Gerry Georgatos – courtesy of The National Indigenous Times – Sadly, I fear this is the last time I will be writing for The National Indigenous Times. This newspaper goes out of business, bundled out by litigation but as the noblest voice for First Peoples in the nation. We did not fade but were persecuted by malice because we chased down transgressors and transgressions in ways other media feared.
We brought to the fore voices which had until then remained unheard – from shanty towns around the nation, from the coalface, and from people burdened by injustices where prejudice and racism prohibited them their right to have their say.
I came to the National Indigenous Times in mid-2011 at the behest of its then Black Editor. I never earned any quid from the newspaper but only a small fee for my expenses. Some of us do some of our deeds in life for the sake of others. I was taught by my father, a man who never went to school, that in life there is nothing more meaningful than improving the lot of those who need a helping a hand, for standing up to injustice whether small or large scale.
The National Indigenous Times goes out with a bang and not a whimper. It goes out nobly. It did not fade or die. It was pushed out of business, its voice silenced because of litigation. Last week, National Indigenous Times columnist, Dr Marcus Woolombi Waters amply described everything that has been levelled at the newspaper which ultimately forced it into the hands of administrators.
Someone wrote to me there are those who complained about some of the reporting of the National Indigenous Times. Most certainly I agree and I believe there are those who have taken umbrage at some of the reports the newspaper published. However in my travels, in the last month since the announcement of the newspaper’s parent company being placed into voluntary administration, far too many have been saddened by the all too sudden demise of the most powerful voice for the downtrodden and marginalised among First Peoples.
We were not just a newspaper. We were social justice warriors. We fought battles and some we won for people long denied their justice.
My style of journalism was to not hold back, just like Woolombi Waters and to report all the facts, just like Geoff Bagnall but never to do any hatchet journalism or cheap low stake stories that any schmuck can do and that far too many journalists waste time on.
There should never be a monopoly of anything – monopoly politics or monopoly media. The demise of the National Indigenous is an erosion of what little semblance of democracy and freedom of speech we have.
As NITV’s Natalie Ahmat recently stated, the loss of the National Indigenous Times will be a huge loss to the landscape.
We changed lives for the better with outcomes achieved on Elcho Island, with our sustained coverage on the suicides crises, with stories that finished up with homeless families being housed, with so many good outcomes too many to list.
I am not interested in the ridiculous personal squabbles between previous editors with the newspaper who mischievously want to see an end to the newspaper which in real terms belonged to the people. This sort of behaviour repulses me. I am not interested in turf wars between competing media. This is rubbish low stakes behaviour. This is the type of deplorable behaviour that dishevels and tears apart rights struggles and noble advocacy. We should have all been on the same page but alas that was not to be. Personally, I reached out to all the players but some put their little near meaningless turf ahead of the cause, ahead of the big picture. However it must be said of our predecessors, however they wish to insist on viewing the outgoing crop of writers and staff of The National Indigenous Times, that in my view they gave their all to The National Indigenous Times, and broke powerful stories. One of their stories landed them a Walkley. I pay my respect to those past and present.
Someone said to us: “The National Indigenous Times goes out a warrior, undefeated but betrayed. The National Indigenous Times goes out standing tall and proud and many of us will remember the day The National Indigenous Times was killed. But none of you will ever be forgotten.”
To the Freedom Movement, I personally thank them for trying to save what they said was “the people’s voice”.
To my friends at the National Indigenous Times I say to them, “good on you for standing alongside what is right, for standing up in ways others do not, for fearing nothing.”
To the founders of the National Indigenous Times, John Rowsthorne and his wife, Beverley I thank them and acknowledge the investments they made over the last 15 years to set up a newspaper for First Peoples. They could have done something else with their money and not suffered as they have but they believed in giving First Peoples a voice, they believed what was being committed against First Peoples was just wrong. It would become hard work and in time consume them and leave them with nothing. But their profit was about giving First Peoples a voice in what was being committed against First Peoples. That was their motive behind the setting up of the newspaper and a legacy to their Aboriginal grandchildren.
There were many great contributors to the newspaper in the three and half years I was with them; most of them Black contributors. However I will foremost note the stalwart, Geoff Bagnall. Geoff arrived in Canberra some 17 years ago and has maintained a very strong and close relationship with the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. Five years ago he would join the National Indigenous Times and bring his invaluable photojournalism and news stories. I have a deep admiration for Geoff. My other good friend at the newspaper is Dr Marcus Woolombi Waters. This incredibly decent man has an incredible story in overcoming personal adversities to reach dizzying heights that at his first light of day were not in the stars. His hard edged academically constructed editorial features became mandatory reading for many. My partner, Jenny Kaeshagen regards Woolombi “as the best Black writer in the nation.”
However, those whom I will remember most are the many people I wrote stories for and about, who we campaigned for, who we advocated for. I will also remember the many more people we were not able to tell their story because it was not humanly possible for us to do them all. We worked at pace to produce as many stories as fast as possible so as many souls as possible could be heard. I will never forget those who went unheard. We tried desperately to give voice to the voiceless.
The National Indigenous Times as I knew it did not fade or die but was noble to the end, as we all should be.