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Printers and politicians: The Echo gives voice to the community

The Echo sells out!

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 ranbow rag continues this week, written by the newspaper’s longest-serving drudge, David Lovejoy.

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.

Nicholas Shand, educated at Lancing College and the London School of Printing, came from a Scottish family on his father’s side, who had made their fortune in the printing business. It was in his blood, so to speak, and he would not be happy until we could print what we published.

A vintage classie

A classified ad led us to a house in Goonellabah, outside Lismore, where an eccentric collector had assembled what amounted to a museum of printing equipment. In the basement a towering and fully functional linotype machine hissed and clanked, and in the living room were presses of various sizes and vintages.

I never saw a Mrs Collector, and this was hardly surprising as our man devoted his machines to the production of insane religious texts of his own invention. However, he was helpful to the secular and very irreligious Echo. As well as selling us a small press he supervised its installation and trained the newspaper’s in-house printer.

This was musician Donny McCormack, who lived on Jane and Nicholas’s community and wrote our entertainment column. Every week Donny struggled with the tiny press, producing seven thousand copies in a marathon overnight run. Printing two pages at a time, our average twenty-four-page paper would entail eighty-four thousand impressions, and the forty-two thousand separate sheets of paper would be collated and stapled by teams recruited from the valleys.

In the morning we would find odd springs and cogs in the corner of the shop, and Donny and Nicholas would spend most of the following week reassembling and tuning the overworked press. Sometimes, when the operation was running late, curious arcade-strollers could observe deputy editor Michael McDonald writing at his desk while the press hammered away six feet from his ear.

Unusual & quirky

Jeff Dawson joined us around this time. He had lived in Byron Bay for the surfing and now lived up the road from Nicholas and commuted irregularly to Sydney to drive a taxi for a living. Long after he started work as the advertising manager for The Echo he had to continue subsidising his income with these Sydney forays. Later on he became a shareholder and a photographer with considerable flair and has served the newspaper in that role (and as a director) up to the present.

In the beginning, however, he put his original way of seeing things to the service of advertisers, and paid ads became as unusual and quirky as the editorial space beside them. ‘Shopping in the Nude with Jeff’ was one feature that ran many times to mixed acclaim.

In September 1987 the local council elections were due to be held and we took the opportunity to increase our circulation to cover the whole Shire. The Echo’s coverage was probably the decisive factor in the election of a majority of councillors of a progressive bent. Nicholas, the new mayor, Oliver Dunne, and a future mayor, Ian Kingston, had with others formed a group called ‘United Shire’ back before the founding of The Echo. This election was the group’s first political success, although it had scored a legendary reputation a few years earlier when at a social get-together someone had spiked the fruit punch with LSD.

Entheogens were not involved in our front page of April 1, 1987. Under the headline ‘The Echo sells out!’ the story described how the Northern Star had bought us, lock, stock and barrel. It concluded, ‘Single ownership of media on the north coast is what the people need. Eradication of wasteful competition and abolishing the publication of different points of view can only be of service to the people of the area.’ For weeks afterwards Nicholas was embarrassed by readers sincerely congratulating him on the sale.

Council examined

The newspaper was beginning to annoy people too. After a searching article on Council’s competence, the shire engineer described Nicholas as ‘one-eyed’. Our editor was not at all discomfited to take the piratical nickname One Eye, and for a while we adopted the motto monoculus in omnia.

At the end of volume two of The Echo’s existence we made two celebratory gestures. The first was commissioning Michael McDonald to edit an anthology of pieces culled from the newspaper entitled The Big Echo. Wendy Lovejoy’s brilliantly designed cover depicted an Al Capone-type character called ‘Big Ecco’, who appeared throughout the rest of the book threatening the reader in various ways.

The other celebration was the first of our Echo Awards. A formal dinner at which we gave out awards in parody of the Oscars: Most prolific letter writer, Victim of worst typesetting blunder, Most sexist advertiser, etc. Local resident Mungo MacCallum, who’d recently retired from the Canberra press gallery, gave a prize for the best limerick written during the evening and soon commenced his weekly column for us, which has continued ever since.


More Echo history articles


2 responses to “Printers and politicians: The Echo gives voice to the community”

  1. Mary Grant says:

    You are the only current local news coverage that actually “prints” people comments!

    Most other free papers which are distributed locally – are not “current” news.

    Congratulations to all the staff at ECHO!!!!!

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A note from the editorial team

Some of The Echo’s editorial team: journalists Paul Bibby and Aslan Shand, editor Hans Lovejoy, photographer Jeff Dawson and Mandy Nolan

The Echo has never underestimated the intelligence and passion of its readers. In a world of corporate banality and predictability, The Echo has worked hard for more than 30 years to help keep Byron and the north coast unique with quality local journalism and creative ideas. We think this area needs more voices, reasoned analysis and ideas than just those provided by News Corp, lifestyle mags, Facebook groups and corporate newsletters.

The Echo is one hundred per cent locally owned and one hundred per cent independent. As you have probably gathered from what is happening in the media industry, it is not cheap to produce a weekly newspaper and a daily online news service of any quality.

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