Introduction to Cultural Safety

This introductory online resource is aimed at supporting Swimming Victoria’s commitment to ensuring cultural awareness within our people, so that everyone in our community can feel culturally safe.

This introductory resource is focused on understanding:

  • the importance differences between an Acknowledgement of Country and a Welcome to Country
  • Swimming Victoria’s commitment to Reconciliation
  • the importance of creating a culturally safe environment at Swimming Victoria
  • the true diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples across Australia
  • what you can do to support Reconciliation



  • Warning
  • Warning: Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples should be aware that this resource may contain images, voices, content or names relating to deceased persons.

  • Cultural Disclaimers
  • Cultural disclaimers are an important part of respecting cultural protocols, and are used mainly to alert Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples that there may be images of people who have passed. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community protocols for mourning can be different across clan groups and individuals. However, due to cultural beliefs, it is common for a deceased community member’s name to be changed, and the images of that person to be suppressed for a period of time.

    This particular warning helps protect people from being unknowingly exposed to the images, voices, names or depictions of the deceased - which can cause distress and is a breach of cultural protocol. Respect and caution should also be taken when writing about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and cultures.

  • The importance of Welcomes and Acknowledgements
  • In the spirit of reconciliation, we acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respect to their Elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.

    For thousands of years, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have been welcoming visitors to their Country. Although there were not land borders in the same way that we recognise them today, there were, and still are, defined boundaries that determined which groups were responsible for which Country. If a group needed to move through Country that wasn’t theirs, they would need to ask for permission. As an important part of protocol, the welcoming group would host a ceremony, granting safe travel and spiritual protection to the visiting group, who in turn would respect the rules and guidance of the land they were visiting.

    Today, these protocols exist in a contemporary context. Including recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in events, meetings and national symbols is one part of ending the exclusion that has been so damaging. Incorporating Welcome and Acknowledgement protocols into official meetings and events recognises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Australians and Traditional Custodians of Australia’s lands and waters. It promotes an ongoing connection to the place of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and shows respect for Traditional Owners.

    There are two main ways these protocols are visible today. See below to understand the difference between a Welcome to Country and an Acknowledgement of Country.

  • Welcome to Country
  • What is a Welcome to Country?

    A Welcome to Country opens formal events and activities, and can include dancing, singing, speeches, and smoking ceremonies.

    Who can deliver a Welcome to Country?

    It is important to know that a Welcome to Country is delivered by Traditional Owners (those with ongoing traditional and cultural connections with that Country), or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have been given permission from Traditional Owners.

    When do we include a Welcome to Country at Swimming Victoria?

    At SV, we encourage our clubs to engage with local Traditional Owners to include a Welcome to Country for your major events. SV commits to including a Welcome to Country at major events such as our State Age and Open Championships. 

    In doing so increases our awareness of and engagement with local Traditional Owners and Indigenous communities. 


  • Acknowledgement of Country
  • What is an Acknowledgement of Country?

    An Acknowledgement of Country is an opportunity for anyone to pay their respects, and acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the lands and waters on which they are meeting. It pays respects to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, with particular acknowledgement of the important role of elders, both past and present, in our communities.

    Who can deliver an Acknowledgement of Country?

    It can be delivered by anyone, and has no set protocols for its use - meaning it can be general, or can specify the people and nation for a particular place. For example:

    “I’d like to begin by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet today, the Wurundjeri People, and pay my respects to Elders past and present.”

    When do we include an Acknowledgement of Country at Swimming Victoria?

    At Swimming Victoria, we use Acknowledgements of Country in meetings where we have large groups, for example the SV Board meeting, or a swimming meet where the announcer comes to the microphone to begin an event. 


  • Our commitment to Reconciliation
  • Swimming Victoria acknowledges Aboriginal people as the Traditional Custodians/ Owners of the land on which we work, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of Victoria’s communities. We acknowledge the imposition of the colonial state, continued by the Commonwealth of Australia, in which oppression and injustice causes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples great suffering.

    Using swimming as a mechanism, we pledge to work together with meaning and mutual respect for reconciliation, acceptance and understanding to deliver tangible, social change to achieve equality in all aspects of life for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

    Click here to read our Innovate Reconciliation Action Plan

  • Cultural safety
  • The importance of creating a culturally safe environment at Swimming Victoria

    Cultural safety is an individualised experience; it looks at systemic organisational and individual responses to understanding how one’s culture influences and impacts another culture. The only person who can report that they have had a culturally safe experience is the person who is reporting it. What makes one person feel culturally safe, or unsafe, could be very different from what makes someone else feel culturally safe or unsafe.

    As we learn and understand more about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, histories, and cultures, we can begin to understand some of the many common, or shared, values of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples - and we can use our knowledge of these shared values to build spaces which are conducive to cultural safety.

    It is important to know that within a lot of your community, cultural safety might not be the term used by people. When you hear about it, it is unlikely that the notifier says that they had a culturally unsafe experience. It is more likely that they would say that they were discriminated against, or that they felt that they were treated unfairly or differently due to their race - or perhaps it will be in the form of an outright accusation of racism.


  • Culture - Everyone has one
  • To truly understand the culture of others, we must start our learning by looking inward, to our own culture. People often say that they don’t have a culture - this is not true! Everyone has a culture.

    It is sometimes difficult for people who are part of a dominant culture (not a minority group) to put their culture in context, as their culture is considered more of a ‘societal norm’. To appreciate other cultures, we need to understand and connect to our own culture - both the visible, and the invisible.

    One of the best ways of understanding what makes up your culture is by using the cultural seedling. In this example, the cultural seedling makes it easy to understand the elements of culture that we can see, and the vast amounts of our culture that we cannot.

    The visible elements are the things above the soil - those that we can usually see and identity in other people without even knowing them. Things like our age, the clothes we wear, what language we speak, and our other physical characteristics.

    The invisible aspects of culture, those that exist below the surface, are more challenging for people to understand and to identify. Here, culture is articulated through values, beliefs and attributes which can be intangible and difficult to describe and only become apparent as you come to know someone.

  • Cultural Seedling
  • Cultural Seedling

    © 2022 PricewaterhouseCoopers Indigenous Consulting Pty Limited (PIC). All rights reserved. 

  • Bias and Privilege
  • Making the unconscious, conscious

    Understanding your own culture, and how much of it is based on our life experiences, can also help you understand your position of bias. Bias is a part of the normal human condition - our own biases can impact how we perceive things, the decisions we make, and our everyday behaviours.

    Our culture can provide us with a cultural bias, through which we develop a tendency to judge the outside world through a narrow view, based on our personal culture. Similarly, your own life experiences have shaped the person that you have become. Sometimes, we are not aware of how these life experiences can influence how we perceive things, the decisions we make, or our behaviours.

  • Bias
  • Definition of bias: Inclination or prejudice for or against a person or group, often due to close-mindedness or unwillingness to see other perspectives.

    There are many different types of bias, some that we are consciously aware of, and some that we may unconsciously use. These biases can affect the way that we think and behave and have profound effects on how we work. It is completely normal to sometimes find yourself succumbing to bias - throughout this introductory resource, you will learn more about your own unconscious biases, and reflect on ways that you might be able to make them conscious, and avoid them impacting on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities that you directly, or indirectly, engage with at Swimming Victoria.

    Attribution Bias:
    When we attempt to assess or discover explanations behind the behaviours of others, we tend to assume their actions are the result of internal factors, such as their personality. Alternatively, we tend to assume our own actions arise through the necessity of external factors beyond our control. It is important to remember that each person has a story, and that their actions do not always portray the reasons for their behaviour. Understanding more about them, including their needs and their circumstances, can help to remove prejudice and judgment from a situation or decision.

    Anchoring Bias:
    You are more likely to rely on the first piece of information encountered when making decisions and comparisons. For example, within Swimming Victoria’s clubs, you might know that there are 3 swimmers who identify as Aboriginal - so you see having 10 Aboriginal swimmers as a big leap. In reality, 10 swimmers out of all of our swimmers would still be a vast underrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Swimming Victoria community. It is important to look at the big picture, and understand what the end goals for a particular outcome might be. Increasing the total number of Aboriginal swimmers to 10 is absolutely a positive step - but knowing that there is still work to be done means that you can continue working towards long-term goals.

    Confirmation Bias:
    We have a tendency to interpret, favour, and recall information that confirms our beliefs - while giving disproportionately less attention to information that contradicts them. This is particularly true in emotionally charged situations. With many important decisions being made every day within the health industry, it is important to always look for new evidence, and new opportunities to grow or adapt our beliefs to benefit all people.

    Framing Bias:
    Framing involves the construction of social ideas through mainstream media, news and entertainment, as well as the opinions of powerful people, such as politicians or celebrities. With enough external messaging, our views of reality can become distorted. In the most extreme cases, we can take on racist or xenophobic beliefs simply because we have heard them repeated in the media we consume. It is critical that we question what we hear, and we seek out the first-hand perspectives of those who are being spoken about.

    Status Quo Bias:
    Simply, when we have a preference for the current state of affairs. This is one of the most prolific biases, and one of the most human. It is completely normal for humans to be resistant to change, and it can take a lot of mental effort to adapt to changes in our environment and our world. It is important to put these changes in perspective, and consider the positive effects that changes might have for others.

  • Privilege
  • Definition of Privilege: A special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.

    This short activity will attempt to give you some insight into your level of privilege. By answering some simple, relatively innocuous questions, you will get a sense of how your daily experiences might differ from others. Click on Start Activity to get going.

    This activity provides you with an insight into the level of privilege that you may or may not have experienced over the course of your life. Consider the questions below as you reflect on your result.

    How did you feel about where you ended up on the scale?
    Did these questions ask you about things you think about every day?
    How might your level of privilege have helped you, or disadvantaged you, in your professional career?

  • Understanding Racism
  • “[Racism is] an ideology that gives expression to myths about other racial and ethnic groups, that devalues and renders inferior those groups, that reflects and is perpetuated by deeply rooted historical, social, cultural and power inequalities in society.”-  Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission

    Racism is broadly defined as avoidable and unfair actions that further disadvantage the disadvantaged or further advantage the advantaged. Racism can be expressed through stereotypes (racist beliefs), prejudice (racist emotions) or discrimination (racist behaviours and practices), and is a form of oppression; other forms of oppression include sexism, ageism and classism.

    Oppression is fundamentally linked to the concept of privilege. As such, in addition to disadvantaging Aboriginal peoples, racism also results in non-Indigenous Australians being privileged and accruing unfair opportunities.

  • How do I know if someone is an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person?
  • In reflecting on your own culture, and how this has informed the person that you are today, you will know that even people with a similar cultural identity to you do not necessarily look like you, think like you, or behave like you.

    When we attempt to understand what “makes” someone an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person, we need to remember that great diversity is present within every community - especially Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

    An accepted definition of an Indigenous Australian proposed by the Commonwealth Department of Aboriginal Affairs in the 1980s and still used by some Australian Government departments today is; a person of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent who identifies as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander and is accepted as such by the community in which he or she lives.

    Today, the term ‘Indigenous Australian’ is used to encompass both Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islander people. However many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people do not like to be referred to as ‘Indigenous’ as the term is considered too generic.

    When used in Australia, the words Indigenous, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander are capitalised, as would be the name of any other group of people. It is best not to resort to the acronyms of ATSI or TSI as this can be seen as lacking respect for different identities (it reduces the many cultures within this group to a mere acronym).

  • Myths and Misconceptions
  • All Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are the same

    Australia’s First Peoples are two distinct cultural groups made up of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. There is great diversity within these two broadly described groups exemplified by the over 250 different language groups spread across the nation. Each of these language groups have their own laws and customs to determine the membership of their group - and each of these can come with different cultural customs, traditions, and histories. Just as none of us can represent every person within our own community, no Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person is able to represent the views, experiences, needs and desires of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

    So, understanding just how diverse the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population is, what is the most respectful way to refer to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples?

    It’s best to find out what individuals prefer to be called, rather than making assumptions.

    While the terms Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander are generally accepted as appropriate and encompassing these two groups at a broad level, many people prefer to identify with a more nuanced or localised group of peoples. For example, Aboriginal people might wish to be referred to using the terms used to describe an Aboriginal person with connection to a particular region, such as Koori (approximately New South Wales and Victoria) or Murri (approximately Queensland).

    Aboriginal identities can also directly link to their language groups and traditional country (a specific geographic location), for example, Gunditjamara people are the traditional custodians of western Victoria, the Gadigal people of the Eora nation are from Sydney, and the Turrbal people are the traditional custodians of Brisbane.

    Another way Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people might describe themselves, which again relates to their country (including the waters), is ‘saltwater people’ for those who live on the coast, or ‘freshwater’, ‘rainforest’, ‘desert’ or ‘spinifex’ for people who live in that ecological environment.

    Torres Strait Islander people prefer to use the name of their home Island to identify themselves to outsiders, for example a Saibai man or woman is from Saibai, or a Meriam person is from Mer. Many Torres Strait Islanders born and raised in mainland Australia still identify according to their Island homes.

    Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people live in the ‘outback’

    According to the 2016 Australian Census, there are ~798,365 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people in Australia, representing 3.3% of the total Australian population:

    • 91% identify as Aboriginal Australian.
    • 5% identify as Torres Strait Islander
    • 4% identify as both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander.

    This population is relatively young, with a median age of 23 years, compared with 38 years for non-Indigenous people.

    Contrary to popular belief and media depiction, the vast majority (79%) of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people reside either in Australian Major Cities or Inner Regional Australia. Only 19% reside in Remote or Very Remote Australia.

    Within the Torres Strait Islands, Torres Strait Islander peoples make up 80% of the population, while around 90% of people who identify as being of Torres Strait Islander origin live on the Australian mainland.

    Of the states and territories, the largest populations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are in New South Wales (~265,700 people) and Queensland (~221,400 people).

    Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians comprise 30% of the population of the Northern Territory, the highest proportion of any state or territory.

    There are no Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander languages anymore

    Language is more than just a means to communicate, it is an essential characteristic that makes people and communities unique, and plays a central role in a sense of identity. Language also carries meaning beyond the words themselves, and is an important platform within which much cultural knowledge and heritage is passed on.

    It is difficult to estimate the total number of languages and dialects that would have been spoken across Australia throughout the 60,000+ years of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history. Sadly, many languages have been lost, primarily due to Government intervention and assimilation policies, which punished Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples for using their traditional languages.

    Today, there are more than 250 Aboriginal Australian and Torres Strait Islander languages, including 800 dialectal varieties.

    Speaking and learning traditional languages improves the wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, by providing a sense of belonging and empowerment.  Educational outcomes improve when children are taught in their first language, especially in the early years. Interpreting and translating, language teaching and learning, and producing resources in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages provide significant economic, social and intrinsic benefits to individuals and communities.

    Today Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across Australia are speaking out about the need to maintain, preserve, strengthen, and revive Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australian languages. There is currently a wave of activity, with people in many communities working to learn more about their languages, and to ensure they are passed onto the next generation.

  • Our Three National Flags
  • It is an often forgotten fact that there are three national flags of Australia; the Australian flag, the Aboriginal flag, and the Torres Strait Islander flag.

    Like the Australian National Flag, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags are extremely important artefacts of Australian culture, with much meaning embedded in their history, usage, and design. Both of these flags were officially recognised as national flags of Australia under the Flags Act 1953, on July 14th 1995, by then Prime Minister Paul Keating. 

    Image credit Independent Education Union
    Image credit Independent Education Union

    Designed by Luritja man Harold Thomas in 1971, the Australian Aboriginal Flag was originally designed as part of the Land Rights movement, before it became emblematic of Aboriginal peoples all over Australia. Black is used on the top half of the flag to represent the Aboriginal people of Australia, while the red bottom half represents the earth, the red ochre used in ceremonies, and Aboriginal peoples’ spiritual relation to the land. The yellow circle represents the sun - a symbol of life and protection.

    The Torres Strait Islander Flag was designed by the late Bernard Namok, a Torres Strait Islander man from Thursday Island. Bernard’s design was the winner of a local competition held by the The Islands Coordinating Council in 1992.

    The green stripes represent the land of Australia and Papua New Guinea, between which the Torres Strait Islands sit. The blue strip in the centre represents the seas and waters of the Torres Strait Islands, while the black lines that run between them represent Torres Strait Islander people. The white Dhari, or Dhoeri, in the centre is a symbol well recognised by all Torres Strait Islanders - it is a headdress worn during ceremonies and celebrations. The points of the white star represent the five major island groups in the Torres Strait. Both of these images are coloured white, for peace.

  • What can I do to contribute to reconciliation?
  • Engage with your local Traditional Owners and Indigenous communities to understand their connection to the following strategies in the drop downs below.

  • Mark significant dates:
  • Throughout the year, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their allies gather to observe several dates that are of cultural and political significance to them and their communities. Click on the button below to explore these significant dates.

    Change the Date:

    Australia Day is Australia’s national day commemorating January 26, 1788, the date on which Captain Arthur Phillip raised the flag of Great Britain and proclaimed a colonial outpost of the British Empire in Port Jackson, later Sydney Cove.

    Though the day had been marked formally as ‘Foundation Day’ in the early years of the colony in New South Wales, it wasn’t until 1994 that the whole country began to celebrate Australia Day on January 26 with a national public holiday.

    For many the day involves recognising the history of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, including the trauma caused by government policies of assimilation and separation that saw many people removed from their traditional lands and culture. This also includes recognition of the violence of the Frontier Wars.

    Also referred to as ‘Survival Day’, it is also an opportunity to recognise the survival of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and culture. Despite colonisation, discrimination and comprehensive inequalities, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples continue to practice their traditions, look after the land and make their voices heard in the public sphere.

    NAIDOC Week:

    NAIDOC Week is a celebration of Aboriginal history and culture. It takes place in the first week of July annually. NAIDOC stands for the National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee.

    Its origins go back to the 1920s with groups like the Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association that worked to increase awareness about the lack of citizenship rights and the poor living conditions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

    NAIDOC Week also celebrates the achievements of Aboriginal people and at the end of the week a ceremony called the NAIDOC Awards is held to recognise these achievements.

    National Reconciliation Week:

    National Reconciliation Week (NRW) is celebrated across Australia annually from 27 May to 3 June. These dates were chosen to commemorate the anniversaries of the successful 1967 referendum and the High Court Mabo decision.

    NRW was established by the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation as a time for all Australians to learn about shared histories, cultures and achievements and a call to action to participate in national reconciliation.

    National Sorry Day:

    National Sorry Day is a day for reflection and healing. The first Sorry Day was held on 26 May 1998 following the tabling of the Bringing Them Home Report In Federal Parliament. The report acknowledged that Aboriginal children were forcibly separated from their families, communities and culture and made to assimilate into non-Aboriginal Australia.

    Removal policies were in place from colonisation up until the 1970s. Children forcibly removed are known as the Stolen Generation and Sorry Day has especial significance to them and their family and friends. An annual date to observe Sorry Day was a key recommendation of the Bringing Them Home Report.

    Sorry Day is now observed annually on 26 May. The National Apology to the Stolen Generations made by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in 2008 is also reflected upon on National Sorry Day.

  • Practice anti-racism strategies:
  • “Modern-day racism exists because of the current circumstances that we were all born into. While we did not have a hand in designing things the way they are, we do have a hand in helping rectify the situation.”

    It is important to note that it is critical that we be anti-racist - active against racism. Being non-racist is not enough to effect the change that we are all striving towards. Fortunately, there are steps that you can take to embark on an anti-racism journey. Some activities within this introductory resource might have already helped you raise an awareness of your own biases and stereotypes.

    Below is a list of some anti-racist strategies that you can employ both at work, and in your personal life.

    • Hold your friends and family accountable.
    • Attend workshops, events, conferences, and protests that focus on race-related issues.
    • Diversify your knowledge and check your information bias.
    • Have intentional conversations with peers, friends, co-workers, etc. with respect to each other’s boundaries.
    • Learn with humility.  
    • Support the work, art, and businesses of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
    • Become involved in organisations that support racial justice issues.
    • Avoid usage of stereotypical and normalised, microaggressive comments.
    • During a national crisis, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, do not scapegoat certain racial and/or ethnic groups for the crisis.
  • Continue your learning:
  • Although you have now reached the end of this introductory cultural safety resource, the learning doesn’t stop here. If you’d like to continue developing your cultural safety, the following resources are a great starting point.




    Healing Foundation
    Pretty for an Aboriginal

    Dark Emu - Bruce Pascoe
    Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray - Anita Heiss




    SBS: First Australians
    ABC: You Can’t Ask That!

  • Thank you
  • SV would like to thank Price Waterhouse Coopers Indigenous Consulting for their help in creating this Cultural Safety Club resource.

    We would also like to thank A/Prof Caroline Dowling for your contribution in refining this Cultural Safety Club resource for the Victorian Swimming community.

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