Fun approach to acknowledgements of Country sparks genuine change

Have you ever listened to a song so often that your brain stops processing it the same way and it loses that magic it used to spark in you? No matter how much you want to get that feeling back, if you hear the same sound enough times it loses all meaning and just becomes noise.

But then a new artist comes along to perform a cover and the freshness of their take is enough to pull you back in and remember what made the song so meaningful to you in the first place.

Perhaps the best Australian example of this is when none other than The Wiggles took Tame Impala’s 2012 single Elephant and added their original song ‘Fruit Salad’ to the mix in a 2021 cover that went on to make history as the first cover to top Triple J’s annual Hottest 100 countdown.

It’s a high bar, but that’s what Acknowledge This! founders Rhys Paddick and Emma Gibbens are trying to do for acknowledgements of Country in Australia.

Like a well-worn record, most Australians have heard the boilerplate acknowledgement of Country formula so many times they can recite the words by heart without much thought – or much appreciation for their significance.

What started as a way to pay respect to the Traditional Owners of the land where events, meetings and other gatherings take place soon became another formality as speakers across the country read the same words over and over again.

Rhys, a Yamatji Australian, knew this only too well, spending years reading out the acknowledgement of Country at assemblies in his years in Aboriginal education without really questioning the words.

Emma, from the cold, dark places of Minnesota, viewed the acknowledgement of Country as an outsider and it didn’t take her long to start asking questions.

What started as a conversation between the two friends led to a desire to reform acknowledgements of Country in Australia.

In March 2020, the pair founded Acknowledge This! as a means to do just that.

Rather than simply teaching people a new set of words, Rhys and Emma want each acknowledgement of Country to be unique and act as a means for people to deepen their connection to Country, culture and each other.

Using robust, genuine conversations as the core of their training session and workshops, Rhys and Emma share their personal connections to acknowledgements of Country, de-bunk myths around cultural sensitivities and provide resources and tools to help people feel empowered to diverge from ‘the script’.

What started with a handful of people at a time over Zoom in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic has started to sell out venues across Australia in live sessions delivered to hundreds of people at a time.

In almost three years, Rhys and Emma have had conversations with close to 15,000 Australians and counting.

More than 2.5 million votes were cast in the Hottest 100 that The Wiggles ultimately won, so Acknowledge This! still has some ground to cover to catch them, but next time you hear an acknowledgement with a personal touch, know that change is coming one conversation at a time.

The video featured in this article was filmed and produced by ReGen Strategic.


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