The welcome to country ceremony has been part of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander customs for thousands of years as a way to invite in neighbours and offer them safe passage on their journey. Today, it is still about welcoming visitors and making them feel safe, while also affirming the connection between Indigenous people and their native lands.
It’s fitting, then, that the first not-for-profit tourism company and online marketplace dedicated to connecting people with Aboriginal businesses and experiences goes by the name Welcome to Country.
It lists more than 85 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander experiences – everything from accommodation to attractions, tours, food and wine activities, art and culture, and virtual events you can book right across the country. The site also doubles as a shop; it has more than 1000 products made by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and profits go back to them and their communities.
“Welcome to Country enables us all to get to know each other a little more, but through our gaze there is the humour, dry and witty, often like the landscape, [and] there is the adventure and the exploration,” Welcome to Country board member, respected arts figure and Bundjalung woman Rhoda Roberts tells Broadsheet.
Most importantly, every purchase made through Welcome to Country supports Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, families and people.
The site lists a Great Barrier Reef dive that includes traditional Dreamtime stories about the sea and marine life, a cruise along NSW's Tweed River hunting for mud crabs you then eat for lunch, and an on-country tour of WA's Kununurra where you can learn about the ancient Kimberley landscape.
There are sunset tours of the sacred land of Miriwoong Country (parts of northern Western Australia); the Pamagirri Rainforest Walkabout at Rainforestation Nature Park in Kuranda, in Tropical North Queensland with an Aboriginal guide; and a five-day trip around the Northern Territory's Litchfield, Katherine, Kakadu and Arnhem Land that includes swimming in beautiful water holes, exploring ancient rock art sites with an Indigenous guide and a scenic flight over Kakadu.
“Let’s tread lightly as we witness the ancient carvings, whose stories have been passed down through eons of oral story. The wonderment will build as we gaze to the night sky and feel an incredible sense of pride that we as a nation host the oldest living culture,” Roberts says. “Listen to the drones of the oldest rhythms, there is nothing like it in the world.”
Welcome to Country was originally launched in 2018 to assist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island peoples to create and grow Indigenous-owned businesses. It has since evolved into an easy-to-use, single-booking platform offering some of the most unique experiences in the country.