The first national Indigenous newspaper in Australia, the Koori Mail (KM) was published in northern New South Wales on 23 May 1991 with an initial print run of 10,000 copies. Founder Owen Carriage was inspired to produce the KM after listening to Aboriginal campaigners such as Marcia Langton and Gary Foley during the 1970s talk about the need for an Indigenous newspaper that could disseminate their messages nationally. He wanted the KM to be ‘unbiased and non-political’, and it has established a reputation as an Indigenous community newspaper that is the ‘voice’ of Indigenous Australia.
The KM struggled financially, and Carriage built up a large debt with the nearby Northern Star, which provided production and editorial support. Lismore’s Northern Star briefly took ownership of the KM in late 1991, before the Bygal Weahunir Holding Company (an amalgamation of five Indigenous organisations from northern New South Wales) successfully obtained an ATSIC loan to buy the newspaper.
When Carriage launched the KM, it was produced by volunteers with assistance from freelance journalists. Northern Star employee Janine Wilson became the first editor after the Northern Star’s management in Lismore began providing printing and editorial assistance. Wilson remained in this role until late 1992, when she was replaced by Dona Graham as the second non-Indigenous editor. Todd Condie, who began work as a cadet with the KM in 1992, became the first Indigenous editor in 1998 and stayed with the paper until 2003. KM sub-editor Barry Cheadle took over the editorship until 2006, when Kirstie Parker became the second Indigenous editor of the newspaper.
The KM is distributed nationally each fortnight and, as well as a small, permanent staff, has a network of Indigenous and non-Indigenous stringers across Australia. With a readership of around 100,000, the newspaper seeks to build community esteem by publishing role-model stories and promoting positive stories about Indigenous people, organisations and communities. It also covers issues and events that affect Indigenous Australians, such as health, education, land rights, sport and politics. The newspaper provides links between communities, Indigenous organisations and government, and is a useful tool for promoting initiatives being undertaken by Indigenous organisations. The KM links Indigenous communities, but its soft focus limits its impact on government policy and mainstream media agendas.
REFs: E. Burrows, ‘Writing to Be Heard: The Indigenous Print Media’s Role in Establishing and Developing an Indigenous Public Sphere’ (PhD thesis, 2009); http://www.koorimail.com.