Since the launch of UnMonumental in 2020 we’ve had many discussions about our use of written English, a language imposed upon a continent already home to diverse Indigenous languages.
Naturally, there are embedded hierarchies, subjectivities and assumptions within the written language of a colonial state.
Our style guide is a work in progress and will always be publicly accessible. It will continue to evolve as each story we tell reveals new problems, limitations or aspects of the colonial lens.
Following are some recent additions to our style guide.
UnMonumental uses the term Australia with a strikethrough:
Australia. We do this to interrupt the colonial name.
We also strike through all other colonial place names, for example:
Queensland and Perth. Where appropriate, we use the Indigenous name first, for example: Tarntanya Adelaide or lutruwita Tasmania.
Similarly, when describing colonial entities or impositions, we strike through Australia, for example: the
Australian government, Australia Day, the White Australia Policy.
When referring to the entire landmass, we replace the term
Australia with Aboriginal Land or the Continent, highlighting Indigenous land ownership.
When referring to a specific geological time period, we use:
The Holocene Continent (11,650 years ago to Present), The Pleistocene Continent (2,580,000 to 11,700 years ago) or The Gondwana Continent (550 million years ago)
Dual Place Names
We use the Indigenous name first and strike through all colonial place names, for example: Tarntanya
Adelaide or lutruwita Tasmania.
We use the AIATSIS Austlang spelling for Aboriginal Language Groups.
Colonisers and Colonies
We use the term coloniser rather than colonist. We use colony or colonial outpost rather than settlement.
We don’t use the terms settle or settler when describing colonisation. Rather, we use the terms invasion and occupation.
We don’t use euphemisms for colonisers or terms that romanticise colonialism, such as pioneer, explorer or discovery.
We don’t recognise or legitimise imperialist military hierarchies or systems of reward.
We use military to describe armed forces. We use soldiers or officers to describe the individuals who work for the military. We don’t refer to rank.
We don’t recognise or legitimise the honorific titles of colonisers, for example: James Cook rather than Captain James Cook.
Australia: UnMonumental’s Approach
Amongst the 220 Indigenous languages, there is no universal name for
Australia. Rather, each Indigenous Nation has a unique name.
The term Australia has two main meanings: the continental landmass and the British Commonwealth political entity.
These two meanings are inseparable under British colonialism, asserting and naturalising British theft of Aboriginal Land.
We considered many alternative names for Australia and have chosen to use Aboriginal Land.
The phrases Aboriginal Land and Aboriginal Lands are appropriate terms to describe place. However, they do pose some issues when referring to
Australia as a political entity. These phrases cannot be directly replaced, for example, Australian Government cannot be directly replaced with Aboriginal Land Government, nor can South Australia be replaced with South Aboriginal Land.
As a generalised term, the Continent can be used for the
Australian landmass, but in some contexts the word Continent is too broad, given that there are seven continents on earth. UnMonumental will not use specific phrases such as the Southern continent and the Australian continent, as these are Eurocentric and therefore inappropriate.
The phrase pre-1788 has been widely used to describe
Australia prior to European colonisation. UnMonumental will not use this phrase, as it describes Aboriginal existence in relation to British colonisation. This is offensive to Indigenous people, who have lived on the Continent for 72,000 years.
The term so-called Australia has been widely used as an informal phrase to highlight the problematic use of colonial terminology. Usage of so-called Australia focuses on
Australia as a political state. We feel it doesn’t provide an adequate description of the landmass.
The phrase the Colony may be used to describe the British colonial political entity. The Colony is a useful term to describe the systemic oppression and continued colonisation of Aboriginal people. However, this phrase cannot be used to describe the landmass.
The term Country used by Aboriginal people means ‘Land’ or ‘Nation’. The Aboriginal usage of the word Country is not directly related to the English word country; it is unique to an Indigenous cultural worldview.
When appropriate, UnMounumental will use the word Country to describe the landmass, but not to replace the word
Australia when referring to the British colonial political entity.
The term First Nations is appropriate when describing the governance and ownership of Aboriginal Land. It is more commonly used in the colonial state of
First Nations has only recently been introduced into
Australian English. We prefer the longstanding term Aboriginal Land.
The Kaurna Aboriginal community in Tarntanya Adelaide have created a new Kaurna name for the Continent based on the cultural significance of the Southern Cross for Indigenous peoples.
The Kaurna name Wirltutidnayarta directly translates to ‘Wedgetail Eagle’s Foot Country’. The Wedgetail Eagle’s Foot is the constellation known in English as the Southern Cross, so this name can also be translated to ‘Land of the Southern Cross’.
Thanks James and Matt, this is an interesting and useful resource and all the best in growing it,
Surely its inappropriate to be positing an argument for appropriate use of English language at the same time as rejecting that same language for its unwanted imposition in a land and the subject it refers to?
Perhaps you should only be making this argument in the range of aboriginal languages and dialects its trying to empathise with.
Its also inaccurate to suggest that all people who arrived immediately after predominantly indigenous population were colonisers. The majority were genuinely “pioneers”, “explorers” and the like - seeking discovery, prosperity and new life on a land in the same way that “indigenous” Australians did tens of thousands of years earlier … for their own relative prosperity, survival and discovery of new lands.
To deny or argue against that truth is to ignore fundamental realities of human movement throughout the history of homo erectus on the place we call planet Earth.
The kind of rhetoric you’re putting forward does nothing for the advancement, peace of mind or education of humankind.