Our land, our seas, our stories: Land Rights News celebrates 45 years

Date: Jun 14, 2021

Publication Type: Blog

Subject: Newspaper

FOR more than 65,000 years, storytelling has been part and parcel of First Nations’ cultures in what has become known as Australia.

The June 2021 edition celebrating 45 years.

The storytelling has always been about the lands and the seas, their histories, their importance and their role in everyday life. So it is no small thing that this July marks the 45th anniversary of Australia’s longest running newspaper: Land Rights News.

Across hundreds of issues since 1976, Land Rights News has been a source of information to Aboriginal people across the Northern Territory and beyond.

In the early days, it was best described as a newsletter rather than a newspaper. At that time, the Aboriginal Land Rights Act had not been passed, so the land councils of the time were not even incorporated - let alone recognised under the Act as they are today.

Many of the first issues of the late 1970s focused on the very much day-to-day issues of the time: what would the Act look like? How would land claims be held? Who might be recognised as Traditional Owners? Would Traditional Owners be able to control what happened on their lands and seas? 

At the same time - remember this was before television was available across much of the NT - especially for people in the bush, many articles unavailable in the Territory were reprinted.

The cover of the January 1980 edition.

A very early example was one by the renowned journalist, Anne Summers with a feature article in the National Times, on the proposed McArthur River mine. Some things don’t change!

Through the late 1970s and early 1980s, Land Rights News’ major focus was on the developing landscape of land claims, and early land claim hearings, from the first ones at Yingawunarri to Borroloola. This was the beginning of a very long process over many years as there was a huge amount of work that had to be undertaken by Traditional Owners, along with Land Council field staff, anthropologists and lawyers.

These early issues also covered, in much detail, the gradual shaping of the land council membership and Executive Councils.

During this period there was a range of other Aboriginal newsletters across the Northern Territory - more often than not based on language literacy production centres. Some, such as the regional Katherine-based Yulngu Association, also produced magazines and newsletters. Nearly all of these have now been lost.

It was a period, too, of the slow rise of Aboriginal broadcasting. CAAMA, based in Mparntwe/Alice Springs was among the first - it celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. This was followed by BRACS, servicing remote areas, and longer lasting organisations such as Warlpiri Media also set sail in the 1980s.

At the instigation of Patrick Dodson from the Central Land Council and the late John Ah Kit - with strong support from Wenten Rubuntja and Galarrwuy Yunupingu - Land Rights News ‘went tabloid’ in a joint venture that continued for 20 years or so. As such, it took on the form of a newspaper, and greatly expanded the scope of its coverage and circulation.

A notable early issue of the new format was the production of a special edition covering the historic visit to Mparntwe/Alice Springs by the Pope.

Perhaps the biggest edition - in terms of numbers of copies printed - was for the Bicentennial march in Sydney in January 1988. The whole production team headed off to Sydney to put the paper out - and 80,000 copies were printed!

So, there has been much to celebrate across the 45 years of Land Rights News. We have covered hundreds of stories, from land and seas rights, to sport, the arts, the environment and our histories.

Our storytelling.

As a footnote, we would also like to congratulate Koori Mail, the second longest running Aboriginal newspaper which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. Another source of great storytelling!