You cannot take a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach when working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as they all have their own historical impacts that are very different from one group to the other.

Making an effort to tailor our ways of working and communicating will improve our knowledge and understanding of diverse cultural dynamics that exist in Aboriginal families and communities.

We are sharing some examples of cultural protocols to demonstrate how increasing our awareness of customs, traditions, and lores can support us in creating a more inclusive workplace.

Common Customs


Protocols for welcoming visitors to Country have been a part of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures for thousands of years. An Acknowledgement of Country is an opportunity for anyone to show respect for Traditional Owners and the continuing connection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to Country. It can be given by both non-Indigenous people and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. We encourage employers to make an 'Acknowledgment to Country' at the start of meetings and events.

‘SORRY BUSINESS’ (Death Protocols)

For some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, particularly in central Australia, strict cultural practices prohibit them from seeing an image, hearing the name, reading the name, viewing the artwork of or hearing the music of a deceased person. You cannot foresee this circumstance however you can add a warning where appropriate. Permission to use a deceased person’s name and image needs to be provided in writing.

Funerals of family members can also be mandatory, immediate, and last a few days. This includes sacred traditions that should be respected and approached delicately.

Communications Guidelines

These guidelines have been created to assist you to communicate with your indigenous workplace in a way which is both correct and culturally appropriate.

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Other Examples

A few other examples of common cultural customs, lore, and manerisms that are often misunderstood include:

  • A soft handshake and limited eye-contact can be a sign of respect

  • Being signaled out for criticism or praise can cause 'shame'

  • Invitations are meaningful and should be treated respectfully

  • Silence is often a sign of consideration and contemplation

  • Family relationships are more complex and differ from non-indigenous family structure

  • Responses to questions could be short, so ask follow-up questions

  • 'Men's Business' and 'Women's Business' means certain customs can only be performed seperatly

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