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Unwelcome to country?

By Brendan O'Reilly - posted Monday, 29 January 2024

With the defeat of the Voice referendum, the so-called "silent majority" spoke clearly. In the face of overwhelming pressure from governments, big business, most of the media, and the main sporting bodies to vote "yes", there was a resounding "no" from voters. As a result, people have now become more confident in expressing dissent in respect of the excesses of political correctness, that surround Aboriginal affairs.

Two areas, now drawing renewed criticism and an element of public fatigue, are the (seemingly compulsory and "top-down" imposed) Smoking Ceremonies and Welcome to Country formalities that have become part and parcel of so many public events.

A smoking ceremony is an Aboriginal custom in parts of Australia that involves burning various native plants to produce smoke, which is claimed to have cleansing properties and the ability to ward off bad spirits. The official line is that "when you see a smoking ceremony happening, it is a gift from the Aboriginal people so make sure you go to the smoke and wave it over you and cleanse the past for a better future".


I see four main objections to smoking ceremonies.

Firstly, smoking ceremonies are pagan in origin and most Aboriginal people, especially outside remote areas, are not believers. (The majority of the Aboriginal population is in fact Christian, and fewer than one per cent identify as believing in traditional Aboriginal religions.) I get the impression that such ceremonies had long ago died out in more populated areas and had been reintroduced from remote regions by officialdom over the past few decades (mostly in formal contexts). Some Aboriginal people even believe that smoking ceremonies constitute a window encouraging belief in demons and spirits, which can be damaging.

Another reason not to promote smoking ceremonies is that they seem to institutionalise superstition. We don't promote superstitions from other cultures, so why promote Aboriginal superstitions?

A European equivalent would be throwing salt over your left shoulder. According to superstition, spilling salt is bad luck, and throwing a pinch over your shoulder reverses that bad luck.

Some Christian beliefs held that the Devil hangs around behind your left shoulder. In Leonardo da Vinci's painting The Last Supper, Judas Iscariot knocked the salt onto the table with his elbow. Because Judas is credited with betraying Christ, people began associating salt with lies and disloyalty. Throwing salt over the left shoulder "blinds the Devil", who is waiting to promote acts of bad behaviour.

A third reason for not supporting smoking ceremonies is cost and wasted time. One Aboriginal group offering to perform smoking ceremonies for corporate Australia quotescosts "from $6000 plus GST with travel and rehearsal costs being extra". Corporate and public money could be better spent, for example on direct health, education, and employment programmes for Indigenous Australians.


Finally, with the progressive left being one of the chief advocates of smoking ceremonies, such sponsorship is strikingly at odds with its general hostility towards religion in general and its desire to banish religion from public life and institutions. The hypocrisy of now embracing smoking ceremonies of pagan origin is stark.

Welcome to or Acknowledgement of Countryis another practice that has come into vogue.

Today, it is also common protocol for businesses, governments, conferences, forums, sporting events, official openings etc, to have Welcome to Country performed by an Aboriginal "custodian" of the land.

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About the Author

Brendan O’Reilly is a retired commonwealth public servant with a background in economics and accounting. He is currently pursuing private business interests.

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