Welcome to Country

Guidelines for JCU staff and students

How to organise a Welcome to Country ceremony
Contact for Welcome to Country 

‘Welcome to Country’ is a formal ceremony that can only be performed by a recognised and appropriate Australian Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Traditional Owner of the country or land upon which you are meeting.

The ceremony sees a Traditional Owner giving recognition to their ancestors for giving them the right to be there, and to welcome visitors on to Traditional Owners’ land, or Country. Welcome to Country may entail a short speech by the Traditional Owner, and it can include dancers, smoking and/or a didgeridoo performance.

Welcome to Country is a sacred, symbolic ceremony that has been celebrated for 60,000 years. Patterns painted onto skin and head-dresses have been handed down by Elders and have significant meaning. It is a proud moment for those giving the Welcome and members in the audience are privileged to witness such a sacred ceremony. For Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, if they are not welcomed onto another’s country, they believe that their spirits will do something harmful to them.

It is only since the Apology by former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in 2008, that the flying of the Aboriginal flag and the Torres Strait Islander flag beside the Australian flag, as well as a traditional Welcome to Country on formal occasions, has become a cultural protocol being followed throughout Australia.

Formal functions or special occasions that would include a Welcome to Country include:

  • Graduations
  • Conferences
  • Sod turning ceremonies
  • New buildings and space openings
  • Student orientations
  • Annual, special and inaugural professorial lectures
  • JCU Council Inductions
  • Senior staff forums, and
  • NAIDOC and Reconciliation Weeks.

Note, a Smoking Ceremony may also be required. When liaising with the Traditional Owner giving the Welcome to Country, ask their advice about the need for a Smoking Ceremony.

How to organise a Welcome to Country ceremony

  • If you are organising an event at JCU, you should include a Welcome to Country as the first item on any running order. A Welcome to Country speech will take up to 10 minutes.
  • It is usually the eldest of the siblings that is first contacted. That way, if that person is unavailable, they can pass the request to the next most appropriate person in their family.
  • A Welcome to Country may entail a speech from the appropriate person, or can include dancers, smoking and/or a didgeridoo performance. You can discuss this with the Traditional Owner at the time you are making arrangements. With performance, you should allow a minimum of 20 minutes on your Running Order.
  • Please note that there is a fee for the service of a Traditional Owner giving a Welcome to Country. The fee can vary, depending on the status of their Eldership, their wisdom and knowledge, and their connection to country. When inviting a Traditional Owner to deliver a Welcome to Country, you should request a quote to ascertain their rate.
  • It is respectful to provide some background information about the event to the Traditional Owner giving the Welcome to Country, so they have information about the purpose of the event and who the people in the audience will be. You may also like to consider offering taxi vouchers to assist with their transport to and from the venue.
  • If the Traditional Owner is delayed and late for your event, it is reasonable to start your event with an Acknowledgment of Country and accommodate them and the Welcome to Country when they arrive.
  • Please ensure the first speaker to speak immediately after the Traditional Owner is aware that just as one would say ‘thank you’ when welcomed into one’s home in western culture, one must thank and show appreciation to the Traditional Owner when they have completed their Welcome to Country.
  • Immediately following any Welcome to Country, the next speaker, usually the Master of Ceremonies (MC) should give an Acknowledgment of Country after thanking the Traditional Owner for welcoming them to country.
  • If more than one group of Traditional Owners is recognised at a place where the event is taking place, ideally you would invite a Welcome to Country from each Traditional Owner group. It is recognised that this may not always be feasible with regards to timing and budget constraints. For this reason, all requests to organise a Welcome to Country will be channelled at JCU through one point to ensure opportunities for Traditional Owner groups are shared.

Contact for Welcome to Country

Ms Toni Peachey
Executive Support Officer
Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Centre
JCU Townsville

Telephone: (07) 4781 4114
Email: toni.peachey@jcu.edu.au