Reporting Diversity
Case Study Two

Reporting on immigrant communities
– Sudanese immigrants in two regional centres


Toowoomba – critical incidents

3. Deaths of Sudanese community members – (reporting period November 23-December 5, 2005)

The deaths of two Sudanese community members in a house fire were extensively reported by The Toowoomba Chronicle and the Brisbane Courier-Mail. The story was broken in an AAP news report on November 23. The report noted that the bodies had not been identified but were believed to be those of a Sudanese woman and her teenage daughter. The woman’s 21-year-old son had been taken to hospital in a serious condition. Police were treating the fire as suspicious until investigations demonstrated otherwise. A second report was published on November 24, identifying the victims as Rita Sula and her daughter Connie. The report noted that son Jerry Sula was still being treated in hospital and had been interviewed by police. Police released a statement that the deaths appeared to be a murder-suicide and that there was no evidence to back up speculations that the fire was racially motivated. Police also stated that there was no intention to bring criminal proceedings over the incident. The report stated that the family were the first Sudanese refugees to move to Toowoomba. The Northern Territory News also published a brief article on November 25, based on the information published in the AAP report.

Three articles were published in the Courier-Mail between November 24 and 26. The first article reported that the deaths were being treated by police as possible murders, under the headline “Hearts choked in grief as hero dies in blaze”. The article referred to Rita Sula’s position as a matriarch in Toowoomba’s African community and her role in helping other refugees settle into the community. It noted that the Sula family were the first African refugees in the city and had sponsored other family members who also settled in Toowoomba. Connie Sula’s school principal described her as a “beautiful, bubbly, cheerful” young woman with many friends, whose classmates were in shock over her death. The second article, published on November 25, revealed that police believed the deaths were the result of murder-suicide, and refuted claims the incident was racially motivated. The report included information on the family’s history, and their life in Toowoomba since their arrival in 1991. It also revealed that a suicide note had been found at the scene. The final article reported that Rita Sula, now believed to have killed herself and her daughter, may have been suffering from mental illness brought on by the trauma of her past experiences. Her estranged husband, Charles Sula, revealed that no one in the family had received counselling since their arrival in Toowoomba and said he believed Mrs Sula had not been able to resolve the trauma. It was reported that Rita Sula had been raised in Uganda by her aunt after her older sister’s death, and had fled to Sudan as a teenager after war broke out, and then on to refugee camps in Kenya.

The Toowoomba Chronicle published six articles covering the incident, between November 24 and December 5. The first article, published on November 24, noted that the fire was being treated as suspicious and that the son’s injuries appeared to be the result of an assault. The victims were identified as Rita, Connie and Jerry Sula, and an old photo of the family, including Charles Sula, was published with the report. The article also noted that the family were the first Sudanese refugees to move to Toowoomba. It stated that Charles was being supported by members of the Sudanese community. A second article was published the same day, describing the family’s tragic past and noting that Rita and Charles had been married in a Christian ceremony after their arrival in Australia. It also revealed that the couple had been separated for five years.

On November 25, the Chronicle reported that police suspected murder-suicide was the cause of death but did not intend to bring criminal proceedings. The article revealed that a suicide note had been found, but that the author had not been confirmed. This report also noted that Charles and Rita had been separated for several years. The third article, published on November 26, focused on the reaction of Toowoomba’s Sudanese community. One community member is quoted as saying: “We are shocked. We never heard of the Sudanese doing this in our country.” The article quotes a police officer as stating that Jerry Sula’s wounds were “quite violent”, and the headline describes the murder as “brutal”. An interview with Charles Sula was published on December 1, in which he revealed his confusion over his estranged wife’s actions. He spoke of the expressions of sympathy from Toowoomba’s community, both Sudanese and Australian, saying: “It has shown me that when we came here, we were not foreigners after all.” The final article was published on December 5, describing the funeral service for Rita and Connie Sula, including the eulogies delivered by family members and friends.

Top

Member : Murdoch UniversityMember: Griffith UniversityMember: University of South AustraliaMember: Media MonitorsMember: SBSMember: University of CanberraMember: Journalism Education AssociationMember: University of Western Sydney
Department of Immigration and Citizenship