Language guidelines that advise students to describe British explorer James Cook’s arrival in Sydney as an “invasion” rather than a “settlement” were defended by an Australian university Wednesday, denying it was rewriting history to be politically correct.
The University of New South Wales (UNSW) Indigenous Terminology guide says that Australia was “invaded, occupied and colonised”.
“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 guide says.
But the university rejected the idea that it was dictating what language could be used by students.
“The guide does not mandate what language can be used,” it said in a statement, adding that it offered a range of examples of more and less appropriate language.
“For example the guide suggests referring to Captain Cook as the first Englishman to map the continent’s East Coast is ‘more appropriate’ than referring to his “discovery” of Australia.”
The guide notes that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were in Australia long before Captain Cook arrived, making it impossible for him to “discover” the country.
“Most Aboriginal people find the use of the word ‘discovery’ offensive,” it added.
The guide likewise says it is more appropriate to describe the arrival of British ships in Australia using terms other than “settlement”.
The university said students were always encouraged to form their own opinions and to suggest that the guide would stifle open debate was “plainly wrong”.
“Terminology guides such as this are commonplace across universities and many public sector organisations and it is absolutely appropriate for students and staff to have such a resource available,” it added.
The guidelines were blasted by The Daily Telegraph tabloid as a “whitewash”, a reaction that indigenous historian Jackie Huggins said 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 the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
“We cannot deny our history. It’s a history that’s never fully been taught to us in our country.”