Over the last few days there has been quite a bit of media attention over the decision by Council to use the term “invasion” to describe the arrival of European settlers in Australia. I am proud of the strong relationship I have with the local Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander community and am 100% behind this move. I want to use the next few paragraphs to dispel some of the spurious criticism that this has generated.
Some of those who oppose the use of the term invasion, particularly prominent members of the Liberal party, claim it is inaccurate because the early settlers were not a completely military force and were under orders to maintain good relations with the local Aboriginal people.
Sadly despite these orders the British had officially declared Australia to be Terra Nullius, a land empty of people. The British didn’t intend to invade because empty land doesn’t require invasion – you can just turn up and occupy it.
The Aboriginal people who had lived on these lands for tens of thousands of years would have found little comfort in the fact that the British settlers wanted good relations as despite this their land was taken from them against their will. If that isn’t an invasion then I don’t know what is.
Critics of the move have also claimed that the term invasion is divisive, though I feel such criticisms miss the point. Acknowledging that your ancestors were part of the invasion of this county isn’t about trying to induce guilt in non-Aboriginal Australians –I’ve never met anyone who truly feels guilty about events that happened hundreds of years before they were born. I also entirely fail to see how this is awareness of the facts is meant to breed the resentment that some commentators claim it will.
Rather, it’s about recognising that wrongs took place in the past and that while we can’t change what happened then we can put our best efforts into working for a brighter future. A future where Aboriginal people no longer experience the huge disparities in terms of health, education and employment that they still face today, as well as a future where their proud culture – a culture far older than any other surviving today – is preserved and cherished. Rather than being divisive, this is a spirit that can unite all Australians, whether you’re descended from our first people, from the British who arrived in the first wave of settlement or more recent migrants from anywhere on the globe.
Finally I’d like to make the point that, despite the fact that I’ve personally used the term invasion for a long time, fellow Greens Councillor Chris Harris and I made the decision that when voting on what term to use we would follow the wishes of the City’s Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Advisory Panel. Ultimately we felt that this decision should be left up to that group as Aboriginal representatives of the City’s Aboriginal people.
Had they wished to use an alternative term we would have been happy to support it, however in the end they felt very strongly about using the term invasion and I had no qualms about going along with their wishes.
Australia always has and always will be Aboriginal land, and despite the actions of the past I am very grateful to be able to call this country my home, a home I share with other white Australians, Aboriginal Australians and migrants from all the nations of the world.