NSWALC Statement regarding NRL Grand Final Welcome to Country

The New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council is disappointed at criticism levelled at Gold Coast Titans captain Ryan James following his delivery of what the NRL and media is referring to as the Welcome to Country at the recent NRL Grand Final.

A number of facts and relevant context appears to have been lost in the conversation over the past week and as the peak body for Land Rights in New South Wales, we feel that any scrutiny is being aimed in the wrong direction.

Earlier in the pre-match formalities, Ms Yvonne Weldon, who is the Chairperson of the Metropolitan Land Council, delivered a powerful, authentic and appropriate acknowledgment, paying respects to the traditional custodians before the spectators at the Stadium.

It is upsetting that this was then replicated for the purposes of the television broadcast, using Ryan as the spokesperson. This is a practice that has precedent and a tactic that is flawed and disrespectful.

NSWALC does not take issue with Ryan's unfortunate loss of direction in his delivery. Mistakes can happen and under the pressure of standing in front of a capacity Stadium crowd and under the glare of a live television broadcast, this is even more likely.

We do however have concerns about how it came to be that Ryan was put in that position in the first place, given that a proper Acknowledgment of Country had already been delivered.

Furthermore, Ryan is a proud Bundjalung man who was being asked to deliver a Welcome to Country on Wangal Land. This is not customary, nor appropriate.

NSWALC is disappointed that the NRL and the host television broadcaster have trivialised the Welcome to Country process by using Ryan's profile as an elite player. The authenticity and respect of this ceremonial process should never be diluted or superseded by the commercial interests of a governing body, its sponsors or its broadcast partners.

We can only hope mistakes like these will not be given the opportunity to be made again and as the peak body for Aboriginal Land Rights, we will continue to be available, offer our support, guidance and perspective should there be any doubt going forward.