Last month, during National Reconciliation Week UDIA WA hosted our first ever Reconciliation Event as we heard from Rhys Paddick and Emma Gibbens from Acknowledge This! about the importance of a meaningful and well-intentioned Acknowledgement of Country.

The engaging hour-long presentation was followed by an intimate Q&A session where attendees were encouraged to pull up a chair to have a yarn with the pair about anything and everything to do with Reconciliation, Acknowledgement of Country and engaging with the Traditional Owners of the Land.

During the presentation Mr Paddick took attendees through the context and reasons for conducting an Acknowledgement of Country, including the difference between this and a Welcome to Country with a fairly simple message for anyone looking to understand more.

“Just start a conversation,” he said. “The only way we will learn the context or the meaning behind why things are done in a certain way is by having a yarn and if you’re truly stuck, do what we do when we get stumped by a question we don’t know the answer to – go have a yarn with Uncle Google.”

In delivering an Acknowledgement of Country Mr Paddick said the most important thing to remember is it is about acknowledging people and places.

“Just remember those two elements; people and place,” he said. “An Acknowledgement of Country is often confused with a Welcome to Country but it is important to understand the difference because the Welcome to Country is a traditional cultural protocol, which is conducted by Aboriginal Elders, or people with the right permission from those Elders of a specific place.”

Mr Paddick also said it was really important for an Acknowledgement of Country to be well intentioned. He said there was a potential for people to simply conduct an Acknowledgement because the script says so or because the previous speaker did so, something he referred to as the domino effect.

“If you are speaker number 15 at a forum or conference, I don’t encourage you to conduct an Acknowledgement simply because the 14 speakers before you did so,” Mr Paddick said.

“What I do encourage you to do is simply ask yourself a question: ‘Am I about to do this Acknowledgement because I genuinely want to and it is something I want to express and articulate that is valuable and meaningful to me, the people in this room, the Country and the culture of this Land? Or am I about to commit to this Acknowledgement of Country out of fear because 14 people before me all did it?’ If the answer to your question is the second one then I courageously encourage you to please don’t.

“I encourage you not to for two reasons, first because you should never do anything out of fear and in doing so you are connecting the concepts of culture and Country in your words to a space of fear. The other reason and this is why I call it the domino effect is because in doing so you set the unconscious standard that that’s what the Acknowledgement should be.

“Having said all of that, if your reason for conducting an Acknowledgement of Country is for the former reason, because it is something you genuinely want to do then please go ahead because I would much rather listen to a well-intentioned and meaningful Acknowledgement of Country from speaker number 15 than the 14 before it that simply did it because the script said to.”