Speech: Celebrating 30 years of Koori Mail

21 June 2021

I rise to pay tribute to a trailblazer of Australian media. The Koori Mail is celebrating 30 years of publishing and sharing the voices of First Nations people on a national stage. The national newspaper is fully First Nations owned, telling our stories, celebrating our achievements and presenting the news through a black lens.

Since its first edition 30 years ago on 23 May 1991 the Koori Mail has been at the cutting edge of First Nations affairs. Whether it was covering the tragedies of First Nations deaths in custody, the genesis of the Uluru statement, a local community barbecue or a fashion show, you could find it in the pages of the Koori Mail.

It was in the wake of the deaths in custody royal commission that Walbunja man Owen Carriage is credited with creating the Koori Mail. He and Bundjalung pastor Frank Roberts were disappointed in the mainstream media coverage of the royal commission in particular and First Nations issues in general. The Koori Mail was born, and the following year the paper was taken into the hands of the Bundjalung nation. Thirty years later, it is still published out of Lismore in New South Wales but has contributors around the country. It has trained a couple of generations of first-rate First Nations journalists and storytellers, and continues to support and encourage young people looking at a career in media. It continues to be on the cutting-edge of journalism and storytelling, branching out into the social media sphere and podcasting. There are not many newspapers in this current climate that can celebrate more than 700 editions and still be going strong. In the words of Koori Mail chairperson Trevor Kapeen, 'It's our paper for our people.' I visit First Nations communities around the country and, wherever I go, in cities, towns and remote communities you can find a copy of the Koori Mail and people wading through the paper.

It's an example of why First Nations media is so critical to our national landscape. First Nations media connects communities, reflects aspirations and shares our culture. Local relevance and local language is at the centre of what they do. Industry members are the experts in getting information to communities in a way that is culturally appropriate, accessible and timely. As an example, the First Nations media sector worked enormously hard to ensure communities were kept informed of the latest health and safety advice during this pandemic. Brilliant local content was developed to get the message across—for example, community leaders and members taking part in videos about closures and also about promoting good hygiene. First Nations media is critical in emergency situations, broadcasting in local languages to local regions. First Nations journalists and commentators have shared their perspectives and knowledge with mainstream media programs, but it can't end here and it's not good enough to just seek out the First Nations perspective during Reconciliation Week or NAIDOC Week or, at times of simply controversy or drama. Including a First Nations lens in all our discussions on all issues, local, regional and national, is critical if we are to play a role in shaping our own lives and futures and having a voice, and organisations like the Koori Mail are absolutely vital to this.

I want to congratulate the general manager, Naomi Moran, who has recently taken over as chair of First Nations Media Australia from Dot West; the editor, Rudi Maxwell; and all of the current and past staff who have worked tirelessly and played a vital role in keeping First Nations stories and issues at the forefront not only for First Nations people but for all Australians.