Club Med and the Gang of Six

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.

Locals fought long and hard against Club Med in Byron Bay and eventually won through the courts. Photo Jeff Dawson.

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.

Echo stalwart Tuppy Lang.

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.

Club Med

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

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2 responses to “Club Med and the Gang of Six”

  1. Susana Stock says:

    Wonderful reading. I was elected an independent Councillor in a by-election in Leichhardt also under great development challenges at the time. (contaminated waterfront industrial being rezoned for residential including an old Monsanto facility) I met Anudhi often at Local Government conferences and also Rhonda Ellis who filled me in on some of the horrors of a Byron Council meeting at the time. It has been great to read these histories. Congratulations on 31 years. We have been going for about 10 here at Nimbin GoodTimes. All volunteer run and not for profit. And an alternative to Murdoch world vision.
    Cheers Sue Stock
    Asst Ed Nimbin GoodTimes.

  2. Richard Staples says:

    The “legal attack” wasn’t on the “Byron Environmental (sic) Centre”. It was on the long-standing local environment group BEACON.
    Incidentally, Club Med offered the late, beloved Annette Coyle and myself a free trip to any Club Med as well. Annette wavered at first but was eventually dissuaded!

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