Reporting on immigrant communities
– Sudanese immigrants in two regional centres
Toowoomba – critical incidents
1. Letterbox campaign - July 2005
During this period, nine articles were published by two news outlets.
The Toowoomba Chronicle published six articles, including one
editorial. Four reports, and the editorial, directly addressed the letterbox
campaign by the White Pride Coalition. This campaign was reported by The
Australian in three articles. Shortly after the reporting period,
follow-up reports were published in the Chronicle and the Brisbane
The first report on the letterbox campaign was published in The Toowoomba
Chronicle on July 12, 2005. This article, entitled “Racial hatred,
direct to you”, reported that “extreme right-wing racist propaganda”
was being circulated in the city. It published a picture of a White Pride
Coalition Australia (WPCA) pamphlet being circulated, and included a quote
outlining the group’s aims, taken from its website. The opposing
view was represented by Mark Copland, from the Social Justice Commission
(SCJ) of the Catholic Diocese, who asserted that “the sentiments
of this lunatic fringe have little sway with the broader Toowoomba community”.
Dan Toombs, a lawyer and SJC member, stated that the material being distributed
contravened the Commonwealth Racial Discrimination Act, and the article
implied that the SJC was considering legal action. Mr Copland reported
that in 2004 an African refugee family had been the target of a “strategic”
letterbox campaign, and had moved out of their home, fearing for their
safety. There was no specific mention of the Sudanese community in Toowoomba.
The July 12 editorial addressed the WPCA campaign, but made no mention
of the Sudanese community or any refugee communities in Toowoomba. The
editorial focused on the importance of countering “these repugnant
views” by “embracing the positives of tolerance and multiculturalism”.
It referred to the success of Rockhampton’s multicultural fair,
and called for “a greater celebration of multiculturalism”
in Toowoomba. It was a measured piece that was relatively mild in its
condemnation of the WPCA campaign, focusing instead on fostering positive
attitudes within the community.
On July 14, the Chronicle published a page 1 article entitled
“Net closes on racists”, which reported on the search for
identifying information about the people behind the WPCA campaign. This
report focused on the activity of the Sydney-based campaign group Fight
Dem Back!, describing its online surveillance of neo-Nazi and white supremacist
groups and extensively quoting campaign co-ordinator Mat Henderson-Hau.
He revealed that the group had traced the WPCA campaign to a resident
of Crow’s Nest, a township about 45km north-east of Toowoomba. The
article also included one paragraph outlining the reactions of SCJ members
Copland and Toombs, and the possibility of legal action. There was no
mention of who was being targeted by the WPCA campaign, nor of the Sudanese,
African or refugee communities in Toowoomba.
The following day, July 15, the Chronicle reported that Mr Copland
had lodged a complaint with the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission
(HREOC) about the campaign material distributed by the WPCA. Mr Copland
reiterated that the campaign did not represent the majority views of Toowoomba
residents, stating that “we’re proud we’ve got diversity
and we support it”. The article also reported that Fight Dem Back!
had found that the man believed to be behind the WPCA campaign was planning
a meeting in Crow’s Nest the next day. Local police had no knowledge
of the meeting, but asked for information from the public. The president
of the Crow’s Nest RSL, which was reported to have some link with
the WPCA campaigner, asserted that “there is no room in our organisation
for that type of rot”. The previously reported views of Dan Toombs,
Mark Copland and Mat Henderson-Hau were paraphrased. There was no mention
of any community being targeted by the campaign.
The last article directly addressing the WPCA campaign was published
on July 16. It reported that Crow’s Nest police had not received
any call about a planned WPCA meeting in the area, and provided a summary
of the Chronicle’s reports over the previous week. The
only new information included was that the Executive Council of Australian
Jewry had been informed about the anti-Semitic nature of the WPCA material,
and was “examining its options”. It quoted Mr Copland and
paraphrased Mr Henderson-Hau. The article also quoted the WPCA campaign
material, but no mention was made of who was being targeted by the campaign.
The final Chronicle article in the reporting period, published
on July 18, was a positive piece about a multicultural lawn bowls event
in Toowoomba. The article opened with a reference to “… troubling
rumours of white supremacists at work in the community…” It
reported that Aboriginal elder Jim Hagen had organised the event to bring
together people from diverse cultural backgrounds. Mr Hagen was quoted
at length, opining that: “Toowoomba has its social justice problems
but we have to accept that our population is multicultural.” A Singaporean
student from the University of Southern Queensland was interviewed and
quoted, as was a visiting Turkish academic. A young Sudanese man was also
interviewed, but his contribution was paraphrased. The article mentioned
that many of the people taking part in the lawn bowls event were from
Toowoomba’s Aboriginal and Sudanese communities. The photograph
included with the article showed an elderly white man demonstrating the
game to a group of young African men.
On July 23, two page 6 articles in the Weekend Australian reported
on the WPCA campaign in Toowoomba. The first article, entitled “Refugees
from Africa focus of hate campaign”, reported that the WPCA had
established a “cell” in Toowoomba. It noted that a substantial
number of Sudanese refugees had been settled in the city and reported
that one family had been forced from their home, while others had been
assaulted with rotten food and subjected to regular verbal abuse. Mark
Copland and Sudanese community leader Angelo Geng both described harassment
and assault of refugees in Toowoomba, while Mat Henderson-Hau was reported
as saying the racist campaign had also targeted African refugees in western
Sydney. Mr Geng said the “Toowoomba community was overwhelmingly
supportive” and the negative experiences were generated by a minority.
The SCJ complaint to HREOC was mentioned, and it was noted that the WPCA
could not be contacted for comment. The article also reported on the controversial
views of Macquarie University law professor Andrew Fraser, which were
paraphrased in the article. Professor Fraser was quoted, alongside Patriotic
Youth League (PYL) spokesman Luke Connor. The article included a short
paragraph outlining the number of African and Sudanese refugees being
resettled in Australia, and briefly described the conflict which is displacing
the Sudanese population.
The second Australian article was a humanising piece presenting
the story of one Sudanese man living in Toowoomba. Daniel Abot related
the story of his flight from southern Sudan and the experiences of his
family in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya. He said most of Toowoomba’s
residents were welcoming and the harassment was nothing “when you
[have] lived like we have”. The director of Anglicare Toowoomba,
Daniel’s employer, discussed the difficulties refugees face finding
work, stating that it “is especially hard in a town like this”.
(A similar humanising piece was published in Brisbane’s Courier-Mail
on July 27. This article reported on a job-training scheme targeting
refugees and presented the story of a young Sudanese man living and working
in Toowoomba. It made no reference to the WPCA campaign.)
The third Australian article was published on July 23. It extensively
quoted WPCA spokesman Terry Davis as he revealed the group’s intention
to extend its campaign to other parts of the country. Toowoomba’s
mayor, Di Thorley, was quoted refuting WPCA assertions that African refugees
posed a crime risk in their new communities, and assuring Sudanese refugees
that “they are welcome in our city”. The complaint lodged
with HREOC was mentioned, as was the furore over the comments by Andrew
White Pride Coalition Australia
The Toowoomba Chronicle published direct quotes from WPCA material
in two reports, on July 12 and 16. The first article quoted the group’s
website, stating that its aim is to “… combat the lies and
bring down the Jewish/Zionist Government … and restore Whites to
the positions of power that they are rightfully entitled to”. It
also published a picture from WPCA material of a blonde white woman framed
by the words: “The World’s most beautiful endangered species!
White People.” This pamphlet was also described in the July 16 article.
Two of the three articles published by The Australian included quotes
from WPCA material. The first article quoted the pamphlet describing “white
women as the ‘world’s most endangered species’”.
This report also quoted a PYL spokesman stating that “the fact is
that the Africans have a culture of tribalism and violence that we don’t
want”. The second article published numerous quotes from the WPCA
spokesman, including his assertion that “when you get crime in these
areas, you know it’s going to be the blacks”. He reported
being pleased that “our Queensland branch has been rather active”,
but denied members’ involvement in physical attacks on refugees.
He explained that frustration was behind these attacks, stating: “We’ll
be seeing a lot more of this. It’s frustrating when your television
is stolen or your daughter is raped.”
Only two articles, both published by The Australian on July
23, presented views from members of the Sudanese community in Toowoomba.
Both men interviewed stated that the WPCA campaign had been perpetrated
by a minority and that most of Toowoomba’s residents had been helpful
and supportive toward the Sudanese community. Only one article in The
Toowoomba Chronicle, published on July 18, specifically referred
to Toowoomba’s Sudanese community, in the story about the multicultural
lawn bowls event. This was the only Chronicle article to present
the voice of a Sudanese resident, but it focused only on his lawn bowls
experience. This piece also referred to Toowoomba’s Aboriginal community
and international staff and students at Toowoomba’s USQ campus.
None of the four articles reporting on the WPCA campaign referred directly
to the Sudanese community, and only the first report mentioned the African
refugee community in Toowoomba. Assurances that Toowoomba is supportive
of a culturally diverse community were given in three of the six articles
published by the Chronicle, and all three articles published by The
The four Chronicle articles that covered the WPCA campaign used
the terms “racists”, “race hate” or “racial
hatred” in their descriptive content. All of the articles included
racism references in the headlines. The initial report described the WPCA
material as “extreme right-wing racist propaganda”, and the
remaining articles referred to the group as “white supremacists”.
Three of the articles referred to possible breaches of racial vilification
laws, while the multicultural lawn bowls piece referred to “troubling
rumours of white supremacists”. The editorial did not directly focus
on racism, instead referring to the “repugnant views” of the
WPCA. It focused on positive descriptions of multiculturalism and racial
The Australian referred to “racism” or “race
hate” in two of its headlines. The first headline mentioned a “hate
campaign” against African refugees. The WPCA was described as “right-wing
extremists” and “neo-Nazis”. The group’s actions
were described as a “race-hate campaign” and “anti-refugee
hate campaign”. The first article linked the White Pride Coalition
and the Patriotic Youth League, which was responsible for a similar campaign
in Newcastle in January 2005, but did not refer to the Newcastle incident.
Three articles were published between July 31 and August 2, providing
information on further developments. Two news outlets published reports
on a meeting that took place on July 30 between the Federal Multicultural
Affairs Minister and the Sudanese community in Toowoomba. The Brisbane
Sunday Mail reported on July 31 that “the minister made
a lightning visit … in a bid to defuse simmering racial tension”.
In its only coverage of this issue, the paper published quotes from members
of the Sudanese community and from the online messages of the Crow’s
Nest man purportedly behind the WPCA campaign.
An August 1 report in the Chronicle was the paper’s first article
to present the voice of Toowoomba’s Sudanese community regarding
the WPCA campaign. Community leader Albino Chol Thiik assured the Minister
that the Sudanese community had been welcomed in Toowoomba and “we
feel at home”. The positive attitudes of the Sudanese residents
towards Toowoomba were emphasised and the Minister praised the city for
its refugee program. The second article, published on August 2, reported
that the Mayor of Crow’s Nest Shire had defended the town on national
radio, denying “redneck” allegations made by a resident who
linked the WPCA campaign with homophobic behaviour displayed by locals.