Changing Council and premises

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.

Jason Smythe: Hair of the Dog by Geraldine Searles.

Changing Council and premises

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, it was clear that most of the current councillors had no idea what the electorate wanted.

This time round The Echo had no doubt that the future of the Shire depended on candidates who would put long-term community and environmental matters above short-term development interests. It is not always easy to identify such candidates but at least ones with an opposite agenda are not hard to spot. This time the swing away from the conservatives was clear, and although Ross Tucker increased his personal vote, Ian Kingston easily won the mayoralty.

Finally Kingston was no longer a lame duck mayor opposed by a conservative majority in the chamber. The vote for progressive candidates was about sixty per cent, and this was repeated in subsequent elections. A Gang of Six was now Kingston’s to command, although, as is traditional, the progressives argued among themselves much more than conservatives did, resulting in some inconsistent decisions.

The mood at the newspaper, as in most of the community, was one of relief and expectation. We looked forward to a change of direction for the Shire, and a change of culture in the Council bureaucracy. Community consultation was the new compass bearing, and sustainable development the chart.

Nicholas took the opportunity of this lull to take three months’ long-service leave at the end of the year and visit England and South Africa. While he was gone The Echo made the last (to date) of its many moves by transferring to a rented office on the other side of Village Way.

The old restaurant had, alas, been converted into a stationery shop, but the landlord was building another storey and invited us to design the space expressly for a newspaper office. We sold the tiny sweatshop we had worked in since 1989 and moved into much more salubrious premises.

Alternative views

While The Echo settled into its new headquarters, Ross Tucker, stung by the electoral defeat of 1995, and perhaps convinced that we had engineered it, started a newspaper himself, in the hope of influencing the 1999 Council elections. Together with his developer friend Harold Ross he launched the Mullumbimby Star as an A4 weekly in 1997. Some time later the paper changed its name to the Saturday Star when it moved up to tabloid size and shirewide circulation.

Of course there was no room for three weekly papers in a population of less than thirty thousand, especially when minority right-wing opinion was already catered for in the Byron News. The Star collapsed after the 1999 election and shrank to a burned-out shell, appearing once a month in a format of twelve half-A4 pages.

The Star was to prove no problem to us, but the continuance of Max Eastcott in his job as general manager did blow up into a lengthy shitfight.

Freedom of speech

In December 1995, shortly after Nicholas left on his sabbatical, local activist Fast Buck$ bought a page in The Echo to make a closely argued attack on the mayor, claiming he was incapable of reining in the Shire’s notorious general manager.

As the piece had substance I let it run, although a little uncomfortable at apparently conniving in criticism of a friend of Nick’s (and by then of mine too). Ian Kingston did not respond to Fast Buck$’s attack. Instead he visited me at home on Christmas Eve with a more-in-sorrow-than-anger reproach.

I could only defend our publication on general free speech grounds – in common with most people I felt that the recent electoral victory had terminated the Eastcott-Tucker regime. And yet I was a little confused in my response, partly because one of the new councillors had already told me he was worried by Ian’s lack of action over the general manager’s excesses, and partly because when the mayor and his lady called I was acting as a guinea pig for one of the recipes in my then partner’s soon-to-be-published Cannabis Cookbook.

Events developed quickly at the beginning of 1996. Fast Buck$ published another full page, this time about Max Eastcott, subtitled ‘Confucius say, thing which look like bullshit, smell like bullshit and sound like bullshit unlikely to be cherry blossom’.

Then he had a stroke of luck. A developer in Byron Bay, motivated by jealousy or civic duty, forwarded to one of the recently elected councillors a file of papers he had put together showing that the owner of the recently renovated Cavanbah Arcade in Jonson Street had received preferential treatment in the matter of development contributions due to Council.

The fight was on.

More Echo history articles

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One response to “Changing Council and premises”

  1. Len Heggarty says:

    It was September and Council was speeding along at top gear in ’95. We stopped for an election, opened the door and let Cr Ross Tucker out. We had had enough of his humour. The evidence of the colossal mismanagement of Council’s planning and finances had yet to emerge as most of the councillors sitting in their seats had little idea of what the electorate wanted. And nobody had asked them.

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