In this article, we reveal the complex and contested nature of principals' understandings of inclusion policy in the state of New South Wales, Australia. Drawing upon critical policy sociology, research into inclusion, and interviews with 18 principals from rural, regional and urban areas throughout the state, the research shows how principals expressed a range of absences and uncertainties about the nature of policies pertaining to inclusion. They also tended to refer to a limited range of domains in their understandings of inclusion policy, and conflated different forms of inclusion. While principals exhibited a belief in the importance of including students with a variety of needs in a range of ways, their responses reveal how such inclusive desires can be simultaneously confounded by policy settings characterised by complexity and nebulous conceptions of inclusion. Given the importance of principals in guiding schooling practices in their respective sites, the research argues a need for increased attention to the broader policy conditions within which principals seek to exercise more inclusive practices. It also shows how such conditions need to cultivate a coherent and contextualised understanding of inclusion, rather than simply fostering principal policy enactment as merely 'coping'.