Cultural Protocols

To achieve deep and lasting transformation, the whole community must have the opportunity to participate in the exciting plans being developed. All of the Small Town Transformations projects have outlined how and where they will engage with Indigenous and Culturally & Linguistically Diverse (CALD) communities in their area and beyond.

Every culture has norms, traditions and customs that need to be understood and respected for collaboration and communication to be effective. Curiosity and respect are the key, so here are some sources of information that might provoke conversation and help you to realise your plan for engagement.

Indigenous Australians

Each Small Town Transformations project has outlined the steps that have and will be taken to create opportunities to work with Indigenous people. Your towns all have unique local history, culture and experience, so there isn’t a one-size approach we can recommend in pursuing these opportunities. However, some resources are available that will equip you to follow your curiosity and forge effective and respectful relationships.

Working with Indigenous artists also presents a unique series of considerations that might not be immediately evident. There are best practices for working with Indigenous artists that ensure rights are protected, and we have a responsibility to protect and respect sacred knowledge, places and images when documenting or promoting projects.

Working with Communities

The Victorian Government Department of Premier and Cabinet runs Aboriginal Victoria - their website is a wealth of information about cultural heritage management, protocol and who to contact in your area for more information.

Working with Artists

The Australia Council for the Arts has published a series of resources on cultural protocols in a variety of artforms, including music, visual arts and performing arts. These offer an arts-specific guide to what you need to consider when working with Indigenous artists and communities. 

Consultant Terri Janke has put together a book of case studies on Indigenous cultural protocols and the arts. This work contains many illuminating examples of how protocol works in practice. There’s an excellent checklist of things to consider on page 100 which aligns with a project management mode of thinking which we highly recommend you read.

Things to consider

Keep in mind that there are always political and historical sensitivities to consider when researching how best to engage with the Indigenous community in your area. Some individuals and groups prefer to conduct their business outside the scope of ‘official’ Government structures, so you should always be ready to listen and take the lead of the people you’re talking to. 

In our experience, it’s very important to respect people’s time and experience and to ensure you’re not asking for too much for free. You should budget where appropriate to pay for the work of consulting and advising on Indigenous engagement and outreach.

Writing about Indigenous people and culture

The ideal situation is that Indigenous artists and audiences are able to represent themselves and their work in the media. However, there may be times where it’s necessary for an organisation to write about Indigenous people and culture.

The ABC’s Message Stick program produced a comprehensive guide to reporting on Indigenous people and affairs. While it’s primarily intended for journalists, this resource is a great overview of the main cultural differences in how Western culture and Indigenous cultures communicate. There’s also an excellent breakdown of some of the common stereotypes that creep in to our narratives on Indigenous Australia, and how to avoid them.

Avoca Dragon Parade

Avoca Dragon Parade

Culturally & Linguistically Diverse (CALD) Communities

CALD is a widely-used acronym covering the rich diversity of migrant cultures that make up our society. At the 2004 census, 24% of Australians were born overseas, and 16% regularly speak a language other than English at home.

The key idea put forward when thinking about how to work with CALD communities is “cultural competence”. Cultural competence speaks to how individuals and organisations are able to work cross-culturally, that is, how ready and able are you to adapt your activities to include people from diverse backgrounds?

Cultural competence needs to be fostered at all levels of an organisation, from leaders to volunteers and requires an active process of planning and integrating cultural awareness.  The initiatives required will be led by the people in your community. Can you extend an invitation to those who might not usually attend a community or arts event? What would they need in order to feel welcome, safe and able to participate?

Creative Victoria has produced an excellent resource called “Making Art With Communities: A Work Guide” that includes a great section on community arts engagement with CALD communities – see section two beginning on page 15. 

The Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria has produced a brief definition of cultural competence that is a great starting point for people who might not be familiar with the concept.

As always, we’re available to assist with any questions you might have so do get in touch. We might not know the answer straight away, but we have connections with a number of peak bodies and government agencies that work in these spaces, and we’re here to help.

Back to tools