Star's editor retires after 23 years
By SAMANTHA TURNBULL
RUSSELL ELDRIDGE didn't actually want to work at The Northern Star back in 1984 when he scored his first job here.
The self-described feral had been living the hippie life at Wongavale, near Rock Valley, when he was 'forced' into work by the Government.
"The Commonwealth Employment Program dragged me screaming from the bush, shaved off my beard, cut off my tail and said there was a job at The Star and I should take it," he said.
It must have been a good thing because Eldridge, 56, stayed at The Star for 24 years and yesterday celebrated his retirement with past and present colleagues, friends and family.
South African-born Eldridge grew up in a journalistic family and, after dropping out of a law degree with a drama major, gravity drew him to newspapers.
His first job was as a cub reporter on The Natal Witness in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, in 1971. There he learnt reporting and sub-editing and was thrown into sport when the sports editor resigned.
In 1979, the ugliness of apartheid drove Eldridge out of South Africa with his young family to take up a position with The Sydney Morning Herald.
"Apartheid permeated every moment of our life like a bad smell, and became the focus of almost every story I wrote," Eldridge said.
"It was stifling. And I saw no future for my family. Australia was like home, but without the injustice of apartheid."
In the early 1980s, when Eldridge moved to the Northern Rivers, the region was re-inventing itself.
"A new wave of people was moving in who were passionate about preserving the natural environment and who wanted to create communities where the common good prevailed over individual gain," Eldridge said.
"Many current residents don't realise that the special feel of the Northern Rivers, the controlled low-impact rate of development and the low level of private and public corruption is in part due to the vigour and vigilance of social activists over 30 years. Long may it continue."
On his last day of work, multi award-winning Eldridge yesterday reflected on his career.
"The best moments are when you know you've written a story that connected with readers and meant something to them," he said.
"The worst are when you're exposed to the dark side of human behaviour. I've had plenty of threats physical, financial and professional. And there was one death threat, which fortunately, I talked my way out of."
Eldridge, who now lives at North Ocean Shores, plans to spend his retirement travelling with his partner Brenda while writing a novel, working as a media consultant and with community groups like the Northern Rivers Writers Centre.