When I was at school and we did history lessons, we learnt that Australia was an ’empty land’ and that it ‘belonged to no-one – a terra nulls. Yes, there were Aboriginal people here but they were considered nomadic, uncivilised and as they had not started traditional farming as Europeans recognised, they had no relationship to the land.
Europeans, we were taught, came and brought civilisation to the land and the people!
While embarrassing to admit this now, this was very much the popular view of history. That is, until the inspiring Eddy Koiki Mabo challenged this view in the High Court Australia and in 1992 won with six of the seven High Court judges upholding the claim that this continent were not terra nulls.
This ‘formally’ changed the understanding of history: this was a land occupied by many nations of indigenous people who lived here for millennia. Ever since then, Australia has struggled to come to terms with how to respond: some have been hostile, many indifferent and others – both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal – passionate on finding a place of reconciliation.
If the land was occupied, then the peaceful settlement I learnt about was a fiction and this was an invasion: a colonial displacement. The indigenous population has not only been displaced, but there is evidence of frontiers wars, murders, slaughters and enslavement.
This is why we now teach invasion: this is not political correctness gone mad or a left wing conspiracy, it is fact.
As such, the recent response from some conservative media has been absurd: the Daily Telegraph lamenting this political correctness and the ever irrelevant Kyle Sandilands telling our Aboriginal population to simply ‘get over it’.
In class, students very much struggle with how to feel about this dark part of Australia’s history: can we admit to colonialism and murder, and still be patriotic and proud Australians. The answer is yes…
As James Baldwin, author and commentator wrote about his own patriotism:
I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.
I look forward to reading your response…