Cultural Information

Cultural Policy/Statement


Indigenous people and their culture are an important part of the Barkly region. The Barkly Regional Council (BRC) recognises and respects the traditional owners of communities in the region. It is the role of BRC to provide services to Townships of Elliott and Tennant Creek and the communities of Ali Curung, Alpurrurulam, Ampilatwatja, Arlparra and Wutunugurra. Approximately 70 per cent of the people who live in the Barkly region are Indigenous. There are also other important groups such as the young and elderly, pastoralists and industry. Barkly Regional Council adapts its services to suit the needs of these diverse groups.


When working in the Barkly Regional Council area an understanding of the following points will assist staff to understand issues, work more effectively and to communicate in a polite and respectful manner.

1. Kinship

Kinship is very important to Aboriginal people. Kinship tells a person how they relate to family. It also helps an Aboriginal person understand how they relate to dreaming, to land and their responsibilities. Understanding kinship may help staff to understand:

  • Why some people avoid other people
  • Who has authority to speak or make decisions
  • Who has authority to direct Aboriginal people in work

2. Sorry business

Sorry Business relates to people who have “passed away”. Using the term "passed away" is an acceptable way to mention the topic. There are many terms that are not appropriate such as:

  • “dead”
  • “death”
  • “died”
  • Do not use the deceased person’s name. You should not display pictures or photos of the deceased.
  • If you know the family, do show respect by shaking hands with the family.
  • If you are close, the family may cry with you or include you in Sorry Business.
  • During Sorry Business, close family may take time off work.
  • According to kinship, some people will go into Avoidance and stay at the Sorry Camp.
  • Other people will take time off to help organise Sorry Business, and also support the people in the Avoidance situation (food, water, medication, money, shelter)
  • Leave for Sorry Business is only available for people who are approved by the family of the deceased person.

3. Cultural business

  • Supervisors need to understand about ceremony and know who will be taking leave for this purpose. Ceremony for young men takes place towards the end of every year and goes through to the first couple of months of the new year. Aboriginal families may take time off to carry out their duties in this ceremony. This may affect the function of the community, and council duties. Other ceremonies take place at different times and different locations. Women have their own special places and ceremonies.
  • The Cultural Advisor can help if you need assistance with this.
  • Aboriginal staff wishing to take leave for ceremonial purposes need to discuss this with their supervisor and fill in leave forms.

4. Customs

  • Shaking hands. It is fine on the first meeting to shake hands, but there is no need to shake hands with the same person in the future, unless there is Sorry Business. Do not squeeze too hard when shaking hands.
  • Looking at people. When walking around or talking to someone, please don’t stare.
  • Interacting generally. Don’t be too assertive, loud or overpowering. Listen more than talk. Ask people, “what do you think?' and give people plenty of time to respond.
  • Dress modestly. Don’t wear very small or tight garments, see-through clothes or clothes that are too revealing.
  • Unless it’s part of your job (say childcare, aged care) or you are good friends, don’t touch adults as it seen as disrespectful. Don’t pick up or touch kids without asking the permission of family.
  • There are some areas in and outside communities where certain people may not go. This may be outsiders, women, uninitiated men or children. The cultural advisor can help if you need assistance with this.

5. Language groups and understanding of English

Understand that English may be a second, third or even fourth language for the Aboriginal people you speak to. Furthermore, some people who speak good English may still have trouble understanding you, and you may not realise this. They also may not tell you they don’t understand.

  • Ask if they understand what you’re saying because English is not their first language. Do use interpreters if necessary. You may need to check.
  • Don’t speak too fast. Do pause in your conversation to let people understand what you’re saying and to consider what they want to say. They may be thinking in another language and need to translate in their head.

6. Access to land and homes

  • When in communities, before visiting locations such as waterholes or picnic sites, ask the locals if it’s okay.
  • If you want to go exploring, the tourism information office or Land Council will provide good information on where you can and can't go.
  • The land councils (Central and Northern) can also say when and where certain activities are occurring and which you should avoid.
  • The Cultural Advisor can also help staff on where they can and cannot go.
  • Do not enter a person's home without invitation.
  • Do not toot the car horn. It is safer and generally understood by residents that it is okay to call out from the car or fence because of the possible threat of dogs.

7. Meetings, discussions and decisions

  • Meetings may start later than planned. Just relax.
  • Allow enough time in the meeting for people to speak and listen and consider what is being said. Be patient.
  • Ensure that everyone has the chance to speak.
  • Have an agenda and stick to it.
  • If you run a meeting, expect people to be polite and follow the agenda.
  • Not everyone is in a position of authority to discuss matters or make decisions.
  • Aboriginal people may wish to consult as a group.
  • Decisions are not always made at the first meeting.
  • Traditional Owners and community leaders are the right people to be included in any discussions. They generally speak for the community on issues and with regards decisions.

8. Working with a cultural advisor

The cultural advisor can help bring you together with the right people in the community.