Discovered or Invaded?


WORDS || Shantell Bailey

Today is another one of those landmark days, a day when the Australian media collectively came together to produce ‘both sides’ of the debate – to speak with individuals qualified to speak on the issue, to consult with people directly affected by what has been highlighted, hell – to really present a well-rounded educative response to something that’s got the whole nations talking…. Right? I’ll let you decide…

Over recent days some of Australia’s top universities have released recommended guidelines relating to the correct terminology in which studies relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should reflect. The guidelines suggest that an attempt to describe Australia as a nation which was ‘settled’ or ‘discovered’ is not only offensive but can also be intrinsically linked to a history of oppression, denial and a little legal fiction determined by the High Court and known as ‘Terra Nullius’. It will now be taught as the invasion by the British which of course, has everyone feeling the white-hot guilt and perhaps may explain the Daily Telegraph’s awful front page.

The guidelines also speak to the terms ‘Aborigines’ and ‘Aboriginal Peoples’ as being inappropriate and that alternatively ‘Indigenous Australians’ is much more suitable in a bid to moving forward toward reconciliation. What is most controversial however is that these guidelines have also suggested Australia was once ‘invaded’ and not ‘discovered’ by that white haired guy who sailed into Botany Bay at yonder dawn based on the notion of ‘Terra Nullius’.

But wait didn’t you just say ‘Terra Nullius’ was a legal fiction?

Lets take a little hop, skip and a jump back to 1788 –

The doctrine of Terra Nullius can be translated quite simply to ‘nobody’s land’ – according to the International Law of Europe in the 18th Century however there were only three ways in which Brittain could take possession of another country:

  • If the country was uninhabited
  • If the country was already inhabited and they asked permission from the Indigenous people to utilised some of their land you know for like extracting the labour of convicts for farming
  • OR if the country was already inhabited through invasion or conquest– in other words defeated by war…. The method utilised by the British in their ‘discovery’ of Australia

Ok so back to 2016 who can tell me whether they think Australia was discovered or invaded?




Umm no not quite…


What about you Alan, you must concede that the terminology currently used could be offensive to some Indigenous Australian’s, right?

“No, I don’t concede that…”


Right…umm anyone else or have we had enough white privilege for one day?

Like I said today was really one of those days where the Australian media collectively came together to produce ‘both sides’ of the debate –suggesting ‘settlement’ is more appropriate than the ‘invasion’ to alleviate the guilt felt by those engaged in this ‘well-rounded’ argument.  The past cannot be changed but we can acknowledge the truth. This sense of ignorance and the underlying institutional racism that is present in this nation combined with the sour, tokenistic approach towards achieving ‘reconciliation’ are further road blocks in the possibility of moving forward. It’s disappointing that the feedback on such big broadcasting platforms was so negative.


Shantell is studying a Bachelor of Laws/Bachelor of Social Science Majoring in Criminology at MQU. She was born and grew up on Waradjuri country.