“It’s an old thing that’s been around for thousands and thousands of years,” Richard Walley OAM told NITV News over criticism Thursday by an historian that Welcome to Country ceremonies are new rituals.
“It’s the new interpretation of it that’s quite recent, but it’s connected to something that’s quite ancient.”
A 'Welcome to Country' is a practice where an Indigenous custodian or elder from a particular traditional area in Australia welcomes people to their land through speech, ceremony or music.
Mr Walley likens them to the modern-day passport system when travelling between different countries.
“[Prior to] settlement days, you had people who travelled to someone else’s country…they’d only go to someone else’s country for two reasons, for good or for bad," he says.
But the ceremonies are borne from spiritual and emotional perspectives.
“If you are going there for good, you want the blessing of the ancestors.
“It’s about calling on the spirits of our ancestors to watch over people who are visiting our country and keep them safe while they’re here.”
On Thursday, historian Keith Windschuttle told radio broadcaster Alan Jones on his talkback show that the ceremonies were contemporary.
“Well, the Welcome to Country stuff, that’s another newly invented ‘Aboriginal tradition’ in which suddenly all non-Aboriginal Australians are supposed to show respect for the tradition that goes back so far, there’s no date on it, it’s just the Dreamtime.
“It’s invented 15 or 20 years ago,” Mr Windschuttle said.
The debate over a UNSW Indigenous-terminology guide
The assertion comes after Alan Jones invited Mr Windschuttle to discuss Australian history following national debate generated by a Daily Telegraph story about a University of New South Wales guideline around using Indigenous terminology.
The media outlet reported Wednesday that the university was “rewriting...official Australian history” through the terminology guideline. It said UNSW was instructing students to refer to Australia’s history as being “invaded” and that it is “offensive to suggest James Cook ‘discovered’ Australia.”
Mr Jones said UNSW “represents anti-intellectualism and political correctness at its worst,” over the issue.
“Don’t try to restrict the thinking of university students by some so-called diversity tool kit on Indigenous terminology which dictates that Cook’s arrival in NSW must be referred to as an invasion,” he said.
The UNSW Indigenous-terminology guide suggests it is “more appropriate” that students refer to Captain Cook’s landing in 1788 as “the first Englishman to map the east coast of ‘New Holland’.
It is “less appropriate” to refer to Captain Cook as having “discovered Australia”, the guide says.
The document goes on to suggest it is “more appropriate” to refer to the stages of Australia’s recent history as “1. Invasion, 2. Colonisation and 3. Occupation” and less appropriate to use the term “settlement”.
“The use of the word ‘settlement’ ignores the reality of Indigenous Australian peoples' lands being stolen from them on the basis of the legal fiction of terra nullius and negates the resistance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,” it explains.
After Wednesday’s media furore, UNSW released a statement saying it rejects the notion that its guideline was formed to "dictate" how students use Indigenous terminology or be "politically correct".
“The guide does not mandate what language can be used,” it said Wednesday.
“We always encourage students to form their own opinions so to suggest that such a guide would stifle open debate in any way is plainly wrong.”