Richie Fejo shares the story behind his passionate Welcome to Country that was broadcast nationally at the Richmond versus Essendon game in Darwin last Saturday.
“I called out ‘countryman’ as a demonstration of what calling out to ancestors means. Calling out is telling the ancestors these are my guests, they are with me, and please don’t harm them.
Welcome to Country goes back to pre-settlement days when Aboriginal tribal groups had very distinct borders. When groups were seeking to hunt or fish on other people’s land and where there was peace across two tribes, we would always ask permission to enter each other borders or tribal lands.
Welcome to Country is calling out to our ancestral spirits in language so that the spirits of one tribal region would be introduced to the visitors to the land from another region. Aboriginal people believe that going across country always needs authority otherwise bad things may happen.
Before I went on stage, I was very nervous, but when I got up on the stage, I went into a different place, everything clicked, and I was on a roll. I just went into this zone and to be honest I still haven’t come down.
I could feel all my family and ancestors around me; I felt like my dad, and my aunties and uncles were standing around me on stage. It was spiritually uplifting for me, and I felt it spread to the crowd.
The hairs on my arms were standing up I could hear the yelling from the crowd. I had to share the call and help the crowd to let it out. Afterwards many people told me they felt like they had goose bumps and they wanted to cry which means a lot to me, it went far beyond my expectations and I am so elated.
The meaning of Welcome to Country
For me, doing Welcome to Country is following what we are supposed to do. We are supposed to care for country, we are supposed to include people who live here and who visit here, we are supposed to welcome them to our land.
When I was a child and I saw my uncles and aunties doing Welcome to Country I knew I wanted to do that one day. In their wisdom, they told me to look, listen and learn and then I would be ready. I’ve been doing Welcome to Country since 1994.
I believe you can talk about the wellbeing of your community in a Welcome to Country and I try to reach deep into my heart and show people how much pride I have in my land. If you listen to the words when I talk, I am speaking of reconciliation, of treating all Australians with the courtesy and dignity we deserve as fellow Australians and countrymen.
Welcome to Country unites people
Your story impacts my story and visa versa if we are on the same land, we share success and failure as a community.
Sadly, we’ve been taught not to trust each other and to value individual success instead of the success of the community. People can have individual successes but at the same time, the community will be better off if we communicate and trust each other. When we trust each other, we can lower our guard. That is why I’ve been a cultural educator for so long, because I want to educate people so we can build harmony.
Larrakia speak for Larrakia land. That authority allows us to define or at least contribute to our community to give us a voice to share our expectations of how we behave on this land. That means no matter where you come from no matter if you’re Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal, we all should respect each other”.