A national inquiry into racist violence, calls for a curfew for Aboriginal youths, and a memorial for Indigenous soldiers were the front page stories on the first edition of the Koori Mail 25 years ago.
The newspaper was published in 1991 using a grant from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission secured by Walbunja man Owen Carriage.
Koori Mail chairman Russell Kapeen said those involved in the paper’s establishment never imagined it would last 25 years.
“There was no voice for Aboriginal people,” Mr Kapeen said.
“We’ve had our ups and downs and it’s been a struggle at times, but we’ve had good staff who have worked very hard to make it what it is today.
“Black fellas love reading about black fellas, and every community is different from the next community, and it’s good to read about some that are successful as well as some that are struggling.”
Bundjalung Woman Calls Newspaper Home
The fortnightly newspaper celebrates its 25th anniversary this month with Bundjalung woman Naomi Moran at the helm as General Manager.
Ms Moran said she found a haven at the newspaper in 1998 after being bullied at high school.
“Academically I did really well at school, but the school environment was challenging,” she said.
“Going into high school, I was subject to bullying and that’s where I really struggled with friendships and teachers.
“I was achieving really well in English and they wanted to move me to the top English class, which was great, but when I’d look around in the room I was the only Indigenous person in the classroom and I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t bring all of my cousins with me.
“I felt really alienated without my people.”
After 10 years with the Koori Mail, Ms Moran worked at a few other media outlets before returning this year as the General Manager at its headquarters in Lismore.
She said she felt most at home at the Koori Mail, which is 100% Indigenous owned and managed, with all profits returned to Indigenous Australians in the form of dividends, sponsorships and scholarships.
“Black fellas, we learn through shared experiences, we learn through story, and being part of an Indigenous media organisation means you’re exposed to that every day,” she said.
“What’s been important for my growth is having these amazing examples of other people achieving great things in our communities, whether it’s in politics, sports, the arts or education, knowing what I chose to do and how I’m bringing that back to the newspaper really counts.”
Editor Moved to Tears by Stories
Koori Mail Editor Rudi Maxwell said she was sometimes moved to tears by the stories of some of the Indigenous people she met.
I think the stories that really stand out to me are the ones in which I’ve cried in the interviews, which might sound really unprofessional, but I actually think it’s a question of empathy,” she said.
“The first time that happened to me was with a topic that, to my shame, I knew nothing about.
“It’s known as ‘stolen wages’ which is a broad term for what happened over a number of decades when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s wages were systematically stolen by the state and by wealthy white usually landowners.
“The state then destroyed records and over recent times have had various different supposed compensation schemes, but this was in place up to the 1970s so there are still people around affected by this.
“When I first started speaking to people about this it just struck me how unfair it was and how it’s really still a hidden story.”
Ms Maxwell said working at the Koori Mail had made her realise the importance of dedicated reporting of Indigenous issues.
“There are so many stories that don’t get out to the mainstream and when you work in mainstream journalism we have a tendency to always speak to the same spokespeople on issues and you miss out on hearing from a broad range of voices,” she said.
“Because the Koori Mail is a community newspaper, we provide a forum for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to have a voice that doesn’t often get heard otherwise.
“And almost always, people are happy to talk to you and want to tell their stories.”
Future Will Include Digital
Ms Moran said she hoped the Koori Mail would always exist in print, but its continued future will include a strong online presence.
“As an Indigenous newspaper we’re a niche newspaper and we only report on Indigenous affairs and that’s something we want to maintain and sustain in paper form,” she said.
“There will be a time when we need to look at how we morph into the online space.
“We have an app, but I think what we’re looking at short-term is how we can get amongst the excitement of social media.
“We will always be an important resource.”