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University Causes Outrage by Saying Britain 'Invaded' Australia

The row over what language should be used to describe how modern-day Australia was formed has revealed emotions still run high regarding the country's colonial history.
A replica of Captain James Cook's HM Bark Endeavour sails into Whitby in North Yorkshire in 2002. Photo by Ian Hodgson/Reuters

A row has erupted in Australia after a leading university published guidelines advising teachers to tell students that Britain "invaded" rather than "settled" the island, in a controversy which reveals the acrimonious division in Australian society over the country's colonial history.

The University of South Wales' Indigenous Terminology guide, which suggests what language teachers should use in class, also says terms such as "Aborigines," "primitive," and "prehistoric" are less appropriate than "Indigenous Australian people," "Aboriginal peoples," and "complex and diverse societies."


The guide was met with outrage in certain sections of the Australian media, such as tabloid newspaper The Daily Telegraph which accused the university on its front page of trying to "rewrite history."

Is there a more contemptible rag in the English-speaking world than the Sydney Daily Telegraph? — Jason Wilson (@jason_a_w)March 30, 2016

Sydney talk radio host Kyle Sandilands claimed the university guidelines divided society. "All the flogs at uni reckon we invaded the joint," he said. "I'm not interested in who was here first and who did what, get over it, it's 200 years ago."

Captain James Cook arrived on the east coast of what is now Australia in 1770 and claimed it on behalf of the British crown. The first fleet of British ships arrived 18 years later and there followed a century in which more than 250 Aboriginal tribes already living on the island were stripped of much of their land and rights, and severely affected by the introduction of European diseases.

"Australia was not settled peacefully, it was invaded, occupied, and colonized," the guide says. "Describing the arrival of the Europeans as a 'settlement' attempts to view Australian history from the shores of England rather than the shores of Australia."

The Daily Telegraph described the university's comments as "a highly controversial rewriting of official Australian history" and quoted academics and researchers accusing the institution of trying to stifle the free flow of ideas.


This position was echoed by Conservative radio host Alan Jones who said the "rubbish toolkit" represented "anti-intellectualism and political correctness at its worst."

"Don't try and restrict the thinking of university students by some so-called diversity toolkit on Indigenous terminology rubbish which dictates game, set, and match that Cook's arrival in New South Wales must be referred to as an invasion," he said. "One student might well argue in favor of invasion and another in favor of settlement. The argument should be judged on its quality." Prejudice and political correctness were "anathema" to scholarship and learning, he said.

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But the university firmly rejected the accusations it was dictating language or designed the guide to be politically correct. "We always encourage students to form their own opinions so to suggest that such a guide would stifle open debate in any way is plainly wrong," it said in a statement.

"The guide is not required reading for all students across the university — teachers can choose to include it as a resource for their class… Recognizing the power of language, the terminology guide is designed as a resource to assist staff and students in describing Indigenous Australian peoples and their history and culture."

Such guides were commonplace in universities and other public institutions, it added.


Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk came out in support of the university, saying it was time that students were taught "the truth" about Australian history.

"For many years Australian schools and Australian institutions have not told the truth about the way in which Australia was settled," she told the Brisbane Times. "A lot of Indigenous people lost their lives, there were massacres and the truth always must be told." When asked if that meant she believed Australia was invaded, she said yes.

The dispossession and massacre of Aboriginal Australians is part of our history. It must be taught and appreciated by all Australians.

— AnnastaciaPalaszczuk (@AnnastaciaMP)March 30, 2016

According to a report released last November by the Australian Human Rights Commission, Aboriginal people still suffer systemic racial discrimination, vilification, and social exclusion.

Follow Miriam Wells on Twitter: @missmbc