Welcome to Country. What is your custodial responsibility?

25 July, 2016

When Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people use the English word ‘Country’, they are referring to everything within the landscape – landforms, water, air, trees, rocks, plants, animals, foods, medicines, minerals, stories and special places. Aboriginal communities have a cultural connection to the land, which is based on each community’s “distinct culture, traditions and laws. Community connections include cultural practices, knowledge, songs, stories, art as well as all people, past, present and future.

Connection to Country is crucial to the well-being of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. For millennia, when Indigenous people visited the country of others, there would be rituals of welcoming to country. Today, these rituals have a legacy in formal ‘Welcome to Country’.”(1)

The significance of country to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples extends beyond that of identity and includes a custodial responsibility to ensure it ‘continues in proper order and provides physical sustenance and spiritual nourishment”(2) for generations to come. In Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, this custodial responsibility extends to all people living on country including non-Indigenous Australians.

As a non-Indigenous Australian, making an Acknowledgement of Country at the beginning of any meeting or function is one way of fulfilling custodial responsibility.  There is no set wording for an Acknowledgement and you can establish your own wording – it will often include acknowledging the traditional owners/custodians of the land and paying respect to Elders past and present.

The difference between a Welcome to Country and an Acknowledgement of Country lies in the ancestral connection with country. A Welcome to Country will occur at the beginning of any major public meeting and will always be done by an appropriate Elder – someone widely recognised as having ancestral connection with the country where the meeting is taking place. They may welcome in their own language or in English.

An Acknowledgement of Country, also spoken at the beginning of a meeting, can be done by any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander persons that are not traditional owners of the country on which the meeting is being held and can be done by non-Indigenous Australians.

As part of Professional Development training in our first week of Term 2, St Andrew’s Cathedral Junior School and Gawura teachers and staff were treated to a face to face session taken from the TAFE course Dturali Win-ngare (to grow with thought) Statement of Attainment in ‘Aboriginal Cultural Education Program for Teachers’. This was delivered by Drew and Jess, teachers from Sydney TAFE – Eora College. We would like to thank Drew and Jess for opening our eyes and minds further to the richness and complexity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture. We spent many hours after the course, discussing the intricacies of the world’s oldest living culture and the challenges behind blending the richness and beauty of Indigenous culture with western society. We look forward to being better historians and better teachers to all our students. We wait in anticipation for the next inspiring session to further deepen our understanding of this magnificent culture.

For anyone interested in learning more, please contact Sydney TAFE – Eora College


Did you know that NSW is home to 46% of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population – 60% of whom reside in Sydney itself, which is more than WA, SA and NT combined.

  1. “Dturali Win-ngare’  – To Grow With Thought – Statement of Attainment in Aboriginal Cultural Education Program for Teachers” Sydney Eora TAFE. Student Resource Booklet p.6
  2. ibid


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