Acknowledging Country – Fear, Mindfulness, Journey, A Script, Connection

Three years ago, at the Brisbane Powerhouse, 30 minutes before my event Changing The Game of Influence was due to start, my speaking coach said to me:

“You have to do the Acknowledgement of Country, Toby. Google the right words, then say them.”

He was right of course. It was my event.

But it had been a long time since I’d run my own event and I’d never started with an Acknowledgement of Country before. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it in my preparation.

And I was afraid of making a mess of it.

Afraid of missing an important piece of protocol or that I might offend someone.

But it was also really important to me, so I googled Acknowledgement of Country in Brisbane. Then I took myself off to hide in a bathroom stall and run through it as many times as I could before guests arrived.

I kicked off the event using the guidance from Reconciliation Australia:

I’d like to begin by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet today, the Turrbal and Jagera people and pay my respects to their Elders past and present.

As a first time, it felt a bit clunky and awkward, but I was glad I’d done it.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing though.

The day after the event I received some direct feedback that it could have been better. That I had sounded rushed and that I could have slowed down or paused to give it additional emphasis.

That feedback felt uncomfortable too.

It was time to practice.


Fast forward a few years and I’ve practiced and started events, keynotes and workshops with an Acknowledgement of Country many times using that same guidance.

Then a few weeks ago, I was running my Momentum Live workshop back at the Brisbane Powerhouse. 65 people were coming. A critical part of the workshop is the science of mindfulness and how it applies in wellbeing and performance.

One of the common misconceptions of mindfulness is that it is a practice that we do separately. In reality, mindfulness is what we bring to the present moment or an activity.

Rather than doing mindfulness, it’s about being mindful.

So prior to the event I wanted to see if there might be a way to bring mindfulness to the Acknowledgement of Country and really help people connect to it.

The same fears that had shown up three years ago came back even as I considered this.

If I was going to try to bring the two practices together, I wanted to make sure it was acceptable in the first instance and if so, then done in a respectful and appropriate way.

Journey and a script

So I reached out to Dave Williams, a Wakka Wakka man and the owner and Executive Director of Indigenous creative agency Gilimbaa, that specialises in strategic and connected communication.

When I explained my thinking and experience in a phone call, Dave’s counsel was pretty clear.

He shared that everyone walks their own journey with understanding what it means to Acknowledge Country and the connection Country has for Australia’s First Peoples. And that this often starts from a place of discomfort.

So this would become another step in mine.

With his coaching, I developed the exercise and kicked off the event with the below.

I opened with the guidance from Reconciliation Australia again.

I’d like to begin by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet today, the Turrbal and Jagera people and pay my respects to their Elders past and present.

Then I invited my attendees to join me in an exercise to bring mindfulness to the Acknowledgment.

We’re going to be talking about mindfulness quite a bit through this workshop, so if you’re willing, I invite you to join me in this exercise.

You can keep your eyes open or closed. I’m going to close mine. Just listen to my voice and follow my prompts.

Just for a moment, notice your breath. [Pause]

Then bring your attention to the sensations in your feet. Notice the texture of your socks or shoes. Spend a moment there. [Pause]

Then extend your awareness into the floor and then down the sides of the building and onto the land on which we gather. I’d like us to pause here for a moment to reflect on and acknowledge the fact that thousands upon thousands of people have walked this land before us, for tens of thousands of years. And that we stand on the richness of the contributions they have made in so many ways. [Pause]

Then I’d like us to reflect on the fact that many, many more will walk this land after us. And that all of those people, will stand on the decisions we make and the actions we take, today, in acknowledging, embracing and bringing forward that very same richness.

Take a moment to reflect on that. [Pause]

And then I’d like us to bring our awareness back up from the land, up the walls, into the floor and pause for a moment back on the sensations in our feet. [Pause]

And then, in your own time, come back to the room and open your eyes.


When it came time for me to actually deliver this exercise, all of the same anxiety and fears showed up once more.

I’ve run it in a few more workshops since and they still do.

But after each time, I have felt immensely grounded, present and connected.

With mindfulness accompanying the words and really trying to be present, this process has helped me to experience a deeper, more personal connection to country.

I have so much to learn in this space, so I wanted to reflect on my own journey to date and to share this in case others might find it useful.

In direct contrast to my own childhood, I’ve watched my daughters be taught Acknowledgement of Country as a near daily ritual in their kindergartens and primary school.

They do it beautifully.

I feel incredibly grateful that they will have such familiarity with acknowledging and recognising the contributions, traditions and cultural heritage of our land.

Their Acknowledgement of Country has started much sooner than mine and I can only hope their sense of connection will develop to be deep and rich.

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