Pat Eatock is a name few Australians had heard of until a week or so ago. But many are familiar with the name Andrew Bolt. Bolt is a right wing columnist for a number of Rupert Murdoch’s News Ltd publications, a broadcaster, and according to him, the man who runs “… Australia’s most-read political blog.”
The elevation of the 73-year-old Aboriginal activist into the public domain came when Judge Mordecai Bromberg, of the Federal High Court, found on September 28 that Bolt and the Herald and Weekly Times contravened the Racial Discrimination Act by publishing two articles on racial identity which contained “errors in fact, distortions of the truth and inflammatory and provocative language”.
Ms Eatock initiated the action and was joined by eight other Aboriginal writers, academics and community leaders.
In two columns published in the Melbourne, Herald Sun, Bolt sneeringly accused Aborigines who are of pale or white appearance, of choosing to be identified as Aboriginal to further their career or qualify for indigenous awards.
All in fact were brought up from childhood in Aboriginal communities. There was no choice, being black was their birthright. Academic, and novelist, Larissa Behrendt, was said by Bolt to have had a German father and an Aboriginal mother when in fact her father was a black activist.
Financial damages were not sought, but the group did want an order restraining Bolt from publishing anything containing anything ‘‘substantially similar,” and the removal of the two columns from Bolt’s website.
Speaking outside court, Bolt predictably said, “I am not a racist.”
It was, he claimed, “a terrible day for free speech in this country…It is particularly a restriction on the freedom of all Australians to discuss multiculturalism and how people identify themselves. “
That’s not what the claimants thought. Ms Eatock described Justice Bromberg’s decision as, “the highlight of my life.”
“He set out to offend from the word go and he acknowledged that in his evidence. We’re not saying you can’t talk about racial issues. What the judgment clearly says is it’s how you handle it, you cannot be malicious. You must handle it based on truth and fact, not fiction and racism.”
Bolt was quoted in the Murdoch flagship newspaper, The Australian as saying, “if the judgment stands, this is not the country I recognise.” Many would say, that’s great.