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Aboriginal art with text over the top ETC’s guide to hiring staff who are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

Here’s an Indigenous recruitment guide we developed to help give Businesses a better understanding when hiring staff who are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people.

ETC is strongly committed and dedicated to supporting the ongoing awareness of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, customs and traditions, reflected within today’s contemporary societies.

Your business could benefit from having a diverse workplace that welcomes employees of all backgrounds, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

ETC aboriginal advisor Ceharnie Marting sitting next to her client Damien Roberts


There is no formula or set rule for interacting with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. All communications should be respectful and culturally sensitive.

Some things to be mindful of:

Eye contact

  • For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, avoidance of eye contact is customarily a gesture of respect. To make direct eye contact can be viewed as being rude, disrespectful or even aggressive.
  • To convey polite respect, the appropriate approach would be to avert or lower your eyes in conversation, observe the other person’s body language, follow the other person’s lead and modify eye contact accordingly. Also try to avoid cross-gender eye contact unless the person initiates it and is comfortable.

Body Language

Aboriginal people have a certain style of body language that they use particularly with other Aboriginal people. This may be used alone or a combination with speech. Here’s just a few examples:

  • hand signals to indicate if something is ok or not, thumbs up or thumbs down
  • brushing hands together in a particular direction to indicate it’s time to leave
  • a particular handshake may be given to recognise and respect another Aboriginal person
  • a certain look or eye brow raising to question something
  • using lips to point towards a direction to go towards or a direction to look at

Use of silence

  • Silence is a common communication style in many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
  • This does not mean Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people do not understand a topic or issue.
  • Being silent can mean the person is listening, reflecting, or waiting to hear other opinions first

Indigenous Terms

When describing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from a Community perspective, the appropriate terminology should be used in the following words:

An infographic with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people terminology











ETC aboriginal employment advior jennie rosser with her customer at a nursing home where she works

Cultural Awareness

Like all workers, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians have pressures and responsibilities relating to their home and community life that may need understanding from employers. However, there are some specific cultural issues which employers may need to understand, including the importance of family and kinship ties, cultural obligations, significant dates and cultural events, and the need for time away from work for issues such as Sorry Business.

Indigenous Family and Kinship obligations

  • For many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, their responsibilities to their family,
    community, culture and Nation are extremely important. From time to time, these responsibilities may conflict with their workplace responsibilities. E.g. to not attend a family funeral is considered disrespectful.
  • These are serious issues, which should be discussed with sensitivity and respect to find a solution that is best for both you and your worker.
  • To help your employees meet these obligations you may need to consider offering flexible work arrangements.

Cultural obligations for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

  • It is important to be aware of significant cultural events and/or dates that are important to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (including key national events such as NAIDOC Week, Sorry Day and National Reconciliation Week, as well as local and regional events).
  • It is a good idea to discuss these dates with your workers and where possible, encourage your staff to acknowledge them and support your workers to participate in them.

aboriginal lady working in hospitality


As you may already be aware, discrimination in the workplace is illegal. Employees cannot be discriminated against because of their race, colour, sex, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental disability, marital status, family or carer’s responsibilities, pregnancy, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin.

For more information about discrimination in the workplace, go to www.ato.gov.au/business/employers.

There are programs and incentives available for businesses to help you employ Aboriginal Australians.

Contact our Aboriginal Employment Advisors on free call 1800 007 400 or find out more here

Sources for ETC’s guide to Hiring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff:

  • ETC’s Indigenous Staff
  • Australian Government Fair Work Ombudsman 
  • Creative Spirits website
  • QLD Health document “Communicating effectively with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people”
  • LaTrobe University and VACCO document “Koorified – Aboriginal Communication and Well Being”


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