Established in 2000, The Arafura Times was a weekly newspaper published in the East Arnhem Land gateway town of Nhulunbuy, and was an important read for the main Yolgnu communities of Yirrkala and Ganyangara on the Gove Peninsula. With a population of over 4000, Nhulunbuy had been a prosperous mining town with Rio Tinto bauxite mine and adjoining alumina refinery, which was established in 1970, employing over 1500 people collectively.
However a couple of years ago with the closure of the refinery, over 1000 jobs were lost and the town population dwindled considerably, along with crucial advertising dollars. A senior spokesperson from Arafura Times has told NITV that the communities were sad about the closure. "I think the community is very sad about it. When the refinery closed we diversified our distribution to across East Arnhem Land with Arnhem Land Progress Association stores to Galiwinku on Elcho Island, Raminging, Milingimbi and Gapuwiyak... to all these East Arnhem communities who prior to that had never received the newspaper."
The Yolgnu readership enjoyed being able to see what family from across the region in different communities was up to.
With the closure of the refinery, the NT Government was a regular advertiser with the paper, with many programs running as a part of the economic recovery effort, although other local advertisers were heading more towards the online social space, in line with many small businesses across the board, "It's just easier to put stuff on the local Facebook noticeboard for free which is totally understandable. That's what most businesses do, though that has an effect on a small newspaper where previously you would generally get that sort of advertising in your newspaper, it just goes on to Facebook for free."
Where previously you would generally get that sort of advertising in your newspaper, it just goes on to Facebook for free.
The spokesperson from Arafura Times, whom also own and operate three other newspapers serving Indigenous and mining communities in the Torres Strait and Cape York peninsula, has told NITV that the company are sad but realistic about the modern realities of the newspaper business. "(Our other papers) still remain very viable and we are hopeful that they will continue for many more years. But our connection with East Arnhem land has been a very profound one. I've spent a lot of time there over the past three years and am certainly sad that journalism is no longer based there full time."
With the move towards the online space, there are plans within the community to harness it's power for themselves with the loss of the local paper. "i have been working with other community members there to come up with a post newspaper model. Whereby perhaps money can be raised from people who advertise on Facebook to pay for a social media journalist that can work part time from the local radio station. That may be a new model that could be quite groundbreaking if it succeeds. But as we know the modern realities are tough in the newspaper business as they are in the media business generally."