By Jessie Lloyd. Published in Music Forum magazine, Vol 18 Issue 3 (May 2012)

'I would like to pay my respects to the traditional owners, past and present…’ is a popular statement being used by Indigenous and non-Indigenous speakers at events, in particular music festivals. I feel nothing but pride to be at a gig that respectfully acknowledges the traditional custodians of the area, and endeavours to recognise the significance of past atrocities experienced by Indigenous people as a whole.

But in saying that, I feel it is important to clarify the role these Indigenous ceremonies play at Australian festivals, and encourage a respectful and culturally appropriate engagement with the content.

Whether it is a Welcome to Country, a traditional Opening Ceremony or a popular or local Aboriginal act, it is imperative that festival organisers work alongside a local Indigenous group or community organisation in the delivery of the performance. On too many occasions I have witnessed dignified formalities be nullified by incorrect protocol, or Indigenous culture being portrayed as an enchanted path to enlightenment.

For those of you who may not be aware, a Welcome to Country is a formality given by a traditional owner which shows their support and consent to an event being held on their country - it can be compared to a local mayor or minister officially opening proceedings. Whereas a traditional Opening Ceremony is more of a cultural procedure and represents the customary dances, stories and songs that were carried out in the area pre-colonisation. It is up to the local Indigenous people to determine what this would be and must not be confused as a performance for the sake of entertainment.

I admire the efforts of those working within the Australian festival scene and acknowledge the progress being made to incorporate Indigenous content into mainstream music and arts events. That said, I feel we must monitor how this content is being presented and make sure Indigenous culture is portrayed in its true form. It’s far too easy to affix certain personal beliefs to traditional culture in an attempt to uphold a fanciful connection with Indigenous people. In the free-spirited land of the festival, let us not treat Indigenous culture as an exotic novelty, but as an entity that is as intrinsically Australia as the Sydney Opera House.

I believe that this is all part of our social evolutionary process. Eventually Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture will form a part of the mainstream Australian story. We will slowly move away from the tokenistic ideas of red dirt, dots, lines and didgeridoo healings, and instead coalesce to create a new cultural identity. Just as soon as we admit that all of our grandmothers were part Aboriginal.


This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. is CEO/Artistic Director of the Songlines Aboriginal Music Corporation in Preston, Victoria.