The Echo dream bursts into being with a dash of controversy

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.

In those 31 years The Echo has grown, like a magic beanstalk, far taller than we ever imagined, and it is now a feature of Shire life.

Our ongoing series on the history of our beloved rainbow rag continues this week, written by the newspaper’s longest-serving drudge, David Lovejoy.

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…

Your new local paper. The front cover of the first ever Echo.

Your new local paper. The front cover of the first ever Echo.

A new nest

We rented an upper-storey open-plan office in Mullumbimby, heaved my typesetting equipment up the stairs and made a darkroom out of cut-up black garbage bags. Nicholas contributed a large, horseshoe-shaped desk, which was perfect for a budding editor.

He had lined up a local printer, Andrew Bradley, whose press could print two A4 pages at once, and employed Dorothy Mullins, ex-Advocate and Northern Star, to help him sell advertising. My wife Wendy was to help me with the pre-press production and a friend of ours, Carol Page, joined us to do typing and general office work.

Masthead is made

Several brainstorming sessions fuelled by red wine provided the name for our enterprise. It was to be the grandly reverberating Brunswick Valley Echo, a name which shed some of its resonance when over the years it evolved into the Brunswick-Byron Echo and finally the Byron Shire Echo. Local artist the late Geoff Williams designed an elegant logo for the banner, which is still in use four decades on.

Andrew Bradley’s minuscule press laboured for many hours before delivering three thousand copies of the fledgling newspaper, dated June 11, 1986. It consisted of twenty pages and had taken a prodigious amount of energy to produce. When The Echo crew woke up groaning in the bottle-strewn office the morning after the launch, I half expected Nicholas to call off the whole thing: could we possibly continue to work that hard for week after week without end? But he called us together and we started to climb Mount Deadline all over again, the second time for the sake of a mere twelve pages.

Colourful start

In the very first edition Jim Brokenshire, who had run the Mullumbimby Advocate for many years, gave his imprimatur with an article entitled ‘New Local Rag’, describing local papers of the past and accurately predicting some of the tribulations we could expect. When Jim needed to retire he had sold his paper to the company that owned the Northern Star, which promptly moved it to Ballina to the dismay of Mullum residents.

Letters featured from the beginning, with the first one written by my son Hans, then aged thirteen.

Also in the first edition was a review of the Pacific Players’ production of Inherit the Wind. It was written by Nicholas who, under the byline ‘E K Hornbeck’, indulgently assessed his own performance of the role of journalist E K Hornbeck in the play.

In its first year of publication The Echo settled down to a regular sixteen A4 pages every week. There was almost always a controversial editorial piece on Council or social matters, but the initial advertisers took it in their stride. The big supporters from the beginning were Mallams Supermarket and Santos Health Foods, but some smaller companies were also very loyal. The warmth of the newspaper’s reception resulted in just sufficient funds for us to continue from week to week – or at least it was once accounting problems had been sorted out. After his inaugural burst of advertising sales, Nicholas was puzzled by our lack of cash, until we realised that after selling it was customary to send out invoices, a detail we had neglected.

Controversy surrounded us from the beginning, but not just the political variety.

Chincogan stoush

I wrote a piece about climbing Mt Chincogan, which in those days could be done, although it involved trespassing through one or other of the properties that surround the hill. Unfortunately I was too specific about my route, and the landowner in question, after a night stewing in the pub, rampaged through the newspaper office and upended Nicholas’s huge desk with berserker fury. When the editor did not flinch, the aggrieved party went downstairs, got into his car and rammed the front door of the building, collecting Nicholas’s car on the way.

Loss of the car was not such a bad thing. It was an ancient blue Corona and its cloth roof lining, held in place with masking tape, would sometimes descend on the driver at critical junctures. As the windows could not close, stray cats would use the car as a urinal when the editor had one of his many overnight sessions at the office. Loss of access to Mt Chincogan was, however, a sad consequence of these events, when the landowners closed their properties to climbers.

Mighty McDuck

Issue number eight saw the first appearance of ‘Our Overseas Correspondent’. It was in fact an old friend of mine, Michael McDonald, who was living on a farm in Tasmania. He continued sending us brilliantly funny articles every month until he eventually fetched up in Byron Shire in person and took a permanent job with The Echo.

It would be more accurate to say ‘jobs’, as McDuck was at various times editor, artist, Council-watcher and whimsical humorist right up until his well-earned but universally regretted retirement in August this year.

More Echo history articles

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.

2 responses to “The Echo dream bursts into being with a dash of controversy”

  1. Len Heggarty says:

    Yes it was a dream, and look what happened to it? It has been taken out of the hands of the community. It was a community newspaper.

  2. A daily “must read” for me. Refreshing to access a newspaper without right wing bias. The Echo is both incisive and informative. Throw in S.Sorrenson and Mandy Nolan and you have a great read. Nicholas was a fine man and his legacy proudly lives on with the current crop of scribes and associates.

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