Should you include a Welcome to Country at your event? Emma Castle chats to cultural representative Donna Ingram about the intricacies of this Aboriginal custom.
What is a Welcome to Country really about? Cultural representative and Wiradjuri woman Donna Ingram says that it’s not just about granting permission to be on the land, it’s also about offering protection.
“Pre-colonialisation, you couldn’t travel through country without a welcome,” says Ingram.
For Aboriginal people back then, she explains, it would be like waking up in the middle of the night and finding strangers in your house.
“That’s not safe for anyone,” she laughs.
Traditionally Welcome to Countries were about granting access to the land, as well as sharing information about where to find water and hazards to avoid.
Today, Ingram says they’re about respect and inclusion.
“They [Welcome to Countries] not only make visitors feel welcome. It’s also about making Aboriginal people feel comfortable because they are so often in the minority,” says Ingram.
So who can perform one and what does it need to include? The good news is that it doesn’t necessarily need to be an elder. Welcomes can be performed by authorised cultural representatives who have been given permission by the local elders.
Ingram says that ideally a welcome would be performed in language but says that it’s not compulsory because so many older people were not allowed to use their language when they were growing up.
What a welcome does need to include, however, is an acknowledgement of the local area and its people. In Sydney, for example, it needs to say, ’Welcome to the land of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, bordered by three rivers’.
Ingram says it’s also traditional to introduce yourself and say who you are and where you’re from. After that, the only thing that needs to happen is that you need to use the word ‘welcome’.
Beyond this, Ingram says that she always includes the following phrase at the end: ‘Always was, always is, always will be Aboriginal land’.
“I do this so people remember that we’re still here. Our culture is still strong. I’m promoting our culture and keeping it alive.”
The average fee for a Welcome to Country is usually between $350 – $500 if you book directly with the person performing the ceremony. Booking agents add commission so you might end up paying more. To find a cultural representative in your area, Ingram says you can always contact the local council or any of the local Aboriginal service providers and they will put you in touch.
Not all functions require a welcome but anything big like a conference should have one. Ingram says that even sporting matches have them now, even though they’re not televised.
“It shows respect for Aboriginal people and it also provides an opportunity for people to listen, learn and appreciate different customs and traditions,” says Ingram.
As far as smoking ceremonies, dancing and didgeridoo players, Ingram says that it’s all about relevance.
“A smoking ceremony is a cleansing ritual so you have to ask yourself, ‘What’s the event and is it relevant to the place?’. My friend performed a smoking ceremony at East Sydney Technical College the other day because it used to be a jail and people died there,” says Ingram. “No one had ever cleansed it so that was very relevant.”