18.4 C
Byron Shire
April 12, 2021

A small child’s window into a vicious regime

Latest News

Linen SHIFT project urgently needs new home

With a vision to disrupt the cycle of women’s homelessness, the Linen SHIFT project was born to provide unique individual support and education for at-risk women in a safe residential environment, but today they they have been forced to close.

Other News

Can you help this local family find a home?

A local couple whose much-loved baby boy was taken away by government officers and then returned is asking the community for help in finding space on a property to park their mobile home.

Waking up with a sick feeling in my gut

Horst Tietze, Mullumbimby Thank you to Mandy Nolan for publishing her courageous account of growing up as a young woman...

Murwillumbah Arts Trail coming in May

The sixth Murwillumbah Arts Trail is all set for the weekend of 29-30 May 2021. From its beginnings in 2015, the arts trail has grown to be a major festival for the visual arts, as well as a vibrant community event.

Big swinging dicks

Keith Duncan, Pimlico After the tumultuous events of the past weeks regarding alleged sexual assaults within the Liberal Party and...

Linen SHIFT project urgently needs new home

With a vision to disrupt the cycle of women’s homelessness, the Linen SHIFT project was born to provide unique individual support and education for at-risk women in a safe residential environment, but today they they have been forced to close.

New food donation campaign launched

A new campaign is set to make a big difference in helping to reduce waste and provide more food security for our region.

Russell Eldrige and his debut novel, Harry Mac.
Russell Eldrige and his debut novel, Harry Mac.

Harry Macby Russell ­Eldridge
(Allen & Unwin, RRP $29.99)

Review by Michael McDonald

You could be forgiven for thinking the role of Ocean Shores resident Russell Eldridge is being played by several people.

As well as being the editor of the The Northern Star for many years until his resignation in 2008 and a stalwart of the Byron Bay Writers Festival since its inception in 1997, he has helped out with various non-profit organisations, written and performed standup comedy, been highly amusing (and poignant) in many local theatre productions, and kindly kept public meetings under control. 

Now he has turned his hand to authorship as well, and brings to the task the same desire for an open, respectful society he brings to all his other pursuits. Eldridge’s novel Harry Mac first surfaced in 2013 when, under the title Shame, the manuscript won the Byron Bay Writers Festival/Varuna Unpublished Manuscript Award. And only last week Caroline Baum named Harry Mac her book of the month on Booktopia: www.booktopia.com.au/caroline-baum.

Harry Mac’s subject is the turbulent South Africa Eldridge left in 1979 ‘to get away from apartheid’, spending three years with the Sydney Morning Herald ‘before moving to this region to join the hippy folk in the hills west of Nimbin’.

Tom the observer

The story is told through the eyes of young boy Tom, whose father is Harry Mac, the hot-blooded newspaper editor who keeps running into trouble with the apartheid regime. Here the novel draws on autobiography, newspaper ink flowing strongly in the Eldridge blood.

‘The character Harry Mac is loosely based on my father, who was a newspaper editor and who had been a POW in Italy in WWII,’ says Russell.

‘The premise of the story is based on fact – my father was made privy to a harebrained scheme to assassinate [prime minister] Verwoerd in the manner described in the book. I don’t think he took it too seriously at the time. So I took the idea and made up a fictitious story about how it might have evolved.’

It is a fascinating time and Eldridge does well to weave all the threads together – a society in the 1950s and 1960s still traumatised by WWII and the Boer War, composed of the Afrikaner Nationalists and their secret police, the Germans fond of the Nazi days, the English speakers yearning for their own old-school British colony, and of course the oppressed black population, still caught up in tribal conflict.

To tell the story Eldridge populates a laneway in his home town of Pietermaritzburg with a bunch of remarkable eccentrics – the Mac family and their servant Essie and her activist son Windsor, Tom’s friend Millie with whom he hangs out in a house of ghosts, and the Jewish doctor Sol Lieberman, who knows too well the impact of persecution. Across the domestic stage fraught with tension stride great men such as Nelson Mandela and the vile H F Verwoerd, architect of apartheid.


Mandela is also connected to Pietermaritzburg, making his last public appearance at the All-In Africa Conference before going underground, says Eldridge. ‘He was also captured just outside our town.

‘I also discovered on reading Mandela’s autobiography that, while on the run, he had a safe house in my grandparents’ street.’

As the apartheid regime tightens the screws on public freedoms, and the residents of the Pietermaritzburg lane find themselves in trouble with the secret police, Eldridge has his character Sol quoting Primo Levi on ‘the insolent logic of the oppressors. The twisted reasoning they bring to bear to justify their treatment of fellow human beings.’

Which leads to the obvious question: Does Russell see any parallels between the current Australian government and the Verwoerd regime?

‘Absolutely,’ he replies. ‘I’ve always loved Australia for its independence, fairness, bluntness and sense of life as fun.

‘But while writing Harry Mac, I was strongly aware of the terrible irony of again witnessing the slow erosion of civil liberties, the introduction of draconian laws, detention without trial and mass surveillance.

‘Worst of all is the meek acquiescence of the public, who generally are buying the government’s scaremongering message that they are doing all this for our own good, to protect us from a nebulous but threatening enemy.

‘Australians are allowing themselves to be herded into a laager, hoping the troubles of the world will disappear.’

• Marele Day will launch Russell Eldridge’s book Harry Mac at the Launch Pad at the Byron Bay Writers Festival on Saturday August 8 at 3pm. See more at www.byronbaywritersfestival.com.

BBWF 2015 Articles & Reviews

Support The Echo

Keeping the community together and the community voice loud and clear is what The Echo is about. More than ever we need your help to keep this voice alive and thriving in the community.

Like all businesses we are struggling to keep food on the table of all our local and hard working journalists, artists, sales, delivery and drudges who keep the news coming out to you both in the newspaper and online. If you can spare a few dollars a week – or maybe more – we would appreciate all the support you are able to give to keep the voice of independent, local journalism alive.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Bayside, The Corso

Annie Radermacher, Brunswick Heads A clear description of the proposed development as presented to the public was of 37 boarding rooms for professional couples who...

Essential businesses recognised

A sticker initiative, to say ‘Thank you’ and support local retailers’ doing it tough is adorning Mullum shops, owing in part to efforts by resident Angela Bambach.

Francis Cloake in running for National Portrait Prize

Byron Bay's Francis Cloake is one of two Northern Rivers photographers named as a finalist in the prestigious Living Memory: National Photographic Portrait Prize.

Policy not ‘housekeeping’

Heather Martin, Mullumbimby According to a report in The Echo (24 March), the planning staff’s proposed amendments to LEP 2014 include a blanket prohibition on...