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Case Study: Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

ProjectAcknowledging Country



ProgramPast Programs | Arts and Culture

Rural and regional Victoria Reaching communities across regional Victoria through workshops, remote engagement and performances including Wangaratta, Shepparton, Ballarat, Bendigo, Horsham, Hamilton, Warrnambool, Port Fairy, Warragul, Sale and Mildura
Reducing inequality Championing indigenous Victorian culture and languages; using music-making to extend opportunities to regional communities to embrace and acknowledge their region’s indigenous heritage
Building organisational capacity Strengthening MSOs’ understanding of indigenous culture; establishing relationships between MSO and indigenous communities and artists; strengthening links to regional communities
Collaboration and partnership Victorian Aboriginal Corporation of Languages (VACL), Short Black Opera, Indigenous artists, Victorian Indigenous nations and regional communities, Melbourne Museum, regional performing arts centres, UNESCO, Creative Victoria

Creating a musical Acknowledgement of Country in Victoria’s Indigenous languages

2019 was the UNESCO International Year of Indigenous Languages. In an exciting collaborative project, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra commenced working with indigenous language custodians to develop musical Acknowledgements of Country in languages from each of the eleven indigenous language families of Victoria and gifting the works back to the community.

Image Melbourne Symphony Orchestra musicians on Country. Photo: Lucy Rash

An Acknowledgement of Country involves visitors acknowledging the traditional owners of the land and their continued custodianship and, unlike a Welcome to Country, it can be delivered by a non-Indigenous person. Committed to respectful and sustainable Indigenous community engagement and championship of Indigenous art and artists, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra has embarked on this ambitious project to create a musical Acknowledgement of Country which can be sung and played by anyone in the wider community.


  • MSO staff worked or are working with the language custodians of each of the 11 official language families (as identified by the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation of Languages) in a series of on-country and remote workshops to create the Acknowledgement of Country.
  • In the course of the project, a further 3 language groups were identified, expanding the project.
  • The Acknowledgements in language are being gifted back to local regions in the form of recordings, sheet music and language guides, enabling all members of that community to acknowledge the land’s traditional owners.
  • With the approval and permission of the traditional owners, each piece will be an ongoing resource that can be shared, performed and ‘owned’ by the local Victorian community. The ambition is for it to be embedded into each region’s cultural landscape, becoming a part of community celebrations, public ceremonies, assemblies and performances.
  • MSO recognises the unique nature of each community, their social structures, their identity and relationship with their culture, history and Language and understands that it is important that the whole of each Indigenous community is engaged to ensure the project has the community’s full support and authority, and that they are comfortable with the project’s desired outcomes.
  • Acclaimed Indigenous soprano, composer and educator Deborah Cheetham AO was commissioned to compose the music for the Acknowledgements.
  • Wherever possible, MSO aims to include local people in both the recorded performances and the premier performances of each Acknowledgement of Country, six of which were given on-country during MSO’s Regional Touring in 2019, with further premieres planned as pieces are completed. The Acknowledgement of Country will continue to be performed at all future relevant MSO performances.

“This is a highly nuanced project… certain to become a template for all major orchestras in Australia.” Deborah Cheetham AO


Updated September 2020

"My first and most important lesson has been that Indigenous culture lives on-country, and if we are to truly engage and commit to building long-lasting, rich relationships with the custodians of these cultures, we need to be there and be present on their land with them." Jennifer Lang, Senior Manager for Education and Community Engagement, MSO.