What do you call it when a military power, sends it’s navy and troops to somewhere else, lands there and claims the land as its own and under the direct control of that power?
You can call it lots of things but if you are in Australia just be really careful that you don’t call it an “invasion”. This is one of those issues where if you are outside of it the issue is simple and if you are inside it – well it is still simple but also a weird world of shibboleths.
Before I continue, I’d advise reading some of these links:
You’ll probably have noticed the strange topsy-turvy way in which people refering to an invasion as an “invasion” is denounced as “political correctness” by the people who typically denounce “political correctness” but usually reserve that term for when other people want to control language.
Why am I mentioning this now? Mainly because it ties in with the previous post about the US, the “South” and attempts to control history.
In the case of Australia there is a national myth – indeed more than just as a myth as it was enshrined as a principle “Terra Nullius” within Australian case law – that Australia was an empty place. Hence, according to that myth, it wasn’t anybody’s and hence when Britain claimed (and named) New South Wales it wasn’t an invasion per-se because the land was just sitting there. The myth is false, obviously, and eventually rejected by Australian courts in 1982 in the landmark Mabo case https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mabo_v_Queensland_(No_1)
Yet here we are and apparently rational people will vehemently tie themselves into rhetorical knots to claim that an invasion wasn’t an invasion. Even given the willingness of some on the right to boldly assert irrational claims, you’d think they would avoid such an obviously silly one. The most powerful navy in the world (at the time) plonks a full on colony of citizens half-way round the world, displacing the people living there and claiming the land as its own is somehow NOT an invasion is such a silly claim that you might assume no public figure would be willing to make it.
However, the absurdity almost makes the ‘controversy’ stronger. After all, if you can boldy talk nonesense and demand that people listen to you and more sensible people nod their heads and concede that your point should be given due consideration, well what better expression of power and privelege can there be? To quote the Simpson’s movie “Have you ever tried going mad without power? It’s boring nobody listens to you.”
So we have an issue that requires little more than a basic grasp of English and some fairly simple moral principles to settle:
- The word “invasion” means something and it is a decent fit to what Britain did to Australia.
- Stealing people’s stuff (including land) is wrong.
Really, unless your ideology is stealingpeoplesstuffiscoolism this should not be a moral conundrum.
So why the rightwing passion in the opposite direction (a passion that commits them to arguing that words don’t mean what they mean and stealling is OK sometimes)? Now part of it is a natural knee-jerk defence of one’s ancestors – except, in the case of Australia:
- It was Britain that did the invading and Australia isn’t Britain.
- Many of the first settlers were transported criminals – Australia was (at least partly & initially) settled by settlers their against their own will.
So whereas we might look at blowhards in other nations trying to edit their nations history into hagiographic sequence of events where the nation or its originators only ever did good things and the bad things they did were always justified and for the best etc etc, you’d think that the Australian version of such people would still be able to rationalise the original British invasion (sorry “settlement”) without having to rewrite the dictionary.
But they can’t and they won’t. Because it isn’t about the distant past but about the recent past. To accept that the events 1770 and 1788 amounted to an invasion would require them to accept that modern Australia owes a debt to the people whose land was taken.
It’s not a syllogism and “invasion” isn’t the premise, but the conclusion they are trying to avoid remains the same: Australia owes a debt to the people whose land was taken.