Welcome to country: legal meanings and cultural implications

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Pelizzon, A 2012, 'Welcome to country: legal meanings and cultural implications', Australian Indigenous Law Review, vol. 16, no. 2, pp. 58-69.


The act of acknowledging Country prior to public events has become commonplace in Australia. Indigenous language groups and tribal boundaries are named and an apparent recognition of traditional owners is voiced. Too often, however, the legal and political implications of the act of acknowledging Country are ignored. Furthermore, such an acknowledgment is rarely explored and deconstructed in order to understand its traditional cultural and normative significance.

This paper is the result of an ongoing dialogue between an Aboriginal man from the Illawarra in New South Wales and a legal anthropologist from the other side of the planet. Throughout their conversation the two authors have explored their reciprocal perspectives on the recognition of Country in an attempt to develop a negotiated understanding. They have identified protocols and paradigms through which the act of acknowledging Country can be reciprocally construed and explained. They have also investigated its political and legal meanings and they have asked questions about its normative implications. Finally, they have attempted to identify a meaningful approach through which the act of acknowledging Country can be performed in a way that is respectful of its appropriate cultural, normative and legal significance.

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