Acknowledging Ancient Aboriginal Culture & Heritage in Sydney

Before entering land that is sacred to Aboriginal people, such as Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, it is protocol to pause and pay respect to the land and the elders – past and present – and to allow anyone for whom this land is sacred, to make peace with the spirits of Aboriginal Dreaming. Visitors with Sydney OutBack will have an opportunity to participate in an Acknowledgement of Country ceremony or a Welcome to Country ceremony (if the tour guide has Aboriginal ancestry and permission to conduct the ceremony on behalf of the Guringai people).

For non-Aboriginal people, this is an opportunity to be welcomed officially and appropriately onto land that is significant and sacred to Aboriginal people. By being respectful and refraining from talking throughout the ceremony, or when sacred sites and traditions are being explained, you can show respect for Aboriginal heritage and the ongoing relationship Aboriginal people have with the land. There may be an invitation for you to participate in an experience that has spiritual significance in the Aboriginal culture, such as ochre face-painting or traditional hand stenciling. You are free to decline through a silent gesture as you are approached to participate or, if you participate, you are free to remove the ochre at any time without feeling it is offensive.

What is the difference between an Acknowledgement of Country ceremony and a Welcome to Country ceremony?

Acknowledgement of Country

An “Acknowledgement of Country” can be undertaken by anyone who wishes to pay respect to the traditional custodians of the land.

Sydney OutBack is proud to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the areas today known as Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park and Sydney’s Northern Beaches. This company recognises and pays respect to the continued connection of Aboriginal people to the land – cultural and spiritual, and to the ongoing importance of the heritage sites found in the region. Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park is home to the most concentrated collection – and arguably the most significant recorded Aboriginal Heritage Sites in NSW, in Australia and in the world.

This family owned company, with its own origins tracing back to the First Fleet in 1788, wishes to pay its respects to the elders of the First Australians, both past and present, and to all Aboriginal people of the region. The company is humbled by their active endorsement, and specifically thanks the individuals who have invested time and thought into directing and guiding Sydney OutBack about the ancient Aboriginal culture and its sacred traditions, with regards to the company’s conduct and operations.

Welcome to Country

A “Welcome to Country” can only be undertaken by an indigenous Australian who is a traditional owner of that part of country, a descendant of the First Australians – and is a protocol of the ancient Aboriginal culture to welcome visitors to their traditional lands. It is a way of entering their country the proper way. The ceremony may involve dance, ochre painting, traditional instruments or song. An example of “Welcome to Country” words, as spoken by an indigenous Australian, follows:

“Welcome to the ancient custodial lands of the Aboriginal people, today known as Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park and the Northern Beaches. This land is Guringai country that extends from Terrey Hills, to Hornsby, Dural, then north to Lake Macquarie; and Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park is considered to be one of the world’s most concentrated areas of significant Aboriginal Heritage Sites. I pay respect to the Guringai Aboriginal people, who are the traditional custodians of the lands where Sydney Out Back and its guests journey to experience the Australian natural environment and gain an insight into our ancient Aboriginal traditions and culture. I pay my respects to my elders past and present. I pay my respects to my ancestors. I also pay my respects to all Aboriginal people living on Guringai Country. On behalf of the traditional custodians, the Guringai people, I welcome you to visit our Country.”

‘Acknowledgement of Country’

by Jonathan Hill

Today we stand in footsteps millennia old.
May we acknowledge the traditional owners
whose cultures and customs have nurtured,
and continue to nurture, this land,
since men and women
awoke from the great dream.
We honour the presence of these ancestors
who reside in the imagination of this land
and whose irrepressible spirituality
flows through all creation.

Jonathan Hill is a poet living in New South Wales.

Sydney OutBack especially thanks Mr Les McLeod, an indigenous guide, for working closely with the company to guide practices that are respectful of the region’s traditional custodians, the Guringai Aboriginal peoples.

We look forward to welcoming you on our Tours!