Building The Blocks of Cultural Competency in Melbourne's North West




Since colonisation the use of derogative and discriminatory language when referring to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has been used to deny Aboriginal community members of fundamental human rights. The use of culturally appropriate, responsive, and informed language is therefore critical to ensuring that services are demonstrating their commitment to providing a culturally respectful service to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. The documents provided below contain information on referring to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia, Victoria, and in the North West Melbourne metropolitan region.


  • - Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islander people are two distinct groups of Indigenous people who are ethnically and culturally very different. This diversity is not recognised when terms such as ATSI or Indigenous are used to describe Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islander people. It is therefore more respectful to refer to ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’ in full. First Peoples of Australia or First Nations is also acceptable.
    As very few Torres Strait Islander people currently live in Victoria, and Aboriginal people are the original inhabitants, it is acceptable to use the term ‘Aboriginal’ without reference to Torres Strait Islander when referring to the first peoples of Victoria.
  • - A ‘nation’ refers to a culturally distinct group of Aboriginal people associated with a particular culturally defined area of land or country and language is tied to that particular area of land and country. At the time of colonisation there were over 500 different clan groups or ‘nations’ around the continent, each with distinctive cultures, beliefs and languages – for further information see the ABC Aboriginal Language Map and the VACL Language Map.
  • - Koori or Koorie refers to Aboriginal people born in mainland Victoria and in some parts of NSW. Terms such as Koori are often preferred by Aboriginal people as they do not have the negative connotations of words used by Europeans post colonisation such as ‘Aborigines’.
  • - If a person identifies as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, it is offensive to question that identity. Terms such as mixed blood, half caste, full-blood, or part-Aboriginal or percentage Aboriginal should never be used.
  • - Be aware when making referrals that some agencies required a ‘Confirmation of Aboriginality’ document for Aboriginal service users accessing particular targeted programs.



Title Culturally Aware and Responsive Communication Guide
Author Inner North West Primary Care Partnership 2015
Type Publication
This resource was developed by the Inner North West Primary Care Partnership to provide member agencies with guidance and understanding of the appropriate terminology to use when working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their communities, or when developing written information such as policy documents or program information.

Title Communicating Positively: A Guide to Appropriate Aboriginal Terminology
Author NSW Health 2014
Type Publication
This guide was developed to provide NSW health staff with background information and guidance on appropriate word usage when working with Aboriginal people and communities and when developing policy and programs to improve health outcomes for Aboriginal people. The use of accurate and non-offensive language is an essential component of Aboriginal cultural respect and communication training.

Title Koorified: Aboriginal Communication and Wellbeing
Author VACCHO and La Trobe University 2014
Type Publication
This project began by extending an invitation to Aboriginal English speakers within VACCHO to assist compile a list of common words and sentences used in Aboriginal English. The speakers came from different regions across Victoria. The words and sentences provided were grouped into themes using an inductive process and these themes were then validated with a larger group of Aboriginal people. Three themes were identified and each was given a title in Aboriginal English. These include Deadly Ay?, Mob and Country. During the collation of the word list the contributors also discussed other communication ways or practices. Koorified contains the language themes, language list and other communication ways identified in the project.

Title Working with Aboriginal People and Communities: A Practice Resource
Author NSW Department of Community Services 2009
Type Publication
This document provides important information to improve our knowledge and understanding of the diverse cultural dynamics that exist within Aboriginal families and communities. It suggests some engagement and communication strategies that will improve the way we work with and relate to Aboriginal people.

Title Making Two Worlds Work: Communicating Effectively
Author Mungabareena Aboriginal Corporation and Women’s Health Goulburn North East 2008
Type Online Resource Kit
This component of the Making Two Worlds Work Resource Kit outlines the correct and respectful use of language when communicating with Aboriginal people.