Suing: Otis Carey. Photo: Jonathan Carroll
Law suits are vanishingly rare in the world of surfing. It’s meant to be all peace, love and smokin’ barrels – not pleas, plaintiffs, and corporate barristers. Now pro surfer Otis Carey is suing Nationwide News, a subsidiary of News Corp Australia, for defamation, in a case that has divided the surfing community.
“I can’t recall anything like this happening,” says Vaughan Blakey, editor of Surfing World magazine. “It’s really unusual in surfing to have a high-profile law suit going on, and the intensity of the reaction it has stirred up is just amazing.”
It all started in March, when Carey, who is Aboriginal, was profiled by Surfing Life magazine. In the article, journalist Nathan Myers described Carey as "apeish", and wrote he was surprised the surfer was so articulate. The magazine quickly apologised and amended the story online, but Carey pursued the matter, suing the publisher for defamation. (The case has since settled.)
Shortly after, however, The Daily Telegraph reported the matter in a story by Briana Domjen, who repeated the comments in full. Carey is now launching defamation proceedings against the newspaper’s publisher, Nationwide News, a subsidiary of News Corp Australia.
“There are three clear imputations from the Tele’s article,” says Carey’s lawyer, Simon Maxwell, of Sanford Legal. “That the plaintiff has an apeish face, that he is sub-human, and that the plaintiff being of Aboriginal descent is racially inferior. The court has essentially accepted that, and directed Nationwide News to prepare their defence.”
Maxwell says Carey is seeking compensation for the damage to his reputation, which “could take the form of money or an apology or both.” Clive Evatt has been briefed as Carey’s counsel.
The case, which is being heard in the District Court, has provoked mixed response among surfers, with some labelling Carey an opportunist.
Others strongly back the surfer’s right to take action. “Really? Someone wrote those words in this century?” wrote one on Swellnet.com. “The re-publication of the insult in a mass-circulation daily is adding grievous insult to significant injury,” another Swellnet reader wrote. “Otis also deserves our respect for standing up for community standards.”
The 26-year-old Carey, who is based on Sydney’s northern beaches, is a much-respected “free surfer”, regularly appearing in movies and magazines. In April he took out the Australian Indigenous Surfing Championship at Bells Beach.
“There are plenty of positive stories out there about Aboriginal surfers,” says Tracks editor, Luke Kennedy. “Like the current Australian Junior Champ, Soli Bailey, who is Aboriginal, and past Indigenous Champion, Russell Malony, who has also been Australian Amateur Champ. It’s a shame the mainstream media only reports the negative stuff.”
News Corp declined to comment.