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Super Bowl Sunday in Byron Bay

I’m from USA, and I’ve enjoyed watching the Super Bowl for the past few years at the popular Beach Hotel here in Byron Bay… In Australia the Super Bowl is on live on TV Monday morning. With so many international visitors in town, there are always plenty of NFL shirts and American accents to be heard. See you there next year.

New Years Eve 2006 – Safe Community Event

The Byron Bay Safety Committee has been formulating the program for a safe community event for this year’s new years eve in Byron Bay.

“With the success of last year’s low key, community based, alcohol free, new year event,  the same formula is planned for this year to ensure a safe night” said Chair of the committee, Mayor Jan Barham. “Council has sought an approval from the Minister for Local Government for the alcohol prohibition again as this was a key factor in providing safety for everyone.  This year it has been decided to not close off Lawson Street and focus the event on the beachfront reserves and minimise the impact on local businesses”.

“The event will commence at 3pm with childrens’ activities and market stalls at the beach front. The popular parade will feature again and there is a request to the community to join in by starting to prepare costumes and group presentations. The committee is also calling for stallholders to make an expression of interest to have food and craft stalls on the night and an opportunity for community groups to have free stalls to showcase their work and activities.” A grant application has been made to seek support for providing workshops to offer training in music and the performing arts to allow them to engage in the night’s event.

The committee thanks those local performers who have offered their talents for the night and buskers are invited to apply to perform on the night.

The Safety Committee also appreciates the generous donations from businesses for prizes for the parade and is hoping that there may be other support offered to assist in the provision of necessary infrastructure for the night.

Byron Bay Farmers Market

I did a quick walk through Byron Bay’s weekly Farmers Market last Thursday (19 Oct ’06) These markets are on every Thursday Morning in Byron Bay.

Brief History Of Byron Town, Council & Bypass

I arrived in Sydney in 1972 to work for Avery Scales for 2 years. One of my first trips was to see the Queensland manager in Brisbane. He wanted to show off his area he brought me to Byron Bay! (There are a number of people in this town who would like to see Byron come under the Queensland State Government permanently!) What I found blew me away. The view from the lighthouse, 40km of unspoilt beaches, hardly a house in sight and a great wave off the Pass. Houses in Lighthouse Road seemed to be closed up and only used for holidays. The town itself was extremely well laid out in a grid pattern. All the houses were neat and tidy, obviously blue collar, the result of 90 years of really hard work. We went to the Abbatoir and discovered why the town had not been yuppified! The northerly wind blew an amazing smell across the town.

The first settler arrived in 1881. Prior to this, the region had been a timber gathering, shack and tent area. 1885/6 town lots were sold and two hotels constructed. (One, the Great Northern, managed to be burnt down in 1897 and again in 1936. The Pier Hotel didn’t suffer a fire until 1949!). The Cape and Bay had been called Byron by Captain Cook in 1770 (After one of his Captains). The town itself was called Cavvanba, some say aboriginal for “meeting place”. If its not, it is still appropriate for the town today. The building of a jetty for 8000pounds in 1888 saw the population grow. Shipping, farming, fishing the main occupations, even gold mining along the beaches. The jetty stretched 400m out to sea, was 8m wide and had 66 piers. At high tide there was 7m of water at the end, enough to take very large steamers. Several shipwrecks in the area led to the building of the Lighthouse in 1901. As the town grew, a Town Council was elected in 1906 (Perhaps as a portent of the disasters to follow, they named the roads after poets; Dryden, Burns, Ruskin, Tennyson etc. silly mistake!) The town had a rugby team, brass band, maypole dancers, all very english. In 1907 they started a surf lifesaving club. By 1917 the town had grown to a population of 1500. There was always work, butter factory, fishing, farming etc. In 1928 a new jetty was built at a cost of 57,000pounds, a considerable sum in those days. There were 2 railway tracks and a diesel electric train called the green frog that pulled jetty carriages (These are now in the Sydney transport museum). Byron prospered with lots of industry, sand mining, abbatoir, piggery, the Norco butter factory, even whaling from 1954-62. Obviously this industry didn’t please the gods, a huge cyclone in 1954 flooded the town centre, took 180m off the end of the jetty and wrecked 22 fishing boats. The boats now operated out of Brunswick Heads and Byron was no longer considered a port. About the time of my visit, Byron Bay and the hinterland was being “discovered” by hippies and surfers. Some backpackers found this paradise, went home and told the world about it. 

Tourism was still in its infancy. The population of Byron was around 2500. Goods were brought by train. People came on holiday by train and camped. The train was well used and long enough to block the only road in and out of Byron, while passengers and goods were unloaded!. Talk of a bypass was started. In 1980, Mullumbimby Council was forced to merge with Byron Bay. A total disaster for both towns. Traffic was increasing, a firm was commissioned to do a study in 1987. They recommended a ring road,crossing the railway line at Browning Street,(behind the present Mitre 10). In 1989 the Council purchased land here ready for the ring road entrance/exit. After a couple of local lads made Crocodile Dundee movies, some scenes filmed in the old meatworks, Australia was launched onto the world map. When John Cornell and Paul Hogan opened the revamped Beach Hotel in 1991, Byron became swamped with visitors. Dundees hat in the bar and the chance to glimpse the great man changed Byron Bay forever. We now get 1.7 million tourists a year. The sudden desire to holiday here caught everyone by surprise. World class hotels were few and far between. Locals started to let their homes, buy second homes to let, put in cabins, studios, Bed and Breakfast places grew like mushrooms. Soon Byron was a giant building site. Club Med bought a 79h site to the north. The town said “stop”, its all too much. Prices of real estate were now matching Sydneys. Fortunately for Council, our sewerage plant had reached capacity. A moratorium on development gave us some breathing space until developers found a way around it. What had been a sleepy working mans town, suddenly became the best debating place on earth. You had to have two opinions on everything, just in case some bastard agreed with you.

There have been 16 major traffic studies, development applications, environmental impact studies, species impact studies, aerial photographs, government grant for a transit station on the new bypass… still no bypass. Meanwhile, traffic at peak season piles up, it can take a hour to enter Byron Bay. Not much of a problem for the tourist but a nightmare for people trying to go about their work. Byron Council Offices were relocated to Mullumbimby in 1995. In 1996 Council was investigated by ICAC and Local Government Inspectors. The General Manager was sacked. The new Council Chambers virtually bankrupted the Council. The rancour created by the forced merger of the two Councils can best be illustrated by this memo sent by a Mullumbimby Councillor when told everything was ready to go on the ring road; “I do not support a bypass, I do not support paid parking funding a bypass. I do support Council selling the land that is held for this proposal. ”With the closure of the railway line, the debate has widened. 

Parking out of town could be provided with a light rail service backwards and forwards, cars could be made to “Park and ride” out of town the railway line could be used as a bypass, the present entry into town could be closed to traffic, all cars coming in or leaving beside Mitre 10. This takes them away from pedestrians and allows a pedestrian friendly CBD. Traffic can also be funnelled off to many different routes.(Guess which option I favour!). Traffic aside, this is still the best town to live in, it has everything anyone could possibly want. 100 restaurants, 3 great pubs, 3 nightclubs, 2 cinemas, a magnificent golf course, the best eclectic mix of people on earth, airs and graces are not allowed, there are active community groups, any religion or belief tolerated, fantastic beaches, surf and walking trails. Our community radio Bay FM matches the people who live in the region, colourful, interesting, fun. The markets and music festivals are world class. What more could a person want?

The Way We Were

Recently, after we had eaten too much fish and chips for dinner in a Bay Lane restaurant, a friend and I decided to stroll around town until our stomachs settled.

This perambulation suited me fine for a secondary reason -- I wanted to reminisce with him about the way The Bay used to look and be more than a decade ago. My friend, being that rare bipedal species, a true local, born and bred in the town, and a generous sharer of recollections and insights, was happy to join me in excavating the collective digsites and landscapes of our memories. His excavations naturally cut through deeper layers than mine, layers dating back to the 1950s and 60s. Which is virtually the equivalent of carbon-dating when you look at how, and how rapidly, "progress" has altered the jizz of Byron Bay.

I'm using "jizz" metaphorically. "Jizz," so my bird identification book tells me, is the overall impression or character a bird gives; a combination of colour, size, shape and movement.

After walking to the water's edge at Main Beach to relish the light of a full winter's moon on an adamantine sea, my friend and I buttoned up our jackets and made our way back down Jonson Street. Our walk took more than an hour as we warmed to our subject. It was a nostalgic experience, bitter sweet as nostalgia typically can be.

Before we got down to the nitty-gritty of noting what used to be where, my friend recounted how only that day he had hosted a group of visiting American environmental students.

"Where did you take them?" I asked.

"First of all," he replied pointedly, "I took them up to the water tower (in Paterson Street) to give them an overview of the town and a clear view of the Greed Line."

The awful aptness of "Greed Line" made me sniff. In the Byron Bubble, the more the developers race towards the Holy Grail of Coastal Capital Gains, the more the rest of us are inclined to retreat, if that is the right word, into a nostalgia for rural landmarks and small-town lifestyles now lost to us forever.

While we're on the subject of nostalgia and before I share some of our recollections of The Way We Were in Byron, I want to remark on how the economic and intellectual elites of our times have given nostalgia a bad rap.

Nostalgia, the dictionary declares, is "homesickness as a disease; [a] regretful or wistful memory of an earlier time; sentimental yearning for (some period of the past)."

Yet according to Fraser Harrison "there is another dimension to nostalgia and it should not be dismissed as simply a self-indulgent, escapist and pernicious failing. Where its account of history is patently untrue, and more ideological than it would pretend, it does none the less express a truth of its own, which reflects an authentic and deeply felt emotion ... our addiction to it is surely a symptom of our failure to make a satisfactory mode of life in the present, but perhaps it can also be seen as evidence of our desire to repair and revitalise our broken relations. The pastoral fantasy nostalgia invented is after all an image of a world in which men and women feel at home with themselves, with each other and with nature, a world in which harmony reigns."

If you are among the one million visitors who pass through Byron Bay each year and visit the lighthouse, chances are you'll also stroll through town, check out the shops and cafes and stay longer than you intended.

You may not hang around long enough to eavesdrop on local conversations, but if you do, you'll notice a peculiar referencing going on. Our speech is often punctuated by allusions to what used to be.

For example, if you agree to meet another local outside the surf shop, you need to specify which one. The small, garishly painted one where the Country Women's Association used to be or the big flash one (with non-stop surfing videos playing in its windows) where cosy, old Ringo's (Cafe) used to be? As a local, you would know it would not be the one which once adjoined the dive shop in that funky old fibro block of shops in Fletcher Street, because that has been demolished for ages and the site now features a massive hole in the ground full of poisoned water awaiting decontamination before the serious work of constructing yet another Noosa-style shopping mall can begin.

Or, should someone ask you to collect a video from town, would you go to Video Connection in the building which used to house the Department of Social Security (pre-Centrelink) or to Late Nite Video in the old timber house where the musical instrument shop used to be?

During our Memory Lane trip around town, we walked past the sizeable and luxurious Waves Motel, in Lawson Street. That stirred up the past for me. Back in 1990, the site on which this two-storey accommodation is now situated was a generous suburban block with a simple 1960s timber house on it. The house was painted that ubiquitous pale ripple green of so many rural Australian dwellings, and in it lived an elderly couple. The man was often seen working in his large vegetable garden in the back yard. One day while participating in a community permaculture group, I helped pull down some dying sweet pea vines from his chicken wire trellis. The wife had explained to us that some weeks prior her husband had suffered a stroke and since then had been unable to tend the garden. While we were at it, we turned his compost heap and weeded a few overgrown vegie beds. For our trouble, the couple thanked us heartily and gave us all cool drinks…

Passing the Byron Pier shopping arcade (selling posh jewellery, Japanese food, hip clothes for anorexic teenagers and, with its mini-theme park frontage, sticking out like architectural dogs' balls in the streetscape), my friend and I both recalled another ripple green timber house which used to rest on this site and which, for many decades, was home for another elderly person. One day, shortly before the house was demolished, I was sitting on its front brick fence munching a Hunza pie and making smalltalk with passing acquaintances when I noticed beside me a straggly Japanese poinsettia plant (Euphorbia heterophylla), regarded by some as a weed, but in my opinion a very attractive plant. I pulled the plant out, divided it up by its root system and, in due course, passed the repotted sections on to various green-thumbed friends who gave them new lives in their gardens.

Right beside the Byron Pier is a building which deserved to be saved and lovingly restored -- and which was, thanks to the late Phil Oliver, whose upstairs office in 1993 held many intense gatherings of those of us intent on preventing the proposed Club Med development from going ahead at Belongil Beach.

When Phil opened the restored building, he called it The Guest House, and ran it as one for a while. That was before the building was extended and developed as -- you guessed it -- more shops. Back then, it, too, had a big back yard, dotted with tuckeroo trees and enclosed by a dilapidated paling fence covered in passionfruit vine. On steamy summer days, amongst the vine's lush leaves and tendrils, a green python thicker than my arm could often be seen sunning itself. Now, of course, that backyard has been replaced by retailers of shoes, cosmetics, expensive knickknacks for the house, et al. Where did the python go, I wonder?

Further east along Lawson Street, we came to the former Byron Shire Council Chambers, which used to house the library before it was reinstalled on the opposite side of the street, in premises which disgracefully are cramped and damp. Nowadays, the old council chambers has become a backpackers hostel.

  • At the beach end of Jonson Street, Krakatoa, which was a tiny, timber beach shack, once sold cheap Indian clothing, incense and Eastern miscellany. Now it's been redeveloped as Fresh, an upmarket bistro whose heated floors, undistinguished decor and trendy clientele are decidedly more inner-city than North Coast in style.
     
  • Almost opposite, there used to be Suppertime Blues, which for many years made the best vegie burgers and banana smoothies on the east coast. The cafe's walls were always plastered with the most hilarious and oddball "share accommodation" ads and workshop flyers. My personal favourite from the 80s was for a workshop called Power Flirting. Remember the 80s? "Power," in addition to "greed" was a buzz word of that decade. Now renovated within an inch of its former existence and called Crave, Crepes and Coffee, the cafe is all rendered brick, glass tiles, stainless steel, iron furniture, hard shiny surfaces, the restaurant look I call "radiology chic."
     
  • The Cavanbah Arcade, a few doors up, before its redevelopment, was an unassuming one-level arcade, housing, at one time, the Byron Environment Centre (when it could still afford to rent space in the main street), a shop selling locally-made angel wings for kids, and the Angel Coffee Shop (in which, way back in the last century, I tasted my first LSD (latte soy dandelion). The cafe's proprietor, Steve Reynolds would serve you graciously and, if business were quiet enough, would sit and yarn to you about the relative merits of writers, from Turgenev to Tom Wolfe.
     
  • Further down Jonson Street, we paused in front of an opal and souvenir shop whose display window featured plastic boomerangs with clock numerals glued onto them, and framed photos of an opal crushing works. We ran a cold eye over pictures of massive machinery gouging the earth and loading up gigantic trucks, and then we eyed one another without remark. What could we say?

    Finally, I said: "Something more worthwhile used to be here, but I'm embarrassed to say I can't remember what it was."

    "Lifestream," my friend replied. Lifestream, of course. How could I have forgotten Lifestream, an unpretentious vegetarian food outlet, with a black-and-white checked lino floor and capacious old wooden booths?
     

  • The demolition of the old Foodstore, corner of Lawson and Jonson Streets, was an even greater loss. With its wooden floorboards, old-fashioned shelving and cash registers so old they didn't work on barcoding, this grocery store (not supermarket) used to (there's that term again) have a quaint 1950s atmosphere. My friend reminded me that suspended from the store's ceiling, if you looked closely, had been wires which once worked on the flying fox principle. A downstairs staffer would write down a customer's order, attach it and the customer's cash to the wire, and whizz it upstairs where someone else would check the tally and whizz back the change. Why couldn't this store have been redeveloped in a way which modernised its operation but retained its faded 50s charm?

Meanwhile, over the railway line, Shirley Street, once lined with ordinary fibro and timber beach cottages, is rapidly turning into an avenue of ultra-expensive Gold Coast-style apartments -- rendered, landscaped, underground parking, swimming pools everywhere.

On the upside -- at last -- the old post office some years back was renovated and extended to incorporate the Fundamental Food store. Well, that's one redevelopment that really looks appropriate and works well.

And the other is John Cornell's pub, The Beach Hotel, still referred to by long-time locals as The Top Pub, to which my friend and I now repaired for a digestive brandy.

Well, I warned you this would be a nostalgic piece, so I hope you're not allergic to it as a sentiment or a way of framing the world.

According to writer Jay Walljasper, nostalgia has been transformed from a its original meaning of a longing for home to a hopeless pining for neverneverland, and I'm aware that my yearnings for The Way We Were in Byron fit this category of unrequited desire.

However, Walljasper, writing in the British magazine "Resurgence", points out that being nostalgic doesn't necessarily mean a retreat from the future, [and] it might actually aid us in efforts to create a better society for tomorrow."

Nostalgia, claims Walljasper "can also offer an important insight often overlooked in our hurly-burly quest for technological and economic innovation: "the recognition that something of value might have been lost on the way to the present."

Fraser Harrison is even more bluntly positive about nostalgia: "While it is easy to scoff at the whimsicality and commercialisation of rural nostalgia, it is also vital to acknowledge that this reaching out to the countryside is an expression, however, distorted, of a healthy desire to find some sense of meaning and relief in a world that seems increasingly bent on mindless annihilation."

If I allow myself to sink into a nostalgia even more radical, I could rent my garments over the fact that underneath each original Byron building was once a complex living ecology -- thriving, pristine and unencumbered by any future visions of tar, cement and tourism.

As we sipped our brandies and watched the Norfolk pines' branches tilting in the wind, we reflected sadly on the irrevocably changed jizz of the Bay. We were still trying to digest not only our dinner, but also the discombobulating changes we had catalogued on our town patrol. Neither of us could "pity the plumage" nor "forget the dying bird."

Catching the Surf Bug

So I am new to this Blogging business, but not new to the internet. I spend much of my time on it surfing for info about well... surfing.It all started about 6 years ago when I stopped here by chance for "3 months".One look at the ocean in Byron and I was hooked. I remember it like it was yesterday... I had a 6'2 shortboard... I thought, how hard can it be... after landing head first in the sand, I realized maybe a little harder than it looked.Within days I spent my last 300 bucks on a bigger board... I had 50 bucks to my name, no Job and a Combi that overheated from the camp site to the beach. It was perfect, even if the surf wasn't good.. I couldnt go back for at least 3 hours until she cooled down. I was working at one special Hare Krishna restaurant, who luckily fed me too... mmm I've never eaten so much Subji (Vege Stew)...For three months I walked from town to wategoes everyday with my massive board... I got so Buff I even managed to score a girlfriend.. whom I married... But I will save that story for my next "Blog".For now I will share with you a little bit of what I saw, that made me stay.

Great Surfing at Byron Bay’s “The Pass”

How bout this? Nice clean waves at The Pass 6 & 7 July...

I Went to Splendour

Plenty of highlights again this year - more mud too.

The Great;

  • The total excitement on my 11 year olds face
  • Sonic Youth
  • The Zutons
  • The Grates
  • ... and Brian Wilson

The Good;

  • Market stalls (same as previous years)
  • Food stalls (same as previous years)

The Bad;

  • Slow moving through the mud
  • More people (componded by the mud)

All up - another excellent Splendour. If you get the chance to go next year - you should.Enough from me, here's what the Splendour people say; Good Vibrations Abound.......

SPLENDOUR IN THE GRASS 2006 has drawn to a close, celebrating its 6th birthday with many magical musical moments. Organisors would like to praise the 17,500 strong audience for their largely sunny disposition and friendly camaraderie during the two day camp fest.

Due to overnight rain, there were delays opening gates. We thank all our patrons for their patience. Once we were up and running, the new personalised ticketing system was a smashing success.

On Saturday July 22nd, St John Ambulance treated approximately 200 patrons for minor injuries consisting primarily of blisters, bruises, scratches, headaches and vomiting. Seven people were transported to hospital for further observation. On Sunday July 23rd approximately 150 patrons were treated for similar minor complaints and three patrons were transported to local hospitals for further observation for suspected drug / alcohol intoxication.

The TENT OF MIRACLES stage performed weddings, baptisms, exorcisms and the odd confession and the WORKSHOP AND PERFORMANCE STAGE saw the whacky and the wonderful.

The inaugural G.W MCLENNAN Theatre stage proved to be a smashing success with numerous artists from BOB EVANS and CLARE BOWDITCH to MOGWAI, JOSE GONZALEZ and AUGIE MARCH filling the new space to capacity.

On Saturday, TV ON THE RADIO played an astonishing set while New York guitar heroes SONIC YOUTH blazed their way through a headline set that capped off day one in the Super Top. Meanwhile DJ SHADOW, PAUL MAC, and the AVALANCHES had punters in the Mix Up tent dancing up a storm.

The Sunday line-up was tremendous – from THE ZUTONS and YOU AM I to SNOW PATROL, YEAH YEAH YEAHS and a welcome return by mystery band THE VINES who played a scorching set – their first major Australian festival performance since 2003 Homebake. WOLFMOTHER electrified the audience in the Mix Up tent and SCISSOR SISTERS delivered a set of high camp pop tunes and previewed new material from their forthcoming album.

The legendary BRIAN WILSON and his extraordinary band delivered the sing-along set of the event, entrancing a multi generational audience with hit after hit after hit ending with the beautiful ‘Love and Mercy’.

And so it is that SPLENDOUR IN THE GRASS has wrapped up for another year. We’ve loved it and hope our audience did too.

We’d like to thank the majority of our patrons for embracing the event in the spirit in which its intended. We’ll see you next year.

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