I published my first piece of journalism in 1992. It was a story about the Aboriginal Housing Company in Redfern. In the last 20 years, I have used my skills across publishing mediums and literary genres to write positive stories about Aboriginal Australia with the aim of building bridges between black and white communities.
On April 15, 2009, with a flick of his pen, Andrew Bolt in his article ”It’s so hip to be black”, managed to burn down many of those bridges, by writing words about me (and others) that discredited me professionally, while also offending, insulting and humiliating me. People on his blog also made racist remarks, that also offended, insulted and humiliated me.
I have always identified and lived as an Aboriginal woman, I’m a Williams from Cowra, a proud member of the Wiradjuri nation.
Mr Bolt’s article suggests I made a “decision to be Aboriginal” which “was lucky, given how it’s helped her career” and that I had “won plum jobs reserved for Aborigines at Koori Radio, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Board and Macquarie University’s Warawara Department of Indigenous Studies”.
What Mr Bolt failed to mention is that I am an established writer and highly qualified with a PhD in Media and Communication, and that in fact none of the jobs he mentioned were actually “reserved” or identified Aboriginal positions, and the Koori Radio role was actually voluntary and unpaid.
In his witness statement to the court Mr Bolt claimed to have used a photo of my mother on her wedding day as evidence to determine she, therefore I was of mixed-heritage and could not or should not identify as Aboriginal. The photo Bolt submitted was taken directly from my blog and a post I made on February 7, 2011, almost two years after he wrote his article, so his misrepresentations about me continued.
As former Chair, Deputy Chair and Committee Member of the Australian Society of Authors, I have long advocated and been part of campaigns to protect the rights of Australian authors. At the same time, I have always advocated for responsibility in writing, and an ethical approach to publishing.
I am pleased (although not surprised) with the judgment handed down today by Justice Bromberg in the Federal Court of Australia. I believe the result means that Australia will have a higher quality and more responsible media, and that to some degree the persecution of Aboriginal people in the press will be lessened. And that was why I chose to be part of this case. Australian readers also deserve better.
I thank my legal team: barristers Ron Merkel QC, Herman Borenstein SC, Claire Harris, and Phoebe Knowles, my solicitors Joel Zyngier and Nathalie Dalpethado (Holding Redlich) and Aislinn Martin (Tarwirri). I’d like to express my heartfelt gratitude for their tireless efforts in seeking justice for not only the named applicants but all those Aboriginal people who were reasonably likely to have been offended, insulted, humiliated or intimidated by Mr Bolt’s writings.
I am continuing to focus on what I love doing most, working with young Aboriginal people around the country and teaching them how to write their own stories, in the hope they too will one day have the position of privilege to publish their own words.
Finally, in the words of Dr Rosie Scott, award-winning author, former Chair of the ASA and former Vice-President of PEN Sydney – an organisation who fights for the rights of imprisoned writers who don’t have the ‘free speech’ we so readily enjoy:
“Free speech is the cornerstone of genuine democracy, but when writers publish disinformation dressed up as fact, lies as truth, slander as objective evaluation and call it free speech, they are devaluing its very essence and betraying all those who’ve fought for it.”
*Dr Anita Heiss is the author of adult fiction, historical fiction, children’s fiction, non-fiction and social commentary. Her latest novel is Paris Dreaming.