English & EAL

False Claims of Colonial Thieves and Its Context: VCE English

Emily Muller

February 18, 2023

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False Claims of Colonial Thieves is usually studied in the Australian curriculum under Area of Study 1 - Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response.

Why Is Context Important?

When studying a text, it is very important to comprehend its context. Context will help you to understand what the text is about and what the author’s point of view is - key components of doing well in VCE English! Context is especially important for False Claims of Colonial Thieves because the authors frequently reference Australia’s history. Even the title is a nod to its context - it is all about the ‘false claims’ made by Australia’s ‘colonial thieves’, or in other words, Australia’s colonial settlers. Understanding what these false claims are will help you better understand the context and therefore, do significantly better in your English essays and assessments.

Treat this blog as a starting point only. There is so much to learn about these topics, and I recommend you do your own research in addition to reading this blog. To help you do so, I have provided a reliable external source for each topic, so you can start exploring these claims in more depth.

Terra Nullius

One of the biggest ‘false claims’ that Papertalk Green and Kinsella refer to throughout their collaboration is the colonisers’ claim of Australia being terra nullius. When the British came to Australia, they claimed that the country was ‘no man’s land’, denying that the Indigenous Australians had actually lived here for thousands of years. By pretending that no one lived in Australia, this supposedly gave the British ‘legitimacy’ to assume control over the land and those already living on it - i.e. Australia’s First Nations Peoples.

Terra Nullius was used against the Indigenous peoples for many years to justify their horrific treatment. The principle was only overturned in 1992 when an Indigenous man, Eddie Mabo, challenged this claim in the High Court of Australia. Nowadays, we recognise that the Indigenous people were here significantly earlier than the colonisers and that their sovereignty (i.e. their power over the land) was never ceded.

External source for further reading: https://australian.museum/learn/first-nations/unsettled/recognising-invasions/terra-nullius/ 

The Stolen Generation

Another false claim was that the Indigenous people were inferior to white people. This claim led to the forcible removal of Indigenous children from their families, so they could be raised by ‘superior’ white people and taught white cultures/languages - these children are referred to as the ‘Stolen Generation’ because they were taken away from their families without their consent.

It was thought that placing Aboriginal children (especially mixed-race Aboriginal children) with white families would make it easier to teach Aboriginal children the ‘proper’ (British) way of living. They were either placed in institutions or adopted by white families, and often faced terrible treatment, including violence, neglect and assault. Neither the children who were removed nor their families have fully recovered from this appalling policy that continued until the 1970s.

Indeed, the effects of the Stolen Generation can still be felt today. One of the major consequences discussed by Papertalk Green and Kinsella is that a lot of Indigenous culture was lost. Many of the children who were taken away were forbidden from practising their cultural traditions or from speaking their Indigenous languages. This ban led to many traditions going extinct and is a tragic effect of this heinous false claim.

External source for further reading: https://aiatsis.gov.au/explore/stolen-generations 

Missions and Reserves 

Another claim explored in the text is the idea that Indigenous peoples could not look after themselves and would be better off with white people ‘protecting’ them. This led to the government forcing Aboriginal people to leave their ancestral lands and relocate to newer, smaller areas - a process known as land alienation. There were two types of this land - missions and reserves - and Aboriginal people faced poor treatment on both.

Missions were usually run by Christian groups so they could convert the Indigenous people to their religion. There was a strong degree of control exercised over these Indigenous people, who were expected to learn the skills required for menial jobs (such as cooking and cleaning). Contrastingly, those living on reserves were not typically subject to as much control. These people were sometimes provided with rations from the government, but there were not usually officials to oversee them.

Both missions and reserves are referred to in False Claims of Colonial Thieves, so it is important to understand the difference between the two.

External source for further reading: https://aiatsis.gov.au/explore/missions-stations-and-reserves 

Now that we’ve examined some of the more historical context, let’s take a closer look at the contemporary and modern background that Kinsella and Papertalk Green write about.

Close the Gap Campaign and Black Deaths in Custody

A key section of the text (particularly the latter third) explores current issues which Indigenous peoples face today. Two of these major concerns lie within the health and justice systems, so it is important to understand why Kinsella and Papertalk Green focus so heavily on these matters.

The Close the Gap Campaign (launched in 2007) aims to reduce the inequality in health and education that many Indigenous peoples face. It was created because the life expectancy is much lower for Indigenous than non-Indigenous peoples, and there is a significant difference between their expected levels of education. Unfortunately, many of these concerns have not been addressed today, and Papertalk Green discusses how her family is constantly dealing with death - a key theme in False Claims of Colonial Thieves that can be explained by this contextual understanding.

External source for further reading: https://www.pmc.gov.au/sites/default/files/reports/closing-the-gap-2018/executive-summary.html 

Similarly, there are a lot of concerns with the number of Aboriginal people in prison, and how many of them die while in police custody. There was even a Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (i.e. a governmental inquiry) handed down in 1987, however, many of its recommendations have not been implemented to this day. This idea of unfair policing and laws that target Indigenous peoples is a key idea in the text, and Kinsella dedicates a poem to Ms Dhu, an Indigenous woman killed while in custody.

External source for further reading: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2021/apr/09/the-facts-about-australias-rising-toll-of-indigenous-deaths-in-custody 


A key theme of False Claims of Colonial Thieves is mining, which refers to the practice of removing valuable materials from the Earth. Many of these resources are found on traditional Aboriginal lands, which are destroyed by the mining process. This is especially offensive to many Indigenous groups because many Indigenous cultures have a strong spiritual connection to their land (often known as Country). There is consequently a lot of tension between the Indigenous populations and governments, especially in Western Australia, where both of the authors live.

External source for further reading: https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Former_Committees/uranium/report/d07 

How Can You Use This in Your Essays?

Understanding a text’s context is very important in being able to analyse the text in appropriate depth.

For example, knowing that mining is often considered harmful to the lands to which Indigenous peoples have a strong connection, will allow you to discuss this concept in your essays. Indeed, Papertalk Green argues that mining is just as harmful to Indigenous peoples as earlier ‘false claims’ were, which is a sophisticated idea for you to use in your assessments.

As you begin to better understand and incorporate context into your essays, you can then take things one step further by examining how the author has used context as a means of demonstrating their authorial intent. For example, the effects of the Stolen Generation have been explored in several poems, and a possible viewpoint is that the Stolen Generation was used to demonstrate the devastating loss of Indigenous cultures and traditions.

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