Nyoora (Hello) and Nyatne (thank you) for spending some time with me on this goodest of Fridays (ironically named ‘good friday’ because it wasn't a very good day for JC if that's your jam). I’ve just learned my first indigenous words from the Wadawurrung people who are the traditional owners of the land that (most) of Ballarat sits on. On Wednesday this week I had my first official program day for Future Shapers and we started off with a session about how to conduct a meaningful ‘Acknowledgement of Country’ given to us by Wadawurrung descent and actual aboriginal person, Shannen Mennen. 

After nearly 20 years of living in Australia, this is the first time I’ve had some cultural awareness training from someone who is qualified to give it and it was pretty special. Given the horrific treatment of the indigenous peoples in Australia it can feel completely meaningless when someone runs through the standard ‘Acknowledgement of Country’ at the start of a meeting. It’s rare that someone would veer off the script in case they mispronounced something or accidentally offended anybody. The result, of course, is that most acknowledgements are stale and you can almost sense the relief when the speaker has finished and can move onto their actual agenda.

The first thing that we discussed was the difference between a ‘Welcome to Country’ and an ‘Acknowledgement of Country’. As a non-indigenous person, I can only ever acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which I’m on. A ‘Welcome to Country’ can only ever be performed by the traditional custodians of the land in which the welcome is taking place. 

The ‘Welcome to Country’ has been an important part of Aboriginal culture for thousands of years. It was an opportunity for the custodians of a particular area to welcome other aboriginal groups into their land as well as pass on any rules or information they’ll need if they want to stay. This could be letting them know where they can camp, the type of animals they’re allowed to hunt during that time of year or areas that are sacred and therefore out of bounds.

An ‘Acknowledgement of Country’ can be performed by anyone and is a way of respecting the traditional custodians of the land you happen to be on. It's taking a moment to honour the first peoples who lived and cared for the land for thousands of years before we were ever here. Every acknowledgement is a tiny step towards reconciliation and to be honest, is the very least we can do. 

The purpose of our morning with Shannen was to construct our own meaningful ‘Acknowledgement of Country’. There is no reason at all that you can’t make an acknowledgement more personal as long as you clearly pay your respects to traditional owners and acknowledge their elders, past, present and future. This is because Aboriginal people reflect upon 7 generations into the past and 7 generations into the future when making decisions. Imagine if everyone did that… what a different world we’d live in! 

When asked what connecting to a country means to me I still felt pretty insincere. I’m not from Ballarat, I’m not even from Australia. Then add living in a rental, I found it hard to explain my connection. It wasn’t until this morning that I figured it out. 

I had a pretty great sleep-in this morning which meant that for the first time in months (since Sam Murphy’s disappearance coincidentally) I could run my normal track through the bush by myself. It was still pretty cold but the sun was well and truly up and starting to warm the day. There were so many birds and smells and sounds. I got home half an hour later and felt the best I’ve felt in weeks. I feel clear headed and calm. I feel grounded.

This is my version of connecting to ‘country’. I need to be outside. As a family we spend as much time as possible in the bush. It’s where everyone is at their best. It’s where we forget the stresses of life and connect with each other in a nurturing and neutral environment. I hope to be able to channel some of that gratitude next time I give an ‘Acknowledgement of Country’ therefore making it more meaningful to myself and my audience as well as showing more genuine respect for the traditional owners of the land in which I’m lucky enough to be standing on.

Gobata (Take care). x

Video of the week
Why Having Fun Is the Secret to a Healthier Life | Catherine Price | TED
Podcast of the week
Wiser Than Me: Julia Gets Wise with Sally Field
Font of the week
Tekst: Font of the week by East of Rome

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