by Luke Pearson
There has been some, but not a lot, of talk recently about the announced changes to the National Curriculum; a ‘greater emphasis’ on ‘our Christian heritage’, and a removal of any specific reference to Indigenous people (and migrants) from various parts of the curriculum, for example, in ‘Contributions to our society’ in Year 6.
This is a move driven by ideology, not by best practice, or in the interests of students, teachers, or communities. It is simply the most recent attack in the ongoing ‘Culture Wars’, the battle between acknowledging that Australia was not Terra Nullius when the First Fleet arrived, or pretending that ‘Captain Cook discovered Australia’ and there was ‘nothing but bush’ before he got here.
As Terra Nullius translates into ‘land belonging to no one’ it is effectively a debate about whether Indigenous people existed before 1788, and whether what happened to Indigenous people during and after 1788 actually matters… or not.
Being actively left off the history of Australia taught in schools for so long is the reason why many curriculums for the last few decades have had to have specific mention of Indigenous peoples. So as to ensure that teachers, when teaching about topics like ‘Contributions of individuals and groups to Australian society’, don’t simply whitewash our history and leave us out. It is basically a footnote to remind them that Indigenous people and migrants did exist, still exist, and have also made significant contributions to our society, and continue to.
These changes ignore that the invasion and colonisation of Australia is a part of a much larger story of colonialism, colonisation, and empire building. It ignores that there were people who weren’t white here first, that there were non-white people who arrived here before, during and after the arrival of the First Fleet, and it denies that a lot of the white people living in Australia were and are migrants also.
By not acknowledging a more accurate version of history in Australia we can deny the cause and effect of what is happening not just domestically in Australia, but on the global stage as well. Everything from the impacts of intergenerational trauma, to the denial of basic human rights to refugees and Aboriginal people alike. It is about fighting to create an image of a peacefully ‘settled’ democratic White Australian history, in order to better justify a White Australian dominated future.
After all, how can you teach kids about the positive contributions of migrants and Indigenous people in school if you are relying on them feeling fear, loathing and contempt towards those same people in their adulthood?
The recent removal of this specific mention doesn’t mean that teachers can’t include the contributions of Indigenous people and migrants, it just means that if they forget to do it, there is no longer a point of reference for students or parents to address it. It means that if we get forgotten now, as we all too often have in the past, that it is not in breach of the curriculum. Ensuring that any such references must now be post-Federation, however, is a more aggressive effort to try and remove any reference to resistance warriors like Pemulwuy, Jandamarra, Windradyne, or Yagan. Not only does it ensure that these Indigenous heroes get no recognition, but it is also means the wars they fought in defence of their homelands against the invaders get omitted as well. By not acknowledging the role of migrants pre-Federation, it helps create the idea that non-white migrant groups arrived much later, well after Australia was already established. In truth, non-White migrants arrived on the First Fleet as well, and many migrants from places other than England arrived mere decades after the First Fleet.
It is not about ‘cutting red tape’, or decluttering an overcrowded curriculum, it is about privileging whiteness and celebrating an imaginary white only history, in the hopes of maintaining a white dominant future.
In simple terms, it is racism.
It is the same racism that saw the White Australia Policy implemented in the first place. The same racism that lead to the Stolen Generations; to slave labour; to Missions and reserves; to segregation laws; to ongoing over incarceration rates; and to the ongoing denial of all of the above.
That is all that these changes really represent. An ongoing denial from an elite leading class of a few ever persistent truths:
White Australia has a Black History.
Australia always was, and always will be Aboriginal land.
There can be no Reconciliation without Justice.
Lest we forget over the past.