Ted Baillieu, That is just unAustralian

Welcome to Country -  Ted Baillieui style
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Victorian Premier, Ted Baillieu

Luke Pearson aboriginaloz.blogspot May 20th 2011

As many people know, the process of beginning functions and events with either a Welcome to Country (Conducted by a Traditional Custodian of the Land) or an Acknowledgement of Country (by any one) has been a practice which has grown in popularity in the last few years and was beginning, I thought, to become common practice.

The recent hype created by Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu saying people shouldn't have to make an Acknowledgement of Country is a strange thing for him to have done.

A statement today from the Victorian Minister for Aboriginal Affairs states:

Acknowledgement of Country is not mandated, never has been, and nor should it be.

The Coalition Government believes that such acknowledgements may be diminished if they become tokenistic.

The Coalition Government will continue to encourage people to recognise the nation's first peoples by way of representative speakers at an event, preferably the first speaker, making a suitable and heartfelt acknowledgement that subsequent speakers may choose to echo.

The above three statements are of great interest.

Firstly, if 'Acknowledgements' are not, never has been and shouldn't be mandated, then why did Ted feel a need to bring it up? Why did he feel this of all issues was relevant to point out?

Is he so self-absorbed that the only Aboriginal issues that are of interest to him are those which directly affect him? Is that the issue affecting Victorians that people care most about? Or is it the issue he wants us to talk about so we forget the Aboriginal women who held the Lake Tyers blockade against the State Government, or about the Bridge he is planning to build that is strongly opposed by Aboriginal Victorians? If it is a not distraction then his pointless need to show such discomfort at paying respects to people is not just sad, it is pathetic and unbefitting a man of his Office.

As for an Acknowledgement of Country being 'tokenistic', that can only ever happen if the individual making it does not believe in what they are saying. If that is the case, then Ministers shouldn't be forced to say it if they don't want to. If they would rather send a clear message to their voters that they are racist and oppose Reconciliation, that is their choice. It is not too shocking a political strategy, John Howard was in Government for a very long time, and not all that long ago.

Any proud Australian today knows that if you don't respect Aboriginal Australian culture then you do not respect Australian culture. Aboriginal Australia makes up a huge part of Australian identity nationally and globally. Aboriginal history makes up well over 99% of Australia's history and has been ever present for the other 1%! Many Australians are proud to embrace that simple, undeniable truth. Those Australians are also eager to see our Government finally show LEADERSHIP on Aboriginal issues rather than only ever moving forward under public duress and constantly trying to take us back to a pre-1950 Aboriginal Affairs agenda. And even earlier than that.

There is a map available on a Victorian Government website which shows 68 recorded Aboriginal murder and massacre sites which all occurred in only an 18 year period, between 1836 and 1853. That is only a small fraction of the atrocities committed against the Aboriginal people of Victoria. In more recent times, the Victorian Government only saw fit to change the name of the infamous Mt Niggerhead in 2008, and they then 'chose an Aboriginal name' which the Traditional Owners of the Land were outraged by as they claim it to be a word from another language group.

If any Minister does not know why an Acknowledgement of Country is important, then either they do not know the history of the State they are a Minister in, or they know this information full well, and still do not believe these people deserve respect and recognition. They refuse to negotiate with Aboriginal communities, they refuse to adequately improve Aboriginal services and outcomes in health, employment and education and now some even refuse to be 'Politically Correct'. Which seems like a thing a politician should be a bit more often... correct. Politically or otherwise. Or instead, they could forget about Political Correctness and worry about being Culturally Appropriate. At the moment they are being neither, but if I have to choose one, I pick Cultural Appropriateness every time. An Acknowledgement of Country is Culturally Appropriate.

It respects the culture of the Traditional Custodians of the Land and it respects the spirit of the values that Australians hold so dear. Sacrifice, pride, history, hardship, resilience, survival against the odds, love of this land and a strong sense of family and community.

Any Minister who doesn't want to perform an Acknowledgement of Country is saying that they have such contempt for Aboriginal people, accurate Australian history and modern Australian values that they refuse to make even the smallest gesture of goodwill and respect. They don't care that Aboriginal cultures are the oldest living cultures on Earth, a fact that is of course of global significance to human history. They do not care about the massacre sites that are scattered across their State. They do not care about the Stolen Generations, Aboriginal Deaths in Custody or about 'Closing the Gap'. They do not care about their own failure to provide adequate services and outcomes for their Aboriginal constituents, or for the many Victorians who support their State moving from oppression to respect, and from ignoring their Aboriginal history to celebrating it. These politicians do not respect Aboriginal people anywhere in Australia, or the millions of Australians who believe that this tiny gesture is not only essential, but no where near enough.

It is a TOKEN gesture. It is meant to be a symbol of respect and understanding. If the Victorian Government is not interested in moving forward into a stronger Australian future with the rest of the nation, then it best they do not say it at events. It lets the rest of us know where they stand.

Finally the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs claimed that the Coalition government 'encourages people' to show this basic form of respect... I fail to see how Ted Baillieu's statements can be seen as a form of 'encouragement'.

Most Australians recognise that Aboriginal Australians not only lived here for an unimaginable period of time before any other groups of humans but also played roles in every major aspect of Australian history, including giving their lives for this country, first against the new invaders, then with other Australians in every major Australian Military conflict since that invasion. Aboriginal people have proudly represented Australia in times of peace and war. Many of our most beloved national heroes are Aboriginal. This is true in sport, arts, science and literature.

Any one who wouldn't be proud to have the honour and privilege to pay respect to the local Traditional Owners of the land and perform an Acknowledgement of Country is unAustralian. They are unpatriotic. They have a mindset that is not only outdated but also immature. It is a level of intentional spite and disrespect that most of us would be saddened to see develop in our Nation's children, but sadly, it is one we have grown to expect from our Nation's Leaders.

Robbie Thorpe
Robbie Thorpe welcomes attendees to country.
(Source: FOE Melbourne) - 2009

Welcome to Country

A 'Welcome to Country' is a small ceremony where traditional owners, usually elders, welcome people to their land. This is a significant recognition and is made through a formal process, although it's up to the elder how they decide to carry out the ceremony. It also depends on the location of the event and the practice of the Aboriginal community which can vary greatly according to region.

During a 'Welcome to Country' the elders welcome those in attendance, guests, staff and students to their country. It might be just a simple speech or a performance of some sort, like a song, traditional dance, a didgeridoo piece or any combination of these.

'Welcome to Country' should always occur in the opening of the event in question, preferable as the first item. Note that a 'Welcome to Country' is often considered a right and not a privilege.

The 'Welcome to Country' ceremony was first conducted at the start of parliament in 2008 and will now form a regular element of Australian political process.

Welcome to Country
from an Aboriginal perspective

Bev Manton
Bev Manton

Bev Manton, chairperson of the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council (NSWALC), describes a Welcome to Country from her perspective.

"A Welcome to Country is about Aboriginal people acknowledging the past, and looking to the future. It is often delivered by an Aboriginal person who has themselves been the victim of government policies.

Our Elders do the Welcome to Country as an act of generosity. These are the same people who have had their children taken away, or been removed themselves. They're the same people who had their wages stolen by successive governments. They're the same people who had ancestors remains raided by grave robbers. They're the same people who were disposed from their lands and forced on to missions and reserves.

And yet despite all of these terrible events—despite the horrendous treatment by so many parliaments—these very same people are still prepared to say 'welcome' to the very people who in some cases have presided over the oppression."

Charles (Mibunj) Moran, a Bundjalung elder from northern NSW, explains:

"When we have our welcome to country our custodians/Elders pay respect to custodians past and present as well as Elders past and present.

Spiritually, this is showing respect for the country and the custodians who are responsible for taking care of the country where we live... So what our custodians are doing is trying to give respect back into the country."

Source: Creative Spirits (Edited)

MORE: Welcome to Country Wikidepia