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Invasion? A Better Approach To This Boring Argument

June 29, 2011

This controversy comes in cycles. Here we go again. Sydney City Council has generated excitement by referring to European arrival in Australia as “invasion”.

For Aboriginal Australians it was an invasion. To this extent the council is right. But they are wrong – entirely wrong – to imply this is the only story about 1788 and the years that followed. It was not an invasion as far as the convicts and free migrants were concerned. Seen from this heritage – the heritage of European-derived Australia – it was the birth of a modern country. That is, a country linked to the world of trade, capitalism, imperialism, liberal ideas and Western notions of government.

For these people, who became Australians, it was not invasion but another chapter in the story of European expansion and one that produced a prosperous and democratic and happy colony within a few decades.

Here’s the point. Australian history is not one story. It is not just the story of colonisation and nationhood. It is not only the story of Aboriginal dispossession. They are part of it. It is other stories as well. It is the story of Aboriginal resilience and Aboriginal integration as well as the story of Aboriginal dispossession. It is the story of colonising successes and colonising failures.

When we grasp the point that Australian history is not one story but many we can levitate above this boring argument about the word “invasion”. To one part of the Australian people it was an invasion. To others it wasn’t. Australian history is many stories.

Grow up, my fellow Australians, grow up fast.

14 Comments
  1. Johnny permalink
    June 29, 2011 1:44 pm

    Bob, whilst I dont care much for your tone I agree with your comments which certainly made me think.

  2. Councillor Shayen Mallard - City of Sydney permalink
    June 29, 2011 4:09 pm

    Thanks for this Bob- in fact acknowledging the different interpretations and respecting both is where Council was positioned until Monday night when Clover Moore capitulated to activist and Fairfax pressure and defined the arrival as an ‘invasion’ taking the absolutist view of those campaigning on this point. The earlier compromise that I was supporting read:
    “In 1788, the British established a convict outpost on the shores of Sydney Harbour. This had far reaching and devastating impacts on the Eora Nation. The British settlement of Sydney and its surrounds is interpreted by some people, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, as invasion. For others, it is colonisation. History is interpreted by people differently according to their experience of its consequences.”

    • June 29, 2011 4:43 pm

      Too right. For some of us, like my family and all my forebears, it’s the best bl**dy thing that’s ever happened. It gave millions of people the ability to have a fresh start – and opportunities that they never had in their old country. For most Australians, the consequences have been pretty darned good if you ask me.

  3. Michael permalink
    June 29, 2011 4:12 pm

    It sounds a bit postmodernist to me. You have your truth, I have my truth, as for the ‘truth’, well…..

  4. June 29, 2011 4:18 pm

    The saddest part of using the word “invasion” is that it perpetuates a feeling of disharmony. Of an “us-vs-them” mentality and a sense of war. Nobody with any brain is denying the terrible hurt that white colonists visited on the indigenous people – but nobody is doing reconciliation any favours by using terms like this. It strengthens a feeling of loss, of being “owed” by society in general. I have never met an indigenous person who would like to live entirely without the freedoms and progression that colonials brought to Australia. So to continue to speak of today’s Western society as cruel, awful and oppressive is not helping anyone, but merely solidifying hatred. And that hatred is a large part of what you see, when you work with marginalised indigenous groups – utter distrust of government, and indeed distrust and contempt towards “white” people. When entire social groups all use these labels, and teach this attitude to their children, what chance have their children got of integrating into our blended society and contributing to our collective culture?

  5. June 29, 2011 5:38 pm

    Thanks Bob, I left Australia in 1984 because we whites were being blamed for everything. “We wrecked everything” I was told by an aboriginal who had travelled by road and train to tell me. I suggested he walk home to outback NSW (keep off the white man made roads !) and offered him a good sum of money to help him buy some sugar, tea and other basics along the way home. But he said he preferred the train and coach (any chance of first class please ?).

    In Papua New Guinea we are blamed for giving indepenence too early, too late or not at all, or in fact giving it. Everythring is our fault. One Aussie High Commissioner I go to know well was glad to leave becuse he was sick of being told it was “all out fault”.

    One can only wonder why there is so much hatred between the races.

  6. June 29, 2011 5:53 pm

    This is an excellent point, but sadly, mostly common sense which I would have hoped would be employed by Sydney City’s elected representatives.

    To favour one interpretation or ‘voice’ over all others is exactly what proponents of recognising colonisation as invansion speak of remedying.

    If there is anything I learned from Indigenous history it is the danger of public policy creating dangerous points of conflict.

  7. June 30, 2011 12:46 pm

    well said

  8. June 30, 2011 3:21 pm

    Settlement began from invasion. We can still celebrate the opportunities that many of us have today by acknowledging this.

    That there are different stories to be told about Australia’s history, that does not mean that we should erase the invasion from our texts.

    Remembering that settlement began with invasion also reminds us of the reasons that Aboriginal people are as a group living in disadvantage today: inequities reach back through the generations and this needs to be acknowledged before it can be addressed.

  9. steve crawford permalink
    June 30, 2011 3:27 pm

    Dear Bob, you conclude by asking us all to grow up. How would you like to grow up as a Black Australian today? No offence but the odds are you’d be dead, in prison or on the dole.

    • Bob Carr permalink
      June 30, 2011 7:01 pm

      This comment has nothing remotely to do with my observation that Australian history comprises more than one story.

  10. steve crawford permalink
    June 30, 2011 11:27 pm

    True. It’s a hypothetical comment that makes one think about opportunity.

  11. Rod permalink
    July 1, 2011 3:07 pm

    Steve Crawford, I think you hit the nail on the head. Looked like an invasion, smelt like an invasion, tasted like an invasion…….. The truth sometimes is uncomfortable.

  12. July 8, 2011 11:27 am

    Love the art, it’s next to the NSW senate if memory serves.

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