Re-zoning back on the agenda: Beating off the Academy rort

Christ Buck$ blesses Council as he joins the flock. Photo Jeff ‘Shepherd’ Dawson

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.

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’.

The Academy had been concocted because there were strict zoning considerations which prevented this site simply becoming a resort, as the developers wished, and so they had co-opted the vice-chancellor of the local university in Lismore (now Southern Cross University) to give their plan an educational flavour. The commercial arm of the university duly agreed that courses would be provided to the guests in their luxurious chalets by the seaside, and the whole transparent rort was presented to Byron Shire Council for approval.

The resistance

The council, under mayor Oliver Dunne, was not at all disposed to allow the development, but refusal of an application which complied with the rules, however manipulatively, could entail an appeal and heavy legal costs for the ratepayers.

Fortunately for the amenity of Broken Head, Fast Buck$ became involved in the resistance to the Academy. When running in a local election years before, this prominent activist had changed his name from John Anderson to Fast Buck$ in order to show his contempt for the motives of some of his fellow candidates.

The story goes that most of his votes on that occasion came from rednecks ignorant of the concept of irony. His way of conducting politics was refreshingly direct: during a Council meeting to consider developing a Tyagarah paddock as a jet airport, he hired a bank of concert-sized speakers and from a van parked outside the Chamber repeatedly played the sound of jets taking off at full volume.

Until The Echo arrived his main way of communicating his concerns was via the ‘pink pamphlet’, a four-page diatribe printed on pink paper and delivered to Shire residences. Although Buck$ freely signed and acknowledged these missives, and they appeared to be shockingly libellous, the objects of his attacks rarely took him to court, pretending that it was beneath their dignity to notice him.

In reality, although the libel laws are so skewed against the public interest that litigation would probably have succeeded, the real reason was a reluctance to have certain matters exposed in court.

Another motive given by Buck$’s targets for not proceeding against him was that he had no money to pay damages anyway. This was also specious, given his large rural property holding and the persistent – and no doubt unfounded – rumour that he made a lot of money growing dope.

Free speech

In the late eighties Fast Buck$ gradually moved from pink pamphlets to advertisements in The Echo. He found three benefits: wider circulation, less expense and of course the credibility of the newspaper itself. He did have to tone down his wilder accusations, as Nicholas and I were not interested in more libel actions, but we tried to uphold the principle of free speech, and very robust free speech at that, even if we didn’t agree with all Buck$’s examples of it.

In the case of the Academy Fast Buck$ set out to ensure that public opinion was firmly against the proposal, and he dug out some extraordinary facts about the university connection.

It was not the first time that the vice-chancellor, Rod Treyvaud, had strayed from academia to commerce. He was a fierce opponent of the traditional view of universities as places devoted to pure knowledge (older readers may remember this quixotic pre-neoliberal tradition). He therefore advocated the new trend towards applied or occupational degrees subsidised by corporations (think Bachelor of Science in Telstra telephony or Bachelor of Arts in McDonald’s cooking procedures), and Treyvaud practised what he preached.

In between lucrative academic appointments he had set up a company to supply schoolbooks to the Solomon Islands government, and so dishonest was his servicing of this contract that he was actually wanted in the Solomons for fraud.

We duly published this amazing tale (with fingers crossed, as before the internet the degree of checking a free weekly paper could do was quite limited) and it was not denied.

The Academy affair was a public relations disaster for the university, but it was left to Oliver Dunne to kill off the project by wrapping it up in consent conditions so onerous (and yet perfectly reasonable if the intent had been genuinely educational) that the developers eventually pulled out.

Councillor Buck$

Incidentally, Fast Buck$ was eventually elected to Council, long after the Academy triumph.

It might be fair to say that being ‘in power’ (a very relative term in local government where the staff control events much more than elected representatives) was more difficult than being in opposition. Buck$ certainly enlivened proceedings, once appearing at a Council meeting dressed in white robe and crown of thorns to illustrate his suffering at the hands of the bureaucracy.

Over the years Fast Buck$ has clashed with almost all the general managers of Byron Shire Council. Despite his reputation for conspiracy theories, which tends to get him discounted by mainstream voters, the fact remains that Buck$ has been right more often than not when he rails against incompetence in Council management.

More Echo history articles

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One response to “Re-zoning back on the agenda: Beating off the Academy rort”

  1. Rossco Phillips says:

    Every town need a Fast Buck$ … we were lucky to have him.

    Everyone, and I mean everyone, couldn’t wait for, or were scared of, the next “Pinky”…

    He ran a section called “Arsehole of the Week” or some such, and it wasn’t always a developer or redneck. He exposed a few hippies selling crap dope or bum acid.

    Viva Mullum in the early days… Youse have got no idea !!! It was outrageous !!!

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