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.
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 change was commercially successful, and our pagination leapt to an average of 36, equivalent to 72 pages of the smaller format.
Send for the wine
The increased work combined with the ritual of putting the paper to bed on Monday nights became quite stressful. At five o’clock, whatever the state of play, Nicholas would send out for red wine, and in those days it would have been unthinkable to turn down the libation. So we would struggle on preparing the pages while somewhat prematurely celebrating the birth of another Echo.
When the indefatigable Tuppy Lang had finished typesetting all the classified ads and the last corrections had been made, the package was couriered to the web press in Brisbane.
There were occasions, blessedly few, when after a jovial dinner with Nicholas and the crew I would find a message on my answering machine saying the hard disk we’d sent was unreadable. In whatever state, I would then have to drive to Brisbane in the middle of the night with the precious replacement.
Haunted by ‘Murdoch’
In those days our tiny space in Village Way was haunted by the presence, and effluvium, of an old black and white tomcat we named ‘Murdoch’. This creature was self-centred, opinionated and ruthless in getting his own way, but just when he had provoked felicidal exasperation he could turn on a rugged charm to disarm his foes. Murdoch had simply turned up one day and decided to stay. A little while later he introduced a grey-and-white female of even fiercer disposition, whom we named ‘Ita’.
The Echo represented a retirement home for Murdoch after a strenuous life on the streets, and when he died a local mason carved a memorial tablet to mark his grave in the small garden outside the office. After a long widowhood, Ita lies buried under the same stone.
However, The Echo’s new format, stressful deadlines and bogan feline staff were nothing compared to the political machinations of the early nineties in the Byron Shire. The 1991–95 Council was a shameless mixture of prejudice and profligacy presided over by two men: Max Eastcott, the general manager, of whom more in a later episode, and Cr Ross Tucker, a retired army colonel. The mayor, Ian Kingston, had little influence; his rare victories came when the council was deadlocked and he was able to use his casting vote. Most votes went six to four in Tucker’s favour, and hence his faction came to be known as the ‘Gang of Six’.
The biggest issue facing that term of Council was an application from Club Med to build one of their resorts in Byron Bay. It would have sat upon seaside wetlands, destroyed the nesting grounds of the endangered Little Tern and probably driven the even rarer Wallum Froglet to extinction.
Fortunately, however, opposition to the plan did not have to rely on ecological arguments. Club Med would have dominated the commerce of the town, the resort’s floor space alone being twice that of all the commercial buildings in the Bay. Nor would the influx of thousands of Club Medders have brought prosperity to local businesses: the resorts are designed to be self-sufficient, with guests encouraged to buy coupons to spend onsite to avoid being fleeced by tricky natives. As for jobs for the locals (their number exaggerated in the tradition of all true shonky developments) – they were jobs of the cap-doffing, forelock-tugging, minimum-waging variety.
The Gang of Six, following Tucker’s policy of open slather development, rejoiced at the opportunity of approving a project universally loathed by the community (a petition of more than seven thousand signatures was ignored by the council), so it was left to civic-minded groups to defend Byron Bay.
Club Med had two responses to opposition: subtle manipulation and brutal manipulation. An example of the latter was a legal attack against the Byron Environmental Centre alleging libel in one of their leaflets. The Echo duly noted that this was a classic case of the SLAPP – strategic lawsuit against public participation.
All expenses paid
The velvet glove approach came when they invited Nicholas to an al-expenses-paid trip to one of their South Pacific resorts, an invitation also extended to the editors of the Byron News and Northern Star. Nicholas pointedly declined the bribe and sent a deputy, Carol Page, whose official role at the paper was unknown to Club Med. It was amusing to see the contrasting media coverage that followed this junket – glowing reports from APN’s editors and a more nuanced and realistic one from The Echo’s typesetter.
The fight against Club Med was taken up by a group called Byron Shire Businesses for the Future, headed by another retired army colonel, Tom Wilson. The Council had predictably given development consent to the resort, but Wilson’s group fought the approval in the courts. It looked like a hopeless rearguard action, and it cost the participating businesses dearly in legal fees, but in the end the court agreed that Byron Shire Council had not paid sufficient attention to environmental concerns. This win launched Wilson’s somewhat chequered career in local politics, which culminated in his being elected mayor in 1999.
More Echo history articles
The end of fun: David Lovejoy concludes the story of the The Echo’s early years
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.August 16, 2018 | David Lovejoy | 0
How do you dismiss a general manager?
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.August 9, 2018 | David Lovejoy | 0
The danger of delegated authority as The Echo gambles its reputation on a town planner
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’.August 2, 2018 | David Lovejoy | 0
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 emergeJuly 27, 2018 | David Lovejoy | 1
Ross and Max to the fore: Dirty tactics key to undermining the opposition
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.July 20, 2018 | David Lovejoy | 1
Club Med and the Gang of Six
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.July 13, 2018 | David Lovejoy | 2
The newspaper wars and A Small Wooden Tray Called Albert
In the mid-nineties the local newspaper scene was heating up almost as much as the always feverish local politics.July 6, 2018 | Echonetdaily | 0
Re-zoning back on the agenda: Beating off the Academy rort
During the 1987–91 term of Council an application was made to develop a large site at Broken Head as an ‘academy’.June 29, 2018 | David Lovejoy | 1
Expansionist plans! The Echo embarks on the Lismore foray: a town too far
A major milestone in The Echo’s history occurred in 1991: we decided to start another weekly newspaper.April 17, 2018 | David Lovejoy | 0
The Echo – The Thinking Dog’s Paper
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.April 10, 2018 | David Lovejoy | 1
Printers and politicians: The Echo gives voice to the community
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.January 18, 2018 | David Lovejoy | 2
The Echo dream bursts into being with a dash of controversy
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…November 23, 2017 | David Lovejoy | 2
Echo beginnings: Tales from the Magic Beanstalk…
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.September 20, 2017 | David Lovejoy | 7