IAG Conference Message Stick - History and Protocol

The Idea - Mr Rob Evitt:

The idea for an IAG conference message stick, to be passed to conference organizers at the beginning of each IAG conference, was originally proposed by Mr Rob Evitt, an Aboriginal research student then at the University of Wollongong, at the Indigenous Issues Study Group business meeting in 2011. When asked who could be asked to create such a work Mr Evitt replied that well-known artist Mr Badger Bates should be invited. The Indigenous Issues Study Group subsequently contacted Mr Badger Bates and commissioned the work.

The Artists - Mr Badger Bates, Mr Bilyara Bates and Mr Phillip Bates:

Mr Badger Bates is a Paakantji knowledge holder and traditional owner. His country is located from just south-west of Bourke to the Wilcannia area in western New South Wales and includes Mutawintji National Park. Mr Bates is a renowned artist, sculptor and printmaker. He lives in Broken Hill. His sons, Mr Bilyara Bates and Mr Phillip Bates, assisted with the work.

The Message Stick:

In the words of Paakantji elder and message stick creator Mr Badger Bates, in an email to Dr Judith Burns (Indigenous Issues Study Group Convenor) sent on the 27th June 2012:

“The message stick is made of local mulga. It was cut down with a tommy axe then smoothed down with broken bottle glass, then sanded with fine paper. The designs represent a group of people, could be at the conference, or a community, etc. the angular bit is a table or building, so people talking around a table or gathered in a building to communicate with each other etc. The waterhole with animal tracks presents the living natural world and life giving water and the links between the two. The mountains represent the earth and its landforms. The designs are burnt on with a hot wire. The wood won’t need any treatment probably as it is seasoned, a little furniture wax at most. Usually people handling it will leave enough oil on it. Do not put linseed oil on it, horrible stuff. From Badger, Bilyara and Phillip who all helped make it, and me who bossed them.”

Conference Significance:

In the words of Paakantji elder and message stick creator Mr Badger Bates, in an email to Dr Judith Burns (Indigenous Issues Study Group Convenor):

“A message stick would be good as it makes people think and respect one another. It takes it to another level from just words at a conference that can then be forgotten, it becomes an ongoing issue of touching and looking after the stick and passing it on year by year. I know many white people would be honoured to hold a message stick, it doesn’t have to be just for black people, it is a form of communication, and that means between different groups, black and white, traditional owners and visitors to country, and can also be for your group to make a statement to the rest of the IAG.”


The message stick is for ceremonial use at the Welcome to Country/Acknowledgement of Country opening session of the IAG annual conference. Following discussion with Traditional Custodians and Elders of the conference lands prior to the conference, the message stick is to be presented to the Traditional Owner or representative by the previous year’s conference organizers and then may be passed to the current conference organizers. Following the ceremony the message stick is to be held in safekeeping by the conference organizers.

First Conference:

The message stick was first presented at the commencement of the IAG Conference at Macquarie University, Monday 2 July, 2012.

Passing on the Message Stick: 


See the video on Facebook of Chris Tobin Representative of the Dharug people with Professor Richie Howitt Macquarie University in the grounds of Macquarie University. Chris Tobin sends welcome, good wishes and passes on the message stick to Professor Richie Howitt to be received in the welcome address at the 2013 IAG Conference in Perth.