Malarndirri Barbara McCarthy, born on April 19, 1970, in Katherine, Northern Territory, Australia, is a politician, journalist, and Indigenous Australian advocate. McCarthy is a Senator for the Northern Territory, serving in the Albanese Government as an Assistant Minister.
McCarthy was raised in Borroloola, located on the McArthur River, by her mother, Limandabina Charlie. Her father, John McCarthy, hails from Sydney and has Irish ancestry. Through her mother, McCarthy is descended from the Garrwa and Yanyuwa peoples, whose traditional lands straddle the McArthur River and the Gulf of Carpentaria.
In 1988, McCarthy was the school captain at St Scholastica’s College in Sydney, where she studied after boarding in Alice Springs. She began her career as a cadet with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in 1989 and worked as a news and current affairs television and radio reporter across Australia. In 1993, she was appointed as a weeknight newsreader for ABC News in Darwin, after a trial run at presenting the late news from Sydney.
In 1998, McCarthy co-established B102.9FM-The Voice of the Gulf, Borroloola’s first community radio station, with the ABC’s assistance. She also set up the Lijakarda Cultural Festivals & Media, Arts & Training Centre for Yanyuwa, Kudanji, Garrawa & Mara people from Borroloola.
In 2005, McCarthy was preselected as the Labor candidate in Arnhem to replace the retiring member Jack Ah Kit. She won 73.9% of the two-party preferred vote and became one of ten women in the 25-seat assembly. Her first term was highlighted by crossing the floor, with two other ALP members, to vote against the government’s decision to divert the McArthur River to allow more mining developments in her home country of Borroloola, on culturally and environmentally sensitive grounds.
In August 2007, McCarthy added her Yanyuwa name of Malarndirri out of cultural respect for her mother, who passed away suddenly. Her mother had been a strong advocate for the Borroloola people’s struggle for land rights, linguistic and cultural parity, and had opposed the river diversion.
McCarthy was re-elected unopposed in the 2008 election and was promoted to the ministry immediately afterward. From August 2008 to November 2009, she was the Minister for Children and Families, Child Protection, Statehood, Women’s Policy, Senior Territorians, Young Territorians, and the Minister Assisting the Chief Minister on Multicultural Affairs. A Cabinet reshuffle took place in December 2009, doubling McCarthy’s portfolios, including Local Government, Regional Economic Development & Indigenous Development, while keeping the Women’s & Statehood portfolio. Tourism was also added to her brief. She was defeated by Country Liberal Party challenger Larisa Lee at the 2012 election amid Labor’s collapse in the remote portions of the Territory.
Afterward, McCarthy returned to journalism and became a presenter for NITV and SBS News. She won the 2013 Journalism Story of the Year Deadly Award for her story on two Perth Noongar brothers, the Thorne Brothers, who were in Saudi Arabia. Shayden Thorne had been arrested on terrorism charges in Riyadh, while his brother Junaid was in hiding after protesting his brother’s innocence. Both Shayden and Junaid returned to their families in Perth.
In 2015, McCarthy was also recognized for her journalism work when she won the United Nations Association of Australia Media Peace Award for her coverage of Indigenous affairs. She continued to work with NITV and in 2018, she produced the documentary “After the Apology” which examined the impact of the Australian government’s apology to Indigenous Australians in 2008 for the forced removal of Indigenous children from their families. McCarthy’s work has shed light on important social justice issues affecting Indigenous Australians and has earned her numerous accolades in the field of journalism.
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