During the debate leading to the Voice referendum, prominent Voice supporter Marcia Langton was quoted in the media saying that if the referendum was defeated: 

“How are they going to ever ask an Indigenous person, a Traditional Owner, for a welcome to country? How are they ever going to be able to ask me to come and speak at their conference? If they have the temerity to do it, of course the answer is going to be no.”

In other words, a no vote would result in Aborigines refusing to provide ‘welcome to country’ ceremonies. 

As is well known, the no vote was overwhelming. However, so far there has been no reduction in the welcomes.  

The definition of racism is treating people differently on the basis of race. The result of the Voice referendum demonstrated that Australians are profoundly anti-racist; Australians do not want to be treated differently according to race. They just want to be treated the same as everyone else, irrespective of race, ethnicity, religion or cultural origins. As George Orwell would have put it, no Australians should be more equal than others.  

Nobody doubts that Aborigines immigrated to Australia 10,000 years ago

The problem with welcome to country ceremonies is that they are at odds with this. They are only performed by Aboriginal Australians, and imply that those performing them have a special claim to the country that other Australians do not have.  

If they were welcoming visitors to land over which they had a proprietorial right, such as an indigenous reserve, this might be understandable. But that is not the case. Moreover, most of those performing the ceremonies are not even elders who could at least claim to be representing their clan. 

Similarly, if they were welcoming foreign visitors to Australia, on behalf of all Australians, it might be understandable. But that is also not the case; indeed, most foreign visitors never witness such a ceremony. 

In reality they are simply Australians, paid performers, purporting to welcome fellow Australians to their own country. 

As a successful multicultural society, Australians respect diverse cultures. From the Aboriginal Garma festival to the Indian Dev Diwali celebrations, plus numerous other ethnic ceremonies and celebrations, they happen freely and without hindrance. 

However, all Australians, including the Aborigines, are ultimately descended from immigrants. The only difference is the time period. As a consequence, going beyond respect to declaring one particular culture as superior is a step too far. 

Nobody doubts that Aborigines immigrated to Australia 10,000 years ago (or longer if some are to be believed), but why does that make their culture more deserving than the culture of the Chinese who arrived during the gold rush, or the Greeks and Italians who arrived after the Second World War, or even first-generation immigrants from India?  

Australians do not want to be treated differently according to race

If longevity in Australia is a basis for cultural priority, why shouldn’t the descendants of First Fleeters assert priority over all those who followed them? 

There is another reason why welcome to country ceremonies should be abandoned: they are actually not part of Aboriginal culture at all, but were invented by Ernie Dingo and Richard Walley to welcome a group of Māoris in 1976. Australia’s first governor, Captain Arthur Phillip, could never have witnessed a welcome to country ceremony in 1788 because they did not exist at that time.

Those who support welcome to country ceremonies are largely the same people who advocated for a yes vote for the Voice or repeat slogans such as “always was, always will be”. They are simply out of step with mainstream opinion; today’s Australians are not responsible for what occurred long before they were born and will not be held liable for it.  

And while there are genuine concerns at the differences in health and education between Aborigines in remote areas and other Australians, it is perfectly obvious to them that welcome to country ceremonies will not close the gap. Moreover, there are other Australians also missing out who are not Aboriginal. 

Australians are kind-hearted and generous, and have always supported assistance on the basis of need. But having Aborigines welcome us to our own country is simply un-Australian.

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  1. As NT Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price has stated many times, 80 per cent of Aboriginals enjoy the same standard of living as everyone else. They are not a homogeneous group, and should not be treated as one.

  2. The YES result in the 1967 referendum saw every single reference to “aboriginal” completely removed from our Constitution. The NO result in 2023 reject an attempt to add references to “aboriginal” back in again.

    In both cases the Australian people were indeed anti-racist. We don’t want our Constitution to single out people on the basis of race.


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