles the boarder.

Starting at the Eastern end of the Murray River, it is considered to be Wiradjuri Country including Corowa, Albury, Holdbrook, Tumberumba, Wagga Wagga, and Urana.

On the southern side of the Murray at Wodonga though, there are several schools of thought, one is that it is Dhudhuroa Country, another is that it is Yorta Yorta and another is that it is Wiradjuri Country.

Coming west, Barooga, Tocumwal, Finley, Cummeragunja, and Mathoura, is considered to be Yorta Yorta Country. Some people at Moama and Echuca also call themselves Bangerang.

Further West, Deniliquin, Barham, Moulamein and Swan Hill, or Murray Downs, is considered to be Wamba Wamba/Wemba Wemba and Perrepa Perrapa Country.

This information should be used as a guide only and wherever possible accurate information obtained.

It is useful to also be aware of which Local Aboriginal Land Council area you are operating in. The map show these areas in colour blocks.

You can read more about Welcome to Country, see link below:


Jeanette Crew

Local Landcare Coordinator

Yarkuwa Indigenous Knowledge Centre