On this day, 12 february 2008 "A WELCOME TO COUNTRY" ceremony opens parliament. See video here
This Indigenous Australian Welcoming Ceremony is to become a permanent feature of all future openings of the federal parliament. The first took place 12 February 2008. The welcoming ceremony was led by Matilda House-Williams, (see photo above) an elder of the Ngambri people, who have a traditional connection with the Canberra and Yass region. She entered the Members Hall accompanied by a didgeridoo player and one of her granddaughters, who presented Prime Minister Mr Rudd with a message stick*.
See photo above: 'New dawn … Prime Minister Kevin Rudd with elder Matilda House-Williams, who led the first "welcome to country" at an opening of Parliament.' Photo: Andrew Taylor
"A welcome to country acknowledges our people and pays respect to our ancestors' spirits who have created the lands," the Ngambri elder told the audience. "In doing this the Prime Minister shows what we call proper respect to us, to his fellow parliamentarians and to all Australians. For thousands of years our people have observed this protocol. It is a good and honest and a decent and human act to reach out and make sure everyone has a place and is welcome."
PM Mr Rudd lamented that when Canberra's first parliament house opened in 1927 no indigenous people were invited.
"There was no welcome to the country; there was no welcome at all. It's taken 41 parliaments to get here... this will become part and parcel of the fabric of our celebration of Australia in all of its unity and all of its diversity."
Formally opening Parliament the following day, the Governor-General, Michael Jeffery, indicated that more teaching of Aboriginal culture and pre-history would be incorporated in the nation's secondary schools.
"The richness of indigenous culture is often under-recognised and, as a nation, we have much to learn about the history of indigenous Australians - a history that stretches over 60,000 years."
*MESSAGE STICK --The message stick is one of the many ways Aboriginal people communicate. Made out of a small piece of timber; used by the men of the tribe. It could be used as a 'passport' i.e. the message stick allowed a runner to pass unhindered to their destination.
--See the making of a message stick in this video:-Dha:wu'mirr Dharpahttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TldZDADikvI
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