After four years, the international harm reduction community was desperate to connect again. HR23: Strength in Solidarity, came just in time!
The Harm Reduction International Conference, convened by Harm Reduction International in a different city every two years, attracted over 1,000 international delegates and was hosted in the vibrant city of Melbourne, Australia, on 16-19 April 2023.
The first global convening of the harm reduction community post-covid, Ganna Dovbakh from EHRA wrote about HR23 and the need for our community to gather:
“The key take away for me [from HR23] is that we as a harm reduction community desperately need to have ‘family reunion’ gatherings at least every two years. Face-to-face, with hugs, smiles, tears, passion, small talk, rumours – everything that gives us a feeling of unity around joint values.”
Over four days of presentations, workshops, films, networking events and more, the conference continued its history of providing a dynamic forum to share the latest research and discussions on best practice in drug use, harm reduction and human rights, bringing together over 1,000 people from around the world working at the heart of harm reduction and drug policy.
Returning to Australia for the first time in 19 years, the conference was a unique opportunity showcase Melbourne’s incredible harm reduction programmes and the people who have made them possible, and also to push for further progress not just for the country, but for the region as a whole.
The conference theme, Strength in Solidarity, was reflected in all HR23 activities and highlighted the importance of our strength – as people, as a community, as a global movement – in sticking together.
An early and strong adopter of harm reduction, Australia has an extensive network of needle and syringe programmes, access to pharmacotherapy options and naloxone, as well as two supervised injecting centres and, in many ways, stands as an example of good harm reduction practice. But despite this long history of harm reduction-focused policy and practice, reform in some spheres – for example heroin prescription programmes, decriminalisation of personal use of drugs and prison-based needle and syringe programmes – is still a challenge.
If you could not make it to Melbourne, don't worry! As always, the Drugreporter team was there to film – click below to watch their stunning film about the conference.
We would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we met, and pay respects to the Bunurong Boon Wurrung and Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung peoples of the Eastern Kulin Nation. We pay respects to the Elders of the community and extend our recognition to their descendants.
WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that this website may contain images or names of deceased people.
Indigenous Australians are the first known human inhabitants of the Australian continent and its nearby islands. The term includes both the Torres Strait Islanders and the Aboriginal People, who together make up about 2.5% of Australia's population.
Aboriginal history says that "we have been here since time began". Today, there are 250 distinct language groups spread throughout Australia. Aboriginal Australians are split into two groups: Aboriginal peoples, who are related to those who already inhabited Australia when Britain began colonizing the island in 1788, and Torres Strait Islander peoples, who descend from residents of the Torres Strait Islands, a group of islands that is part of modern-day Queensland, Australia.
It is customary in Australia to start any talk by giving an Acknowledgement of Country. An Acknowledgment of Country is a way that people (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander not from the local area or non-indigenous) can show respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage and the ongoing relationship of traditional owners with the land. As a guide, the Victorian Government uses the following acknowledgement:
This conference is being held on the lands of the five tribes of the Kulin Nation and I wish to acknowledge them as Traditional Owners. I would also like to pay my respects to their Elders, past and present, and Aboriginal Elders of other communities who may be here today.
You may like to compose your own acknowledgement. The key is to be aware of whose land you’re on, to show genuine respect and to use the correct terminology*. For example, the word ‘Aborigines’ is derogatory.
You can find more information about First Nations cultures, histories and experiences at the following sites:
*Australians Together Language and Terminology Guide is made available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/.
Key dates in the run-up to HR23:
May '22: Early Bird registration opens
August '22: Abstract submission opens, along with scholarship applications
4 October '22: Abstract submission closes
October '22: Online Review Committee reviews abstracts
November '22: Programme Committee meets to build programme
31 December '22: Delegate notification of abstract outcomes
January '23: Early Bird registration ends; standard begins
February '23: Programme released
16-19 April '23: HR23, Melbourne
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The theme for HR23 is Strength in Solidarity.
Reflecting our commitment to an inclusive and intersectional harm reduction community, Strength in Solidarity is a call to action. Harm Reduction International calls upon our friends and allies to stand together, to act together and to push forward together.
If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it is the importance of community and solidarity in the face of crisis. The diversity of the harm reduction movement is its strength.
Our branding represents an inclusive community that stands together. We support each other and push forward collectively. We are different shapes and sizes, but when we come together, we create something bigger, stronger and more beautiful than the sum of its parts.
“Strength in Solidarity is an expression of Harm Reduction International’s belief in the power of the harm reduction community – in all its diversity, energy and courage – when we come together to call for justice.” – Naomi Burke-Shyne, Executive Director
Indigenous Australia and a Brief History Lesson for Travellers
Prepared by Harm Reduction Victoria
The Australian continent has been inhabited by a diverse group of cultures – generally referred to as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, Indigenous Australians, or First Nations peoples – for at least 60,000 years. Indigenous Australian cultures are by far the oldest continuous living cultures on the planet. Since the arrival of Europeans and subsequent invasion, Indigenous Australia’s history is rife with mass murder, dispossession, cultural genocide, disadvantage, and countless other crimes committed by both individual white settlers and by the state in a campaign designed to wipe them out. Australia is in many ways only in the very early stages of coming to terms with its history of racism and treatment of Aboriginal people. Indigenous Australians are per capita the most incarcerated people on the planet and deaths in custody occur regularly. Though there are some similarities with other European colonial settler states, Indigenous culture and practices are unique, as is the history of violence, dispossession, land theft, cultural genocide and innumerable other crimes.
This makes learning the basics of Australia’s history and legacy of colonialism important for visitors to this country. There are some important cultural practices we follow in Australia that will be unfamiliar to visitors to Australia. One practice you will be certain to experience at HR23 is the Welcome to Country and Acknowledgement of Country.
Welcome to Country and Acknowledgement of Country
“Country” to Indigenous Australians refers to the lands on which the culture and people to which they belong traditionally lived. The relationship between Indigenous people and their traditional lands is incredibly deep, a core part of Indigenous identity and one of the most important facets of Aboriginal culture. In their culture, people belong to land as much as land belongs to people. This makes the dispossession and theft of the land of what is now so-called Australia from Aboriginal peoples an act of extreme cultural violence.
A Welcome to Country is performed when an Elder or representative of the Nation whose land we are on, officially welcomes guests onto country. This will happen in the opening ceremony of HR23.
An Acknowledgement of Country, on the other hand, is done in part to acknowledge the legacy of land dispossession. An increasing number of groups and organisations will perform an “Acknowledgement of Country” at the beginning of any meeting or event in Australia. You will come across this at most, if not all, sessions at HR23. The Acknowledgement of Country entails a statement similar to the following:
We would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the [Local Traditional Owners]. We pay our respects to Elders past and present and note that sovereignty has never been ceded. This always was and always will be Aboriginal Land.
This wording can vary depending on the context or local situation. It is often followed by a sentence acknowledging the presence and/or contribution of any Indigenous people that may be present at the meeting. As the acknowledgement is getting used more and more, it is becoming more tokenistic. To give a meaningful Acknowledgement of Country, it is important to really think about what is being said rather than just reading words off a page; speak from the heart.
Knowing the name of the local Indigenous culture is critical to holding or participating in an Acknowledgement of Country. HR23 in Melbourne is being held on the lands of the Boonwurrung and Woiwurrung peoples of the Kulin Nation. Typically, in an Acknowledgement of Country in Melbourne, both Boonwurrung and Woiwurrung peoples are acknowledged – colonisation and destruction of important geographical markers has obscured the traditional land borders between the two groups and while there was recently an official agreement, for many this remains in dispute. You may also hear speakers acknowledge the Woiwurrung as Wurundjeri or Wurundjeri Woiwurrung; this is also correct but more specific – Wurundjeri are the clan with traditional ownership over the country in and around Melbourne CBD and its inner suburbs; they form one part of the larger Woiwurrung people as one of the six historical clans that form the group.
The Kulin Nation is the alliance of five groups in central Victoria that speak closely-related languages and share kinship and cultural ties – the Boonwurrung along Port Phillip Bay, southeastern Melbourne and into Gippsland; the Woiwurrung people of northern and eastern Melbourne; the Wathaurong people of Geelong and lands west of Melbourne; the Taungurong people to the north and northeast; and the Djadjawurung of the area surrounding what is now Bendigo and Ballarat, to the northwest of Melbourne.
Traditional owners in other major Australian cities:
Sydney – Gadigal [similar to Melb: Gadigal people of the Eora Nation] (CBD); Kuring-gai (Northern suburbs); Dharug (Parramatta/Western suburbs); Awabakal (Newcastle area); Tharawal (Wollongong area)
Adelaide – Kaurna (CBD & Adelaide plains); Peramangk (Adelaide Hills/Mt. Barker)
Brisbane - Yuggera (CBD/Western Suburbs); Bundjalung (Gold Coast); Waka Waka (Northern suburbs); Gubbi Gubbi (Caboolture & Sunshine Coast)
Perth – Whadjuk Nyoongar
Darwin – Larrakia
Hobart – muwinina [SIC; always uncapitalised – Tasmanian Aboriginal languages use capital letters only in personal and family names and a few other particular circumstances.]
For other locations in Australia, the easiest, if not necessarily the most accurate, method of determining the local traditional owners of a locality is the AIATSIS Map of Indigenous Australia, which you can locate here: https://aiatsis.gov.au/explore/map-indigenous-australia
Other Important Information
There are a number of other things worth noting regarding Indigenous Australians. Largely due to the legacy of dispossession, genocide, violence and extreme disadvantage, Indigenous people are overrepresented in the so-called “criminal justice” system, the homeless populations, and in deaths in custody and overdose deaths; thus you may hear Indigenous issues discussed at the conference. In order to be a good ally, there are a number of things you should try to learn.
People who have died – Many Indigenous cultures have unique practices around death. The most important of these to know are that in many cultures it is taboo to use the name by which a person who has died was called prior to their death; it is also improper to display a photo of the deceased. This is not universal, but always check with an Indigenous friend or (ideally) a relative of an Indigenous person who has died before doing either of these things.
For more information, AIATSIS is a good resource, which you can find at https://aiatsis.gov.au
Important Indigenous Terms
Narrm – This is often used as an Aboriginal name for the City of Melbourne. Technically Narrm is the local Boonwurrung name for Port Phillip Bay – the large bay Melbourne is situated on – but in recent years has increasingly been used to refer to the city.
Wominjeka - means 'To come with purpose' or more commonly 'Welcome' in the Woiwurrung language of the Wurundjeri people.
Bunjil – is the creator spirit in First Nations Dreaming stories south-east part of the so-called Australian land mass. He takes his physical form in the shape of a Wedge-tailed Eagle, identifiable as the country’s largest bird of prey with a distinctly shaped tail. While it’s unlikely you’ll encounter Bunjil in the depths of the CBD, you might be lucky to spot him anywhere where there is open park lands and large trees.