1st April 1770: A print from a painting showing Captain James Cook (1728 - 1779) taking possession of New South Wales, taken from the collection of the Philosophical Institute of Victoria
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March 29, 2016 11:27 PM EDT

A leading Australian university has come under fire for publishing guidelines calling the arrival of Europeans in the country an “invasion,” reviving a debate over the country’s contentious colonial history.

The University of New South Wales insists that the guide, part of a “diversity toolkit,” is for teachers, and will not stifle debate, but a local tabloid denounced it as a politically correct “whitewash.” The front page of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph on Wednesday said the advice “rewrites the history books to state Cook ‘invaded’ Australia.”

The Australian continent had been inhabited by a diverse population of indigenous Australian peoples — speaking some 250 different languages — for about 50,000 years before a British voyage led by Captain James Cook reached its east coast in 1770. That began a process of colonization that marginalized or wiped out many indigenous peoples, with Britain claiming to have discovered an unclaimed and empty land.

The university’s guide rejects the idea that Europeans “settled” Australia.

“Australia was not settled peacefully, it was invaded, occupied and colonized,” the guide says. “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.”

Sydney talk radio host Kyle Sandilands reacted angrily to the story, news.com.au reports.

“It divides society,” Sandilands said. “All the flogs at uni reckon we invaded the joint … I’m not interested in who was here first and who did what, get over it, it’s 200 years ago.”

The University of New South Wales countered that such guidelines had been welcomed by staff. Any suggestion that the guidelines would stifle open debate about Australia’s past and identity is “plainly wrong,” a spokeswoman told news.com.au.


Write to Simon Lewis at simon_daniel.lewis@timeasia.com.

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