Thirty-one years have passed since Nicholas Shand dreamed up this newspaper and collected a band of similar dreamers to help him make it real.
In those 31 years The Echo has grown, like a magic beanstalk, far taller than we ever imagined, and it is now one of the primary institutions of Byron Shire.
Being an institution is a bit of a challenge for a paper that has always adopted a larrikin tone, opposes authority and the status quo, and stands firmly left of centre. But The Echo is more than just a radical voice to counter the arrogance of wealth and power; it is a long-lived experiment in community building, and lately an example of how to disprove predictions of the death of newspapers.
Indeed, more like a giant figtree than a beanstalk, it is rooted in the essence of what makes Byron Shire different from anywhere else, and it both encapsulates and reflects that essence. Nowadays many kinds of vegetation grow among these roots, other publications which you can choose to read and which advertisers can choose to support. Some may be ephemeral weeds that will perish at the slightest change of weather, but some may have the potential to grow and affect the Shire in their turn as The Echo has done.
Given that newcomers are constantly arriving and discovering the local media jungle, a little history might serve to separate the weeds from the natives.
This will be an occasional series, written from the perspective of the newspaper’s longest-serving drudge, David Lovejoy.
Born of a dreamer
The Echo was born with a purpose.
Nicholas Shand conceived the idea of the newspaper as a vehicle for asserting the civil liberty of local residents after a series of heavy-handed police raids in the Main Arm Valley.
Nicholas was a much-loved and charismatic figure in the local alternative culture. As a tolerant and courteous figure, he was respected by conventional and conservative people as well.
In for the ride
My part in the great adventure was initially on the technical side, as it so happened that my then-wife Wendy and I kept a phototypesetting machine on our verandah. We also had a studio copy camera in the garden shed. We had moved these colossal engines from Brisbane in 1985, planning to work at home on our book design and production business. Unfortunately we did not know that we were living ten years before the internet took off, so our plan failed.
When Nicholas heard about the odd couple living way up Wilsons Creek with cutting-edge publishing technology going to waste, he sought us out to suggest starting a local newspaper.
I was immediately interested because I had been idly figuring out the costs of running a weekly newspaper myself. The only paper printed in the Shire was the small, family-owned Byron News, which circulated exclusively in Byron Bay. There was also The Advocate, owned by the same company that ran the daily Northern Star out of Lismore, but The Advocate straddled both Byron and Ballina shires and consequently served neither properly. There was certainly a gap in the market. My thoughts had been idle because the project would need capital, of which I had none, and salesmanship, of which I had even less.
But Nicholas didn’t look like he had any money either. He was a handsome man in his late thirties, spoke with an educated English accent, and wore clothes that were even older and shabbier than mine.
He had arrived in the area with the first wave of counterculture settlers in the early seventies. He and his wife Jane had founded a community called Karu Kali on Coopers Lane in the Main Arm Valley and lived there with their daughter Aslan and two sons, Sebastian and Saffron.
A gregarious and easy-going person, Nicholas was one of the informal leaders of the Main Arm hippies who had established several communes in the valley. But he and Jane were also on good terms with many of the business people in Mullumbimby, in some sense acting as a bridge between the two communities.
When we first met, the only journalistic experience Nicholas had was as a stringer for one of the Lismore radio stations. However, his motivation for starting a newspaper was the behaviour of the police when they searched the valleys for marijuana crops.
In the early eighties there had been many blatant civil rights abuses committed by police during these raids but Nicholas found it impossible to get the local media to report them.
As many a tycoon had thought before him, Nicholas decided that if the newspapers wouldn’t publish news he considered important, he would start his own.
We sat overlooking the Wilsons Valley discussing how we would create an independent newspaper until the sun dropped behind the western cliff. That first conversation with Nicholas was exhilarating for me.
He knew the area thoroughly, and most of its prominent figures. I knew how to produce type, halftones and finished art, and had also worked for a while as a casual sub at The Australian when I first arrived in Sydney after my overland trek from London.
Together we would do such things; what they were we knew not, but they would be the terrors of the earth.
More Echo history articles
While the drama of general manager Max Eastcott’s departure was playing out, The Echo passed its tenth birthday, and we marked the jubilee with a fourth awards night.
Founding editor Nicholas Shand returned from his long-service leave at the end of March, 1996. He was highly amused at the comic opera scenario playing out in Council, and at The Echo’s unavoidable central role in it.
When in February 1996 Fast Buck$ obtained a file that described a developer in Byron Bay obtaining preferential treatment from Council, he published an advertisement in The Echo headed, ‘Something stinks at Hog’s Breath’.
By the election of September 1995 most people had had enough of Cr Ross Tucker and his crew. Although at that stage the evidence of the colossal mismanagement of Council’s planning and finances had yet to emerge
As the Club Med battle described in the previous episode approached its climax, the leader of Council’s conservatives, Ross Tucker, decided on a diversion.
By the beginning of 1993 The Echo had outgrown its A4 page size, and our first large-format edition appeared in March that year. The increased work combined with the ritual of putting the paper to bed on Monday nights became quite stressful.
In the mid-nineties the local newspaper scene was heating up almost as much as the always feverish local politics.
During the 1987–91 term of Council an application was made to develop a large site at Broken Head as an ‘academy’.
A major milestone in The Echo’s history occurred in 1991: we decided to start another weekly newspaper.
Thirty-one years have passed since Nicholas Shand dreamed up this newspaper and gathered a band of fellow dreamers to help him make it real.
After the first year we moved the newspaper to Brunswick Heads. Lured by cheap rent, we took three small shops in an arcade and filled them with the newspaper office, production facilities and, significantly, a printing press.
Part two: So far in the story, Nicholas Shand has been unable to get local media to cover police hooliganism in the Main Arm Valley, and has invited David Lovejoy to join him in starting a newspaper…
Thirty-one years have passed since Nicholas Shand dreamed up this newspaper and collected a band of similar dreamers to help him make it real. In those 31 years The Echo has grown, like a magic beanstalk, far taller than we ever imagined, and it is now one of the primary institutions of Byron Shire.