The publication of a photograph of university students at an official college function dressed up to look like "traditional" Aboriginal people, with their faces and limbs painted brown, has forced an internal investigation and rapid re-education program.
The eight female students from the co-educational Cromwell College within the University of Queensland were depicted in the photo - taken last Tuesday - with wild hair, holding sticks and wearing material fashioned into makeshift loin cloths.
The photo made its way on to online social networking sites and quickly raised the ire of a number of indigenous Australians from around the country.
At least one contacted the college and the university directly, sparking the investigation.
"Think #racism and #blackface are unacceptable in Australia? ... Let UQ and Cromwell College know," one Twitter user wrote yesterday.
Another posted the photo again with the words included: "University of Queensland Cromwell College for aspiring racists everywhere."
But the residential college, which is associated with the Uniting Church and was founded in the 1950s, said the students acted out of ignorance, not malice.
The Cromwell College principal, Ross Switzer, said he had called a meeting of the entire college body last night and spoken to the young women involved in the photo.
He described their behaviour as "a young person's uneducated approximation of Aboriginal life".
"They were not aware of the blackface mocking or demeaning indigenous people," he said. "They were trying to give a tribute to indigenous Australians, not mock or demean them.
"I know that ignorance is no excuse for that behaviour [but] it was ignorance rather than an attempt to laugh at indigenous Australians."
Mr Switzer said the photo was taken shortly before an annual college dinner celebrating diversity across the world and that he had, since last night, organised cultural awareness training for his 250 residents.
The dinner was centred on Thanksgiving in honour of the college's exchange students from the US, he said.
However, the group of young women dressed to depict Aboriginal Australians went to the most trouble with their outfits, he said.
Comment was being sought from the University of Queensland.
The story Uproar as students dress as 'traditional' Aboriginal people first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.