World Community Comes Together in Australia’s Northern Territory

8th September 2023

The 2023 World Community Development Conference (WCDC) took place at the Darwin Convention Centre in Australia's Northern Territory in June this year. It was the result of a collaborative effort between several key organizations, including the International Association for Community Development (IACD), the Jeder Institute, the Australian Community Workers Association, Community First Development, Catalyse (NZ), and Community Housing Ltd.

Bringing together diverse participation by 425 global practitioners, academics, policy-makers, funders, as well as business and organization stakeholders, the conference embraced a global perspective, revolving around the theme “From the Edge,” which paid tribute to the spirit and wisdom of First Nations peoples. 

The decision to host the conference in Darwin was the outcome of a joint initiative between the Darwin Convention Centre and Northern Territory Business Events. Darwin’s strategic location near Asia, its favorable climate, multicultural environment, and rich Aboriginal culture played pivotal roles in its selection as the conference destination. Additionally, the city’s vibrant community-based initiatives and projects further enhanced its appeal.

Meaningful cultural inclusions

The conference opening session was preceded by a formal Welcome to Country delivered by Aunty Bilawara Lee, on behalf of the Larrakia Nation,  the Traditional Custodians of the Darwin region. A Welcome to Country ceremony is provided by a local Aboriginal person of significance, usually an Elder, to acknowledge and give consent to events taking place on their traditional lands and is also a sign of respect and protocol dating back to traditional times. 

A special feature of the conference was the traditional ‘Yarning Circle’ set up in the Hall area of the Convention Centre – the Yarning Circle plays an important role within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and provides an opportunity to learn from a collective group, build respectful relationships and pass on cultural knowledge. 

The Hall was also set up with tiki-style tents displaying traditional arts and crafts for purchase, along with unique art installations. This area became the catering and meeting space where deeper delegate connections could be made. 

The International Reception and Conference Welcome was held at the Frangipani Plaza area of the Darwin Convention Centre. Once formalities had concluded, delegates experienced a cultural performance by Garramilla gulwa, traditional dancers and musicians from the Larrakia Nation. 

Sustainable conference policies & legacy outcomes

The Darwin Convention Centre has permanently re-named the Centre’s four Meeting Rooms and outdoor Porte-Cochere in traditional Larrakia language. This change was timed to coincide with the staging of WCDC23 and was therefore especially significant and meaningful for the organizers and delegates. 

First Nations delegates attended the conference at a reduced registration rate, enabling many of Australia’s Land Councils to bring teams of community members.  The Connellan Airways Trust, which assists people of the outback to overcome geographic barriers to education, health and innovation, provided travel grants to delegates from isolated rural communities. 

The Conference Procurement Policy prioritized purchasing from local Indigenous-owned businesses and organizations. Examples included speakers’ gifts which were sourced from Aboriginal Bush Traders, a not-for-profit organization which sells ethically-sourced and sustainable products, supporting local Indigenous communities. Additional conference gifts came from MK Eco by Starwin, a local artisan community collective, whilst delegate bags were supplied by Paperbark Woman, which specializes in fabrics designed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. 

The marketplace zone featured local NT social enterprises and community initiatives such as Songlines and MK Eco by Starwin. The Northern and Central Land Councils also showcased their projects, whilst Darwin Community Arts provided an interactive art space. The marketplace enabled these local organizations to network with global community development leaders.  

WCDC23 in Darwin was attended by 425 delegates

Darwin Convention Centre facilities ideal for the conference program

The extensive facilities of the Darwin Convention Centre ensured multiple event spaces were available for the diverse conference program. The Auditorium was utilized for plenary sessions, film screenings and concurrent presentations took place in the Centre’s three Waterfront Rooms, whilst workshops were staged across the Centre’s four Meeting Rooms. 

An outstanding WCDC2023 experience occurred at the conclusion of the final keynote presentation, when the entire conference audience was led to the nearby Waterfront Precinct lagoon.  Dr Richard Fejo, a highly-respected Larrakia Elder and Chairman of the Darwin Waterfront Corporation, conducted a moving Saltwater Ceremony, warmly inviting delegates to enter the lagoon at ankle-depth and make a truly meaningful connection with the Larrakia People and their 65,000-year-old culture. 

Organizers said Darwin provided a beautiful backdrop to the conference, particularly given the three over-arching conference themes were Culture, Community and Connection. Delegates noted the convenient proximity of the Convention Centre to the Waterfront Precinct parklands, accommodation, restaurants and cafes. 

Michelle Dunscombe, Vice Chair of the International Association for Community Development spoke about their Darwin experience: “On behalf of the lead host organization, we would like to express our heartfelt thanks to the Larrakia people for such a warm welcome to the region. The 2023 World Community Development Conference in Darwin was an exceptional gathering of professionals, experts and community advocates from all corners of the world, united by their dedication to fostering positive change and sustainable development.” 

For more information on Australia’s Northern Territory as a conference destination visit

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