War of words: Was Australia 'invaded' by Britain?

University guidelines on Indigenous terminology spark angry response from conservatives


Australia's colonial history is under the spotlight after a university issued a set of guidelines on the use of Indigenous terminology for its students.

The University of New South Wales was forced to reject claims it was "rewriting history" after a backlash from some conservatives.

What did it say?

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Students have been advised to avoid saying Australia was "discovered" or "settled" by the British. Terms such as "invaded, occupied and colonised" are suggested instead.

It points to the fact that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were present long before British explorer Captain James Cook claimed possession of the east coast of the continent in 1770.

"Recognising 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," said the university.

What was the reaction?

The Australian Daily Telegraph described the guidelines as being "a highly controversial rewriting of official Australian history" as legally, the country is considered to have been settled by the British.

Conservative radio host Alan Jones said the "so-called diversity toolkit" on Indigenous terminology "rubbish" would "restrict the thinking" of university students. "Prejudice and political correctness are anathema to genuine scholarship and learning," he told listeners.

In a filmed debate, News Corp columnist Sarrah Le Marquand said many Australians would be "uncomfortable" being referred to as invaders and that "getting too bogged down" in a debate about words was "polarising".

The university has rejected accusations it was dictating terminology to students. "The guide does not mandate what language can be used. Rather, it uses a more appropriate/less appropriate format, providing a range of examples", it said.

The guidelines did get some backing from Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, however.

"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."

Paul Daley, an expert on Indigenous Australian history, agrees. "It's not 'politically correct' to say Australia was invaded - it's history," he wrote in The Guardian.

Indigenous historian Jackie Huggins said the reaction from the Daily Telegraph and others was disappointing.

"We know this country has a colonial history and that certainly has been characterised by a devastating land dispossession, violence and unapologetic racism as well," she told ABC.

"We cannot deny our history. It's a history that's never fully been taught to us in our country."

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