Lifestyle & Culture

NAIDOC Week 2021

2021 National NAIDOC logo via

Indigenous student Phoebe McIlwraith shares her personal perspective on the significance of and deeper meaning behind NAIDOC week with Yak’s Leanne Elliott.

NAIDOC week is a weeklong celebration between 4-11 July. The theme for 2021 is ‘Heal Country’, focusing on “recognising, protecting, and maintaining Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and heritage”.

I was going to try and write about Country, what it is and what it means, but the introduction on the NAIDOC website expresses it better than I ever could.

“When we talk about Country it is spoken of like a person.

Country is family, kin, law, lore, ceremony, traditions, and language. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples it has been this way since the dawn of time.

Through our languages and songs, we speak to Country; through our ceremonies and traditions we sing to – and celebrate Country – and Country speak to us.”

Country is all living things and it is the connection between all living things. Healing Country is about resolution for injustices inflicted on and experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over the past 250 years and continue to this day.

NAIDOC week is also about looking to the future. Working to adapting our systems to empower and celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, nations, and heritage. This week is great opportunity to learn more about Country and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, heritage and culture.

Phoebe McIlwraith, is a proud Bundjalung and Worimi Saltwater woman, belonging to the Clarence and Karuah Rivers. Having completed a Bachelor of Business in 2020, Phoebe is currently completing the Bachelor of Laws/Diploma of Legal Practice (Honours) program at UON. 

For Phoebe NAIDOC week is special for many reasons.

“NAIDOC week holds a significant place on my Koori Calendar, it is a time set aside to celebrate our community, our cultures, our histories, and our achievements.

“NAIDOC, like many other prominent dates in the Aboriginal calendar, is also an event of multiple processes. It is not just a time to celebrate the gift of our community but to deeply consider issues affecting our kin across the continent” said Phoebe.

The 2021 National NAIDOC Poster

“‘Country’ was one of the first terms I learnt in my language and some of the first sentences I could articulate in language were about our relationship to Country.

“This concept lays in the heart of many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander frameworks of belonging, obligation, and governance, with localised definitions being as diverse as the hundreds of nations across this continent.”

Phoebe explained, “When we speak of our Country, we’re not identifying just the physical landscape of our homelands but our non-human kin (animals), spirituality, lore, ancestors, languages, knowledge, and the ongoing relationship between all these things.

“When we call to ‘Heal Country’ we’re not talking about beautifying the physical landscape but doing justice to all these other aspects that are foundational to us as First Nations peoples” said Phoebe.

“True justice to our Country comes from revitalising and empowering Indigenous governance structures, raising Indigenous peoples from ‘consultants’ and ‘advisors’ to true decision makers over the destinies of our peoples and our lands.”

This year, like many others, Phoebe’s NAIDOC day will be a little different because of the current COVID restrictions in place. But, Phoebe recommends checking out some Indigenous media on Netflix, NITV, SBS On Demand, ABC TV and ABC iView.

“Watch it with your friends and family, reflect on the information together and continue to talk about it. It is amazing to get inspired by NAIDOC week and the content being created but the good work of justice is done by applying yourself consistently” said Phoebe.

And despite the restrictions Phoebe praised the connectivity afforded to us by social media, saying “Being able to wish my precious tidds/bala/sib a Happy NAIDOC despite our situation eases the sting of not being able to congregate, it makes me feel like I have my community right in my pocket and eagerly look forward to the day we can meet again.”

Live and online events events have been scheduled through the week, including community and family days, cultural tours, art and craft activities, talks and reflective discussion about Indigenous healing and caring for Country, and more.

As COVID restrictions are ever-changing it is a good idea to double check if live events are going ahead. There are also local events scheduled at UON, and in and around Newcastle and Lake Macquarie.

Feature Image, 2021 National NAIDOC logo via

In text Image, The 2021 National NAIDOC Poster incorporating the Aboriginal Flag (licensed by WAM Clothing Pty Ltd) and the Torres Strait Islander Flag (licensed by the Torres Strait Island Council).


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