Daily Tele Uncovers Academic ‘Invasion’ Plot… 20 Years Too Late

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Australia’s least trusted newspaper may have just broken the record for ‘world’s oldest scoop’.

Yesterday’s Daily Telegraph’s scoop – that the University of NSW is “controversially” instructing teachers to refer to the “settlement” of Australia as an “invasion” – is based on a teaching resource produced two decades ago which was auspiced by the Howard government.

Entitled, Teaching the Teachers: Indigenous Australian Studies for Primary Pre-Service Teacher Education, the teaching guide was the culmination of more than two years consultation and research, and produced by UNSW in cooperation with the federally-funded Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation.

Teaching-the-teachers-frontIt was released in 1996 by UNSW and CAR as a guide to appropriate terminology when discussing First Nations issues. Ironically, the Prime Minister at the time, John Howard – went to spark the ‘history wars’, after abolishing the CAR.

The guide was inspired by Aboriginal poet and activist Oodgeroo Noonucal (Kath Walker) and distributed widely throughout schools and universities around the country, in particular NSW primary schools.

Since then, it has been used widely as the basis for university guides on appropriate terminology when teaching about issues affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

Australian universities, including Flinders in South Australia, UNSW, and Queensland University of Technology have all produced guides based on the document.

An entire section of the teaching guide – page 13 – is devoted to dealing with the issue of invasion. After noting the term ‘settlement’ is “less appropriate”, and the term ‘invasion’ “more appropriate”, the guide notes:

“Australia was not settled peacefully, it was invaded. 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.

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“The use of the word ‘settlement’ ignores the reality of Indigenous Australian peoples’ lands being stolen from them….

Teaching-the-teachers-2“The fact that most settlers did not see themselves as invading the country, and that convicts were transported against their will is beside the point. The effects were the same for Indigenous peoples.”

New Matilda reader Serena O’Meley – a community and union activist – located the original resource at the State of Library of Victoria early this morning.

She told New Matilda: “This particular curriculum resource is highly auspiced, and it’s been around for 20 years. It was a seminal text involving substantial consultation,” Ms O’Meley said.

“It’s just sensationalist reporting by the Daily Telegraph, and it has to stop.

“Invasion is a fact, it’s not a political position. Once again they’re playing into the hands of racists and people who want to change history to suit themselves.”

Notwithstanding the motivations of the Tele, Ms O’Meley said some good would likely come from the debate.

“I think it’s been useful in the sense that it’s opened up a discussion, because younger people born during the history wars haven’t been properly educated about these issues,” she said.

“I’m personally a product of poor history teaching, and I know many of my peers have been as well. It’s taken me many years to understand the real basis of Australia’s true history.

“I cannot imagine what young people know and understand about these issues, so a curriculum resource like this is immensely valuable.”

New Matilda has sought to interview the Daily Telegraph reporter responsible for the story, Clarissa Bye, but at the time of press no reply was forthcoming.

A spokesperson for the University of NSW told New Matilda that the teaching resource at the centre of the Tele’s coverage had actually been in place since 2012. The spokesperson also noted that the resource does not mandate language from teacher’s rather it suggests ‘less and more appropriate’ terminology.

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According to dictionary.com, one definition of the term ‘invasion’ is “entrance as if to take possession or overrun”.

It’s use to describe the gradual arrival of people, against the will of an existing population – as opposed to an immediate military force – is uncontroversial. The Daily Telegraph has used the term itself to describe the gradual arrival over time of asylum seekers to Australian shores.

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Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the publisher and editor of New Matilda. He is the former founding managing editor of the National Indigenous Times and Tracker magazine. Chris has won a Walkley Award, a Walkley High Commendation and two Human Rights Awards for his reporting. He lives in Brisbane and splits his time between Stradbroke Island, where New Matilda is based, and the mainland.

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