Five figures in the history of First Nations Media you should know about

This year, on the 6th Birthday of IndigenousX we were keen to acknowledge some of the figures, organisations and publications on whose shoulders we stand. There are many, and to be frank, without them we wouldn’t be doing what we do today. So, with that in mind I’m going to have a crack at my first listicle of my personal Top 5 influences, plus some honourable mentions. No doubt I’ll get pulled-up and chipped for failing to mention one or more of your personal or indisputably significant influences, but that’s the peril attached to these things.

So, Happy 6th Birthday IndigenousX and thank you to these key figures that went before us and to whom we continue to owe a great debt of gratitude:

 1. John Newfong

There are several awards that honour the work of this Black Warrior, but still his legacy should be more widely known. I have to thank my good mate Gary Foley for clipping me over the ear one night and making me fully aware of the late, great John Newfong. Here was a fella that turned his back on working for the establishment media, copped plenty of racist criticism for doing so, and then went even harder into battle for mob as an integral part of the 1972 Tent Embassy direct action. Before that, Newfong was already involved in the Queensland Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, FCAATSI and the National Tribal Council, the Aboriginal Arts Advisory Committee – which soon became the Aboriginal Arts Board, as well as the Aboriginal Medical Service (Redfern).

Following his interventions in media and politics as part of the Tent Embassy, Newfong began his first stint as Editor of the Aboriginal magazine, Identity. His achievements and influence continue to resonate today in community health and community radio. Oh, and he did it all as a Black, gay man. Just take a moment to consider what that involved throughout the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Foley describes Newfong as a hero in the struggle for justice on this continent currently called Australia, and there’s no point in arguing with Foley when he is this correct. Read more about the mighty John Newfong here.

2. Dot West

Dot WestI had the good fortune of meeting Dot West in person only yesterday at IRCA’s Converge Brisbane  2018 conference. West has a long history in the growth of First Nations media working at regional, state and federal levels to strengthen Indigenous media through funding, policy, training and awareness. West also has solid experience as a hard working broadcaster, freelancer, scriptwriter and producer.

“Our media also offers Australians the opportunity to gain awareness, understanding and appreciation of its first peoples, and in doing so, has the power to change attitudes so that we not only build those bridges together, but cross them, united and strong. Our media really does matter for our people, and increasingly to all Australians.”  – Dot West

3. Tiga Bayles

Tiga BaylesA courageous young activist in the era of Joh Bjelke-Peterson’s reign in Queensland through the 1970’s and early 80s including playing a key role in protests against the Brisbane Commonwealth Games in 1982. Bayles commenced his radio career in the 80s in Sydney on radio station 2SER alongside his mother Maureen Watson. They would go on to establish Radio Redfern on station Radio Skid Row. In the late 80’s, Bayles played an instrumental role in co-ordinating the anti-Bicentennial protest in Sydney in 1988. Bayles helped establish the Brisbane Indigenous Media Association (BIMA) and founded the National Indigenous Radio Service. As host of 98.9FM’s Let’s Talk for decades Bayles became known as the voice of First Nations community radio. Throughout his life Bayles fought for many Indigenous rights, but perhaps none harder than for First Nations peoples right to own and control our own media.

“Tiga Bayles was a giant of Aboriginal media. He understood the power of black voices, and the importance of a strong, independent black media sector. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to claim that Tiga knew every black family in Australia. When he met someone, he would ask “where are you from”, and he would always find a connection, regardless of where you were from. Tiga is one of the reasons we have so many Aboriginal people working in the media today and he had an insurmountable influence on me. But my favourite thing about him was that he championed the next generation and did everything he could to support them. He also was a strong supporter of black women, and would always step aside to allow our voices prominence. He left a huge gap in the media landscape, and we still have a long way to go until we fill it. On a more personal note – when Tiga first asked me to go on his Let’s Talk programme, I was really reluctant. How could I even begin to talk about issues that he had been fighting, and advocating for before I was even born? But Tiga had a way of making you immediately comfortable, and of truly listening. I think that is very rare in the media today. He listened, and then he added his own stories, and he always made you feel that your contribution was valuable.” – Amy McQuire

4. Bruce McGuinness

bruce mcguinnessThis was the fella behind the first Aboriginal-initiated newspaper, The Koorier. This publication had a strong political influence on young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane and elsewhere. From a young age, McGuinness was involved with the Victorian Aborigines Advancement League and, along with Bob Maza, also produced content for that organisation’s quarterly magazine, Smoke Signals. He was an ardent believer in Aboriginal self-determination, otherwise known in the mid to late 60s & 70s as Black Power. In 1969, McGuinness invited Caribbean Black Power activists to speak at the Advancement League HQ, realising along with other young Aboriginal activists that our struggle was one part of a broader struggle against colonialism and white power.

“I first met McGuinness at the annual Easter Conference of the Federal Council for Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI) in Canberra in 1970. It was at this conference that McGuinness was part of a small group that argued for Aboriginal control over FCAATSI. The irony was that FCAATSI was our only national political organisation at the time, but it was not controlled and run by Aboriginal people. The white people who controlled FCAATSI were what we would call do-gooders, who were basically decent people but their paternalistic attitudes prevented them from understanding that Aboriginal people were capable of managing their own affairs.” – Gary Foley

5. Gavin Jones

Gavin JonesFounder of Deadly Vibe, InVibe, and The Deadly Awards, Jones started out with the Deadly Sounds music and culture radio show at Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Co-operative in Redfern in 1993 and blazed a trail for First Nations media into the new millennium

InVibe magazine – an insert into Deadly Vibewas produced specifically for First Nations peoples in  detention, focussing on mental health, sexual health, and substance abuse. It also promoted pride of self and culture. The company he founded in 1993, Deadly Vibe, had a mission to: “Support all Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islander people in reaching their full potential by providing positive imagery, identifiable role models and quality media to improve community and quality of life.”

“Overly negative media was the reason why we started Deadly Vibe magazine. To put something positive in the hands of our young people; something of a high professional quality that could be read and handed around at home or school that told a different story. A story we could be proud of. A magazine that was ours. Something that had blackfellas achieving and breaking stereotypes – achieving in music, sport, at a community level, in the health sector, at school and in the work force. Something our young people can get excited about, and be justifiably proud.” – Gavin Jones

Other key figures:

Jack Patten 
Merv Bishop
Ross Watson
Bill Thaiday
Thomas Brune
Walter George Arthur
Donate Now
Back to Newsfeed
Other articles you might also like

I don’t want to play: new song highlights racism in AFL

Artists James Alberts aka ‘Jimblah’ and Marlon Moltop address racism in the AFL with “Lean on Me”, a song of resilience.

Indigenous scientist Kirsten Banks is on a journey to educate

"It goes against their ways of white science," Kirsten Banks hit back against the continued disregard of Indigenous Sciences.

Without quite knowing

Jared Field discusses beautifully the search through story for a word that sheds colonial norms and labels.

Enquire now

If you are interested in our services or have any specific questions, please send us an enquiry.