How I became a Prince of Print, aged 27

In July 2011, the north coast newspaper central to my life as a journalist, The Northern Rivers Echo in Lismore, celebrated its 20th anniversary.

I wrote this essay for the paper to commemorate the occasion, having started work there on April Fools Day 1993.

In a case of be careful what you wish for, on January 1, 1994, I bought the paper with three others and spent more than a decade as editor before new returning to Sydney to become a professional restaurant critic.

We sold The Echo to APN, publisher of The Northern Star, in December 2009.

It was a great adventure back when the future of newspapers was so much brighter.



Back in the 1990s, newspapers were popular and they let anyone edit them…

I MISS THE NORTHERN RIVERS ECHO. Not the hours. I probably saw a few too many dawns from that office, sometimes, not long after watching the sunset.

I miss the people I wrote about. Whether it was Alstonville residents agitating for a bypass, Lismore’s well-meaning, if occasionally misguided city councillors (I’m sure they’d same the same of me), the CWA ladies or the zealots and lunatics who’d turn up at the front door demanding I fill the front page with their rants.

Some 14 years later, I’m still moved at the thought of sitting down with Ding Wotherspoon’s widow to talk about his life and listen to stories of how he taught generations of Lismore kids to swim.

I’ve been in Sydney for five years now, but large chunks of my heart had to stay in Lismore.

I loved telling these stories and sharing them with you. Toss in the lantern parades, Beef Week Queen crownings, crisis meetings over dairy deregulation, low beef prices, rationalised government departments, Nimbin’s Mardi Grass, annual shows and countless protests and it was a lot of fun.

They like a good protest ‘round those parts.

There’s no community anywhere in the world like the Northern Rivers, from its farmers to the dreamers, small business people who give generously of their time in community service, indigenous leaders, tree changers downsizing high-flying city lives, path-finding academics, musicians, artists, dope smokers and so many more. The region carries a special magic that its natural beauty cannot alone claim. It’s your imaginations that keep a newspaper such as The Echo busy and lively.

I also miss the team. My pride in what The Northern Rivers Echo has achieved in 20 years is personified in its editor, Rudi Maxwell (who’s since resigned), and journalist Terra Sword.

Employing them both is like claiming I backed Black Caviar in her first race. I took a punt when the odds seemed long and they’re both proved to be champions, not just for the paper, but also for the people of the region. That’s why, in an era when so many newspapers tremble at thoughts of their futures, The Echo continues to thrive. It’s always been innovative. The paper was first published in colour in 1995. It went online in 1997, when everyone was wondering if this Internet thingy was just a passing fad.

I remember the politicians all too well. The first time I met Mark Latham, then shadow education minister, his opening remarks included calling senior Southern Cross University administrator a “f*#@wit”.

I once had to walk away from Kim Beazley, who was happy to keep talking.

Richard Alston, then Communications Minister saw my decade-old Mac Classic II (4MB RAM, 40MB HD) in the office not long after the turn of the millennium and asked if it was new technology. In fairness, I suspect Steve Jobs had never heard of him either…

Alex Downer as Opposition Leader explaining his Arts policy as “my wife likes the arts”.

And then there are the moments I wish never happened, such as coming home from a Lismore Council meeting on September 11, 2001 and wondering what Hollywood disaster movie I’d accidentally turned on.

The Echo’s front page was an international story for the only time in its two-decade history (medal-winning local Olympians notwithstanding). But I was also proud that we had one of the first Australian stories on the attacks after speaking to former Alstonville resident Nicole Kinsella, who almost lost her partner, who worked in the World Trade Centre. My story was on the front page of Fairfax website by 1pm the next day when we were all still in shock. 

I was editor from 1997 to 2005. It was an amazing privilege. I also loved writing the cheeky Shaggy Dog column, the TV column Square Eyes and the restaurant/recipe page. That last one lead to a career as a leading Australian restaurant critic.

Along with Heather Williams and Andrew Binns, I was proud to be an owner of the paper for 16 years. It had its scary moments and the decision to sell the paper to APN News & Media, owners of The Northern Star, wasn’t without regret, but I’ve been heartened to see The Echo continue to prosper as a result.

Twenty years on, it’s amazing to see how far the paper has gone. It was an honour to be a part of that history.

Thanks to you all for making it such a joy to write. 


Share |