‘Invasion’ or ‘colonisation’?

The proposal to use ‘invasion’ to describe the arrival of white people in Australia in the curriculum is sure to be contentious, but Dr Cathie Burgess of Uni of Sydney says it is appropriate.
May 13, 2021
Words count for a lot and there are few more loaded than invasion

The proposal to use ‘invasion’ to describe the arrival of white people in Australia in the curriculum is sure to be contentious; argument around the word has been going back and forth for years now and the debate shows no sign of cooling.

The Australian curriculum is often interpreted as the ‘warm fuzzy’ dots and didgeridoos approach that avoids uncomfortable conversations about our history and some say using ‘invasion’ more accurately represents what happened.

Dr Cathie Burgess, Associate Professor Aboriginal Studies, Aboriginal Education Sydney School of Education and Social Work at Uni of Sydney says that our confused relationship with the terminology around Aboriginal history leads to a mischaracterisation of history.

“Invasion is still seen as a contentious issue and this is evidenced by its exclusion from the Australian curriculum even though it has been in NSW History and Aboriginal Studies syllabuses since last century.

“The trouble is this word has always been debated from an emotional stance rather than a factual one. Without intellectual discussion about the terminology, the true history of the country will continue to be whitewashed, facts will be ignored in favour of populist slogans such as the history wars, cancel culture and political correctness,” she says.

“The effect in schools means more of the same where most teachers and students have little understanding of the history of this country, especially the history of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal relationships and the role of government policies in shaping this.”

The term does not have to lead to conflict, if there is appropriate context provided.

“The terminology can be experienced inclusively by Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students in schools if the facts and government policy [as it is clearly documented] are acknowledged and the Uluru Statement from the Heart is respected and implemented so Indigenous Australians get the justice non-Aboriginal people take for granted.

“We can move into a phase of a shared history led by First Nations people in which we all have a place and a responsibility so we can work towards respectful relationships and reparative justice.”

The absence of a coherent and comprehensive curriculum narrative that all teachers are familiar and confident with implementing needs to be adressed and Burgess believes this curriculum narrative needs to be in place from preschool with opportunities to continue post school.

“It needs to be scaffolded and sequenced as occurs in every other subject such as English, history etc. so it is a continuous learning trajectory throughout education. As it stands it is piecemeal at best and not taught at all at worst.

“For example, in the NSW History syllabus the only compulsory Aboriginal curriculum is taught in Stage 2 (7–8 years old) and then in Stage 5 (14–15 years old). So what happens in between? The Contact and colonisation that used to be compulsory in Stage 4 (12–13 years old) is now an option, and (surprise surprise) it is the last option on the list. This change was made after the implementation of the Australian curriculum,” she says.

According to Burgess, Aboriginal history has been watered down since the implementation of the Australian Curriculum and the push from Donnelly and Wilshire (2014 review) to strengthen Judeo-Christian values in the curriculum and deem the CCPs as ‘options not orders’.

Aboriginal history shouldn’t be seen as Aboriginal history but rather framed as Aboriginal curriculum which includes history but is relevant to all subjects.

“We need to get away from Aboriginal issues being the purvey of history [or the humanities] only. There needs to be a coherent, scaffolded and comprehensive interdisciplinary approach led by Indigenous Australians and highly experienced teachers who have credibility in their local Aboriginal community.”

So, given that invasion might be used above colonialisation, should Australia Day be renamed Invasion Day?

“This is a whole other debate,” says Burgess. “Australia Day has had its date shifted a number of times in the past so I’m not sure why people are so wedded to the current date. There are many ways to approach this day but as it stands it is offensive to Indigenous Australians to expect them to partake in an event in history that signals the beginning of their dispossession, genocide, etc and therefore perfectly logical to call it invasion day.

“Why not have Federation Day on the 1st January instead marking the day the states/territories became a nation, and then infuse this with opportunities for Aboriginal people to express their perspective on this?

“Why not have other significant days like the Rudd Apology Day, Mabo Day etc. as officially recognised with attached public holidays? If it is important and acceptable for Australians to commemorate ANZAC day as representing a significant aspect of our history [which is in the past and we don’t tell the soldiers ‘ to get over it’] then why not Invasion day?”