Celebrating their 500th edition and 20 years of publication are Koori Mail managing editor, Kirstie Parker and chairperson Russell Kapeen.
Celebrating their 500th edition and 20 years of publication are Koori Mail managing editor, Kirstie Parker and chairperson Russell Kapeen.

Milestone for the Koori Mail

AS THE 500th edition of the locally-produced national indigenous newspaper Koori Mail hit the streets this month, it was easy to forget that the paper almost folded due to financial problems in the early 1990s.

It was founded by Owen Carriage who moved from the South Coast of NSW to Lismore 20 years ago when local Aboriginal people, keen for their own voice to be heard, urged him to set up the newspaper.

After the fledgling paper hit financial problems due to lack of media business experience, it was sold to five Bundjalung corporations which employed a former Northern Star reporter to turn around the paper's fortunes.

After receiving a grant from the ATSIC, the rest as they say is history.

Today the paper has an audited circulation of more than 9500 copies a fortnight and a readership of 115,000 across the nation.

“It's a community paper that has changed throughout the years,” said Russell Kapeen, who has served as chairman of the paper's board for the last 18 years.

“Over the years it has grown and grown and is very popular in the Aboriginal community because Aboriginals like reading Aboriginal stories. In the early days we never thought it would grow to be so big.”

Editor Kirstie Parker, a Yawallarai women, said from a local perspective, the success of the paper meant a lot to the Bundjalung board of directors and the community organisations they represent.

“On a practical level, because the Koori Mail is a successful business, it provides scholarships and other means of support within our community, as well as dividends to our owning organisations,” she said.

“This means that each of those organisations is able to continue their good work in all kinds of areas within the Bundjalung area.

“More than that though, it's a matter of enormous pride that something that started very small and humble has become so well-known Australia-wide, loved within our community and regarded as a real community and publishing icon.”

Recognised as Australia's oldest indigenous newspaper, that happens to be published in Lismore, Mr Kapeen said the Koori Mail has never shied away from stories afraid of causing a stir.

“It's a voice for Aboriginal people because we have no voice left after they took ATSIC from us and the Koori Mail could be that voice,” Mr Kapeen said.

“People can't wait for the next issue to come out every fortnight.”

“We are going strong (in circulation terms) because we get great support from the Aboriginal community and the wider community – it's about great stories and goinginto battle for Aboriginal people.”

Asked about the board's plans for the paper in the future, Mr Kapeen replied dryly: “That we go for another 500 editions, but I won't be around for that.”