A former decade long editor of the St George and Sutherland Shire Leader, Cyprian (Skip) Fernandes, has just published his colourful life-story, Yesterday in Paradise.
He was born in the 1940’s to Indian parents, a war baby in Nairobi, Kenya, then a British colony. The story begins with Fernandes upbringing by a single mother with six children, a childhood replete with struggles on the dark continent, leaving school uneducated at 13 because he refused to be punished after his headmaster wrongfully accused him of stealing altar wine.
As a teenager who read voraciously and after spells of working in a warehouse,a bank and in the colonial civil service and a stand-in juvenile probation officer, Fernandes desperately lied about his age claiming he was 22 and became an instantly experienced sports journalist at the age of 17.
During his career rise on the Daily and Sunday Nation in Nairobi he was immersed in a life of intrigue, drama and daring, especially during the blood chilling revolt by the Mau Mau ( which fought for the return of confiscated lands). Fernandes had contacts, as he had befriended several evicted Mau Mau who lived near his school .
He lived in the right place in the right time-Kenya, a land of natural beauty and in two of the most dramatic decades in Kenya’s early history, the fight for the return of confiscated lands, the fight for independence, independence in 1963 and even more dramatic events in the aftermath including, murder, assassination, land grabbing, dominance by one tribe over the rest of Kenya, and the expulsion of Asians, most of whom who had known no other home than Kenya.
The politics of East Africa was anything but boring and he was amongst one of the first to interview the evil despot and mass murderer Idi Amin the third President of Uganda who also became the first man to deport members of the Asian community.
In the 1960s, as the country marched towards independence. Fernandes was immersed in politics getting to know future leaders on a first-name basis. Most editors valued his insider-knowledge of the political environment. He had to abandon this high life of journalism at the peak of his African career after death threats to himself and his family and settled in the UK.
After a few years surviving in the UK on the British tabloids , Fernandes was hired by Fairfax as a senior sub-editor and immigrated to Australia in 1979. He was the founding chief sub-editor of Good Weekend Magazine and held senior positions on the SMH and The Australian.
How he ended up as the editor of the Leader is another story but it was still the heyday of suburban newspapers in Sydney with at least twenty journalists at his disposal, good advertising figures and pages thick with copy.The Leader was awarded Newspaper of the year under his stewardship with the advent of editorial colour and subsequently photographers flourished with his open layouts.
Following his stint as editor of the “Leader” that ended somewhat controversially, he took up a communications role with the Caltex Oil Refinery in Kurnell and also edited the newspaper “The Indian Down Under” for a decade retiring in the dawning of the new century.
One reviewer described the Fernandes book as a movie script for a thriller-believe it or not.
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