At a recent funeral ceremony, the family had requested a local indigenous elder, Micklo Jarrett, to come and share a Welcome to Country. The rain was so heavy as I was driving to the venue that I nearly pulled over to wait for it to pass. Half an hour before the ceremony started the rain headed out to sea. The clouds were very moody and the air was humid and still.
As Micklo spoke in Gumbaynggirr language, there was a silence in the surrounding bush and within the gathering. A few birds called as he requested permission from the land for us to be there. He spoke in the rich language of his people and then translated to English that we were welcome.
As he finished speaking, I stepped up to the microphone and two kookaburra’s swooped in and landed on the branch of the eucalyptus tree at the back of the ceremony. Inviting guests to turn and look, I became acutely aware of the young man’s presence and the sense of stillness, connection and community.
Acknowledgement of Country
“The family and I deeply thank indigenous elder, Michael Jarret, for the welcome to country and also offer our acknowledgement of the traditional custodians of this unceded land – the Gumbaynggirr people and pay respect to you Micklo and to the elders, past present and those emerging.
Peter* was connected to this land, in a deeply supportive way. If he could get away with it, he would take off his shoes and be barefoot. If it feels right for you, there is an invitation to do the same. To take your shoes off and feel the earth directly through the soles of your feet. Feel the ground beneath you and lean into the support of this beautiful planet; and breathe in this gift of fresh sea air.” *Not the young man’s real name.
Most people took off their shoes, including myself, and connected to the damp, warm earth beneath our feet. The bird calls and the silence at different points of the ceremony gave a depth to the ceremony that many people commented on afterwards.
Welcome to Country
Jude Barlow, Ngunnawal Elder, says, ‘Country is everything. It’s family, it’s life, it’s connection. Being Welcomed to Country means that you are talking to your spiritual ancestors and you’re saying just let this person come through. We trust that they’re not going to do any harm on this Country and so do not harm them.’
Welcome to Country is offered only by Traditional Owners who have permission within their community to do so. You can find out more about the difference between Welcome to Country and Acknowledgement of Country, here from the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. AIATSIS