Why I Will Not Acknowledge Country

Let me set the scene for you. It is the beginning of a meeting, an assembly, a conference, a class. A quiet hush descends upon the audience: somebody with an almost perceptible halo ascends to the speaker’s place. “I would like to acknowledge,” they begin, and you know the rest. You sit there, an atheist in church, and wonder how notoriously irreligious Australia became quite so holier-than-thou.

My criticisms are not the usual ones, that it is tokenistic, or that those who are loudest about it are the least likely to sell their property and give the money to our indigenous brothers and sisters. All of this is certainly true, mind, and the more middle-class and university-educated you are, the more likely you are to acknowledge country. But man is everywhere hypocritical, humbug being as constant a part of human life as death and taxes. This knowledge ought not excuse us from striving against hypocrisy in ourselves, and certainly not lead us to embrace it, as many of our compatriots have speedily done. Nor is my criticism particularly motivated by antipathy towards those same brothers and sisters, who were eaten by modernity long ago, the very process we are now experiencing ourselves.

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I will not acknowledge country, nor have anything to do with the silliness that accompanies it, despite the very real risk to my employment that entails. I feel like a Catholic in Protestant England, doing his best to avoid the Test and Corporation Act, and wondering how insidiously, and without comment, public loyalty tests became an accepted part of our national life. As usual, I wait for some informed comment on the subject by my betters, those conservatives who hold, or aspire to hold, positions in public life—those I once respected—but find they are participating in various versions of the same charade as dutifully as their erstwhile opponents. It seems the spirit of Sir Thomas More died along with him, at least in this far-flung corner of the world that once shared his legacy.

The most recent conference I attended included a half-hour question-and-answer period about acknowledging country with a part-indigenous man who holds an important position in the local bureaucracy. The assumption was that the audience was already convinced of its rightness and necessity. I was paying very little attention, but managed to catch various snippets, including “If you don’t acknowledge country, country will get you”, as though the Rainbow Serpent was responsible for the various floods that have engulfed parts of the country. There was the usual reference to doing “harm” by not acknowledging country, but very little discussion of quite what that harm constitutes. I imagine he meant hurt feelings. I can forgive a great deal, but I find this bizarre retreat away from seriousness, the embrace of shameless cant, deserving of further exploration.

Chesterton is often quoted in the context of our post-religious world, stating that once man stops believing in God, rather than believing in nothing he will believe in anything. This appears to be the case, more so than “metaphysical poverty”—that is, a public life where no absolute claims can be brokered, despite their presence in private life, and somewhere in the middle a happy, ideologically neutered balance will be reached. But public life is an aggregate of private life, and the lesson of the last few decades appears to be that you can take man out of religion, but you can’t take religion out of man. If you produce a vacuum of public belief, something will fill it, and when you have a cultural life so reduced as ours, you can bet money it will be something dumb.

When it comes to seeking out the truth of the human condition, I prefer Genesis and Plato to Fern Gully and Pocahontas, but that’s just me. The great irony of our home-grown religion is that it isn’t home-grown at all—like nearly everything that pollutes our zeitgeist, it has its origins in North America. Rousseau is back, but his current guise is more Avatar than The Social Contract. Even our recently adopted terminology, “First Nations”—the notion of nationhood being eminently malleable, it seems—has its origins there. There is very little organically Australian about our quasi-secular, quasi-pagan neo-religiosity. The ABC in a recent article called our state capitals by their “original” names, juxtaposed with the names by which we better know them. Plans to rename all our cities to their indigenous equivalents would be imitating, of all places, New Zealand. Surely even our public silliness has limits.

But silliness is only part of the story, though a very significant part. There is a definite malice at work, too, in what follows in the wake of this new religiosity. The assault spares nothing, especially the truth, which is the first sacrificial victim. That same conference, I attended a seminar on “cultural safety”—anti-racism training in all but name. Well, if sin isn’t something you do, it’s something you are: and it must have been wonderful for the organisers to see so many pale faces engage in public confession.

One activity involved drawing circles when it came to our identity: what role did race play in how we saw ourselves? My table of white middle-class professionals drew tiny racial circles, because nobody identifies as one sixteenth European. There’s no benefit in that, and besides, we were all raised to be colourblind. Then, we looked at various history books, and made judgments about whether they privileged the indigenous experience—whether they were by mob, for mob, about mob, without mob or against mob.

The final activity was re-wording “deficit” statements about Aboriginal statistics: in other words, lying. The organisers were quick to remind us that, in the name of safety, they would shut down any dissenting voices. They needn’t have bothered. The vibe was more Hillsong than struggle session. Banal, yes, but people are always on about the banality of evil, and I couldn’t help but think we were fiddling while Alice Springs burns.

All religions need some kind of inquisition, I suppose, to defend that which is regarded as sacred, especially if your religion is largely interested in the manipulation of language. And the truth is that if you call the sacred profane long enough, the profane becomes sacred. By worshipping the primitive, we cast the civilised as valueless at best and villainess at worst. Only a people who have known no genuine collective hardship in a very long time could be so flippant on such a subject—and only a people who have come to hate their own history, and consequently themselves, could engage in such destructive frivolity. Worship is supposed to be Apollonian in nature, looking upward, not Dionysian, looking downward; all proper worship is struggle against our base nature.

All this should indicate that a very dangerous inversion of values has penetrated completely into our collective sensibilities, one that will certainly undermine any desire to defend ourselves against what the world is really like—the world that Nicolás Gómez Dávila described as “the man with a whip surrounded by savage beasts”. That is civilisation, and the beasts are within and without in equal measure. We forget the “savage” part in “noble savage” at our own peril, and come to resemble that which we revere.

Nonetheless, worship of Aboriginality can only compete glibly and half-heartedly with genuine religion, for while it serves as an act of public contrition, it in effect is an expression of self-righteous sentimentality that ought to send a thinking person screaming from the room. We launder the perceived guilt of those past to whiten the righteousness of our present garments. It is liberalism given the clothes of religion, and makes public demands of what we once considered the most sacrosanct part of man—his conscience.

While acknowledgment of country might have adopted a pseudo-religious fervour, its scope was always political and intended as such. It exists to reframe the language we use about our nation, as the architects believe that language configures reality rather than the reverse, and they are only half-wrong. If we reimagine the legitimacy of Australia, perhaps we can sculpt it how we please. And perhaps they can. They certainly want to.

Those who are quick to condemn historical instances of collective insanity forfeit the right to do so, given their empty-headed acceptance of momentary ideological shibboleths in our own age. Those who are pontificating about “elders past and present” would have been throwing up salutes in another time, because institutional and social proofs are proof enough—especially for those who would ape whoever happens to be the cause du jour for the sake of social clout.

And why are our leaders—in thought and in actuality—so afraid of opposing this? We might put it down to a mere lack of reflection, which would be entirely unsurprising, to a harmless desire to placate the ever-restless, but there is a sense of resignation when it comes to the direction of our collective energy. Do they fear the mob, the commentariat—the Racial Discrimination Act? I suspect the spectres are in their own heads. We police ourselves, because we have no desire to front the cost needed to fight the linguistic battle, let alone real battles. Far easier to quibble about budgets and inflation, as though our problems are material and not spiritual. Do you wish to be dominated forever by Mao’s magic words—to let the word racist be cast over you like some ancient pagan spell? Sticks and stones may break your bones, but now we worship them. That’s far worse than being called a nasty name.

We are a reduced people—so far as we can still be called a people—and our public rituals betray our uncertainty in our own story. This uncertainty might have spiritual origins but it is political in purpose. Don’t say what you don’t believe to be true, and if you do, don’t be unsurprised when everything around you ends up based on lies. We are direly in need of some latter-day Sir Thomas Mores.

Christopher Joliffe is a freelance writer and editor

29 thoughts on “Why I Will Not Acknowledge Country

  • NarelleG says:

    So well written.

    Thank you Christopher.

    Where I live in rural mid north coast NSW – it is as though we must worship the ground they walk on.
    Our schools are riddled with it(replacing Advance Australia Fair on assemblies) – buses are painted in dots and squirls. etc etc

    God help us we are getting a ‘cultural holding place’ from the taxpayers – in orher words a museum – but in Macksville – not in Bowraville where it belongs.

    Because it’s closer to the highway 😉

    AoC has become an oath and we are indeed a reduced people worshipping the primitive.

    I keep remembering my primary school oath said at assemblies in the 50’s.

    “I honour my God
    I serve my Queen
    I salute the flag.”

    Now that sure makes more sense to me in 2023.

  • Dallas Beaufort says:

    Thankyou Christopher, In my minds eye captured, and increasing outside the baubles, so popular now.

  • Daffy says:

    I enjoy reacting against AoC. If I can I chat to my neighbor, read a book on my phone: giggle a little at it the book…but the best of all, I received an email from my alma mater where I volunteered in a student support role. It was signed with the incantation beneath the signatory’s name.

    Not to be outdone I used the John Stone AoC with reference to George, Charles and the elders Phillip, Macquarie, and some other street, I can’t remember.

    I was told that I was not the right sort for this role and was ‘terminated’ by the prissy big-boots to whom I had replied.

    Oh the hilarity of it! I was ROFL on that for days afterwards.

  • rosross says:

    Excellent work. Eloquent, insightful, salient. Thanks so much.

  • Susan says:

    Yes, you’re right Christopher, this is the new religion and AOC is just one of the observances. Soon there’ll be a special hand movement: sign of the ??, maybe even a special handshake, and for the more extroverted a little shoe shuffle so the faithful can recognise each other and of course it will all aid the brainwashing, just like the religions we endured. Really, it is simple – find out ahead of time if they do this nonsense and do not participate. If it is foisted on you, object loudly. Walk out. Nobody has to go along with it.

  • brandee says:

    Private and religious schools should feel free to customise the welcome protocol so that it includes a reference to the Coming of the Light celebrations held annually in Torres Strait Islander communities to celebrate the original Christian missionaries and the moral power to eliminate primitive payback. and constant intertribal warfare.
    Additional grateful reference can be made to the First Fleet, to Anzacs, and war veterans, etc.


    Here are my rules for welcome to country: Anyone’s welcome to country at my place as long as they’re invited. No fees apply. If they’re on my country without an invite they’re unlawfully trespassing. Smoking is only permitted by the barbie for food preparation. the fire for warmth in winter or by the bonfire for fallen wood clean-ups.

  • Ian MacDougall says:

    I am always prepared to acknowledge the original ‘traditional owners,’ provided that it is agreed the by that term we mean the Tasmanian ‘full-bloods,’ and only them, who were the first human arrivals on this continent, perhaps as far back as 110,000 years BPE.
    They were followed by the ancestral Murrayan aborigines, who were in turn driven southwards by the ancestral Carpentarians, who are the only ‘full-bloods’ left, and inhabit tropical Australia to this day.
    We Europeans, Asians and others are merely the last mobs in.

  • Phillip says:

    Thankyou Christopher.
    I agree it is pathetic and absurd to recite some squirrel of words to some stone age believe. Are we that advanced in a ‘civilised’ society to be obliged to fall for this horses manure?

    My Certificate of Title for Land records date back to Crown Land converted to Freehold Land and then itemised with a record of previous noted Title Owners with or without associated Mortgage on that land piece. I’d be very surprised if any land owner in Australia has a Title with some lien or encumbrance in favour to some stone age walkabout savage burdened upon that current Title.

    God Save the King.

    • myrmecia says:

      As I understand it, land title documents in paper form have been abolished in some states recently and the papers destroyed by banks who held held them as part of their mortgagor role after they were transferred to digital format. At the same time the paper documents held by freehold landowners became invalid, with the digital version being the only one with legal status.

  • Stephen Ireland says:

    I recently managed to download R.H. Matthew’s Ethnological notes on the aboriginal tribes of New South Wales and Victoria (1905) and found the first references from early ethnographers/anthropologists that I have come across to what would now be termed ‘smoking ceremonies’.
    In each case they were associated with initiation ceremonies of both young men and girls.

  • geoff_brown1 says:

    I’m remembering an ANZAC Day service that began with a “Welcome to Country.” Two of the local veterans walked out in protest, and it was several years before I went to another ANZAC Day service.

  • Gordon Cheyne says:

    Why not acknowledge the Chairman and Board of Directors of the Axminster Carpet Company, upon whose product you are currently standing?

  • Helmond says:

    I wonder what proportion of Australians take AOC and Welcome to Country seriously. I’m guessing that your average Joe and Jane are unaware of it, and if they have somehow stumbled upon it, they couldn’t care less.

    So who does take think AOC is right and proper? The ABC and Fairfax, certainly. The Greens, sure. Labor, but not sure if they’re really dinkum. Universities, God yes. And sundry other do-gooders. Says it all!

    Recently at my retirement village AGM a motion was proposed that Welcome to Country should NOT be used at any village meetings and functions. Carried unamiously I’m pleased to say.

    Why, as a nation, do we carry on with this Aboriginal guilt trip. I’m betting it doesn’t happen anywhere in South America and the USA. Sure beats me!

  • wdr says:

    The origins of the Welcome to Country date back to the mists of Dreamtime- all the way back to 1976, when the “Welcome” was invented out of the whole cloth by two Aboriginal actors for a welcome ceremony in Adelaide. Another distortion of Aboriginal history and society, swallowed whole by the media.

  • mike2 says:

    Great article!..one tiny quibble…

    “..Chesterton is often quoted in the context of our post-religious world, stating that once man stops believing in God, rather than believing in nothing he will believe in anything…”

    Yes.But Chesterton never said it.

    “..The first effect of not believing in God is to believe in anything: “And a dog is an omen and a cat is a mystery..”
    Emile Cammaerts

  • saorsa660 says:

    I note that Catholic Masses where I live are now preceded by an acknowledgement of country, a piece of imposed ritualised virtue signalling one has to participate in inorder to receive the eucharist.

    • mrsfarley2001 says:

      If you can, go to another church. If not, only come in after this blasphemous farce is over. If they dare to do this at my local, this is what I will be doing. It could well be that it nullifies or cancels out the actual Holy Sacrifice anyway.

      • Rebekah Meredith says:

        “Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many.” (Hebrews 9:28). “By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Hebrews 10:10) “But this Man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God. . . . For by one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:12, 14) The mass claims to make Jesus suffer again and again–constantly, in fact, as mass is performed all over the world–against clear biblical teaching. That means that the mass itself, as well as the acknowledgement of country, is a blasphemous farce.

        • mrsfarley2001 says:

          About this, we must simply agree to disagree. The Catholic Church requires that Catholics go to Holy Mass. The faithful do so, well – faithfully! As this article argues, a false belief system involving worship of “aboriginality” (a type of cultural primitivism), seems to be assuming prominence in parts of Australia, a country that was previously at least nominally Christian. To impose this new, patently false belief system upon the celebration of Holy Mass creates a serious issue for Catholics because the so-called “acknowledgement of country” offends against the First Commandment: “I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt not have false gods before Me”. It is totally unacceptable.

        • Brian Boru says:

          Rebekah, your second conclusion is interesting but not your first. As I understand it, all Christian Communion services are guided by “Do this in remembrance of me”.

        • Rebekah Meredith says:

          March 14, 2023
          What I have written is according to the Bible. If the Catholic church commands otherwise, then there is a serious problem with either the Catholic church or the Bible. Jesus commanded, “Search the Scriptures.” (John 5:39). “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.” (2 Timothy 3:16).

          I don’t entirely follow what you’re saying, Brian. Communion is, indeed, in remembrance of Christ. It is not, however, a repetition of His sacrifice. Jesus was speaking figuratively in saying that the elements were His body and blood. At the first Lord’s supper, He had not yet died; and the Bible is clear that His suffering was ONCE for all. For a man to claim the power to call the Son of God out of heaven to suffer again and again and again is nothing short of blasphemy.

    • Brian Boru says:

      If you do not agree with the acknowledgement you should say “I don’t agree” aloud. If you do not, then you could be taken to have acquiesced in the statement.
      I can’t see how agreeing to a political statement can in any way be a condition of participation in a religious practice. (Unless maybe in China.)
      If anyone asks why you do not agree, simply tell the truth. If you think as I do then this would be something like; (1) As a Christian, I love my neighbour as myself and I believe we should have an egalitarian Australia where all are treated equally and have equal opportunity, where there is no privilege on account of race, where those who are in need receive assistance on the basis of that need not their colour or who their ancestors where.
      (2) It is a political statement and has no place in a religious liturgy
      (3) If it states “respect for elders, past and present”, then say you cannot in conscience respect all elders because you believe some have been guilty of shocking abuse of women or children. (do a Google search on the names Robert Bropho or Geoff Clark if you want proof of that). If the statement includes, “respect for culture” then say you cannot respect a culture that you believe has included abuse of females and children or cannibalism.

  • Bruce Bailey says:

    The cost of indulgences:
    Welcome to Country $300-$750.00
    Smoking Ceremony $300-$1000

    Sanctimonious Hypocrisy Free of charge.

  • Botswana O'Hooligan says:

    The above article reminds me of Joliffe the cartoonist who would be tarred and feathered these days for the absolute hilarious and spot on content of his cartoons. The great problem these days is that the aboriginals involved in this nonsense have told themselves this mostly absolute rubbish for so long that they believe it themselves and expect us to believe in it as well.

  • Elizabeth Beare says:

    Let them have a Smoking Ceremony once a year on a specific Remembering Aboriginal Culture Day. Any public or private organisations can then organise a small ceremony if they wish to hold it then with a smoking ceremony, or simply with a Respect to Elders and Culture statement. Nothing about land/sovereignty as that is an insult to all other Australians who also share this land.. This smoking stuff should become an ethnic day, something occasional, just like any other ethnic day (St. Patricks Day comes to mind), not a prior claim on all public occasions. It would likely die out once the profitability of it is limited.

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