In 1991, 25 years ago, Owen Carriage, a Walbunja man, returned to the NSW northern coast, after spending time at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra. Carriage was impassioned to start an Aboriginal newspaper, due to frustrations of misrepresentations of Indigenous stories in the mainstream media.
Koori Mail Editor, Rudi Maxwell told NITV, "25 Years of the Koori Mail means 25 years of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stories told by Indigenous voices. It means that we’ve covered so many positive stories that Blackfellas have to tell that the mainstream doesn’t want to hear.
"I think one of the proudest achievements is that we’re truly a community newspaper. By that I mean we’re close to our readers, who drive many of our stories, contacting us to let us know what they’d like to see in the paper, what they think we’ve done well and when we’ve missed the mark."
To celebrate their 25th birthday, the Indigenous newspaper is putting together a special anniversary edition, which will include the perspectives of some of their top contributors over the years.
We reflect on some of the important headlines throughout their 25 years of reporting, and commemorate some of the key stories affecting Aboriginal and Torres Islander people since the early 90s:
The very first edition of the Koori Mail covered a report into racist violence. A National Inquiry into Racist Violence was presented to the Federal Government, motivated by widespread community perception that racist attacks; verbal and physical were on the increase in late-80s/early-90s Australia. The inquiry heard evidence from 171 witnesses who had been victims of racist violence, emphasising the need to address the issue. The Koori Mail reported that the evidence in the inquiry, “should be a matter of concern to all Australians”.
In 1991, Aboriginal land rights protestors, argued against then-legislation which they claimed is, ‘for the white man’ and took the Queensland and Australian flags from their masts at Parliament House in Brisbane, and replaced them with Aboriginal flags. The demonstration broke out in violence, as well as rock and egg throwing, as police tried to remove the protestors from the grounds. The former parliamentary speaker at the time, Jim Fouras said that changing the flags was “sheer vandalism."
Aboriginal educator and lead singer of acclaimed rock band, Yothu Yindi, Mandawuy Yunupingu was named Australian of the Year. Koori Mail reported the former Federal Minister for Aboriginal and Terres Strait Islander Affairs, Robert Tickner saying, “To have an Aboriginal person serve in the position – particularly during 1993, the International Year of the World’s Indigenous Peoples – will speak volumes to people throughout the world about this country’s commitment to change.”
Indigenous Athlete, Cathy Freeman was named Australian of the Year 1998.
Years before Pauline Hanson became a reality television star, the Koori Mail reported on her (at the time) blossoming political career, as a threat. The Koori Mail reported that former Liberal, turned independent Pauline Hanson had troublingly won the Brisbane Labor seat of Oxley, given that she had recently said that Aboriginals received “preferential treatment” in the courts at the hands of government. The paper followed up with responses, such as former Liberal Senator Neville Bonner who said, “Aboriginal people were taken from their families and placed in Institutions, and the white people dare to call for equality? How dare (Ms Hanson) tell me about equality”.
In late 1996, a High Court decision found that statutory pastoral leases did not bestow rights exclusive to the leaseholder. Native title rights could co-exist within the lease, allowing Aboriginal people the right to use their land for Indigenous purposes. However, this lead to the longest debate in Australian senate history, as the Koori Mail outlines that former Prime Minister John Howard said that he is doubtful that a solution to the case can be reached which will have the support of Aboriginal people, pastoralists and miners.
The Koori Mail reported that former chairman of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, Gatjil Djerrkura said, “Reconciliation with Indigenous people cannot advance unless the Union Jack is removed from the nation’s flag and replaced with a new design.” Djerrkura welcomed Ausflag’s design compettion where the best 100 entries were on display in a travelling exhibition in leading art galleries Australia-wide. The winners, including first place holder, Franck Gentil received an Apple Computer and a Xerox Printer, and of course, the glory.
While former Olympians and Australian sporting icons like Dawn Fraser and Sir Donald Bradman, were tipped as the people most likely to light the Sydney 2000 Olympic flame, a surprise of the then, 27-year-old Cathy Freeman ignited the cauldron. The Koori Mail reported this as being, “Australia’s best kept secret”.
Look familiar? More than ten years ago, the front page of the Koori Mail reported on issues, still unresolved and central to Indigenous Australians today. In 2001, fomer Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commisson chairman, Geoff Clarke launched a treaty information document, which he said would encourage people to support greater recognition for Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders.
The Senate was pushed to perform an inquiry into the non-payment of wages to Indigenous workers over decades, who were for all intents and purposes, enslaved and denied access to their wages. This locked Indigenous people into a cycle of poverty which still remains a problem to this day. The Koori Mail reported that former Australian Democrats deputy leader, Andrew Bartlett said, “We should remember that if Aboriginal people had been given the wages they earned, many of them would have been in a better position to pursue opportunities like home ownership, years ago.”
A new leadership admits the nation’s wrongdoings and former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd gets ready to apologise to stolen generations, using the s-word. Unlike the leader before him, John Howard offed his ‘deep and sincere regret’ for the past injustices, but failed to actually say “sorry”. The Koori Mail’s editor’s response put pressure on Rudd and said, “We accept Mr Rudd’s word that we will apologise using the word, ‘sorry’. We do not believe that he’ll falter at the last hurdle. To do so would be unfathomably cruel and would quite rightly set the ALP up for eternal abandonment by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”
The Koori Mail celebrated the 20th anniversary of "arguably the nation's most momentous legal judgment around land" with a souvenir wraparound special edition.
Western Australian Premier, Colin Barnett revealed plans to close approx. 150 of the 274 remote Aboriginal communities in the state, stating that they can no longer service them. The Koori Mail reported that Kimberley Land Council chair Anthony Watson said, “Colin Barnett has turned his back on Aboriginal people. His solution is to give up and do nothing at all. To say there is not answer is not good enough. There is always an answer.”
Aside from these attention grabbing stories, the vision of Koori Mail was to not only report on the hard-hitting current affairs, but uniquely feature personality profiles, Indigenous film and book reviews, cover Indigenous achievements, report on Indigenous sport and have pages dedicated for children and Aboriginal youth. 25 years down the track, the paper is still following this original concept and doing a deadly job.
For more information on Koori Mail or to subscribe go to www.koorimail.com All images were accessed using the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) archive.