Ritual and ceremony are an integral part of First Peoples’ life and culture which is inseparable from Country. Today most Australians across the continent are familiar with the protocol called Welcome to Country often used as an opening ceremony. It is conducted by one or more members of the local group of First Peoples who have on-going links to that region or Country, and it is performed to open most public events, small and large, to acknowledge and show respect to both the Country and its custodians.
Sometimes it is a simple ceremony involving a few words from an elder who welcomes you to their Country and tells you something about it and their relationship to that Country. At other times the welcome is more elaborate using smoke to cleanse and bless those assembled. A welcome may include dancers using body paint and head bands, and musicians with the didgeridoo and clap sticks to keep the beat.
The welcome ceremony is based on the traditional practice of giving permission to enter someone else’s Country. Strangers had to camp outside the perimeters of the place they wished to visit with a smoky fire to let the custodians know they were waiting for permission to enter. In such a dynamic culture the structure and purpose of ceremony will change over time from place to place. Welcoming people to Country pays respect to the continuing connection of First Peoples and their culture to the place where the Welcome occurs. It provides the opportunity for all people to show respect for the continuing presence of traditional owners on the lands where they are all meeting.