European History of Byron Bay

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People have always come to Byron Bay.

Aboriginals came to the meeting place - "cavvanbah". Captain Cook sailed past in May 1770 and named Cape Byron as a tribute to Admiral Byron. Master of HMAS Rainbow, William Johns, mapped the bay and its three rocks in 1828. Under the command of Captain Rous, the party was looking for a safe anchorage.

Cedar cutters made occasional camps at the bay and logs were shipped from Tallow Beach. At Palm Valley under the Cape, David Jarman had a half way house for those travelling the beaches from Ballina to Brunswick.

The village of Cavvanbah was surveyed in 1884 and in December 1885, 200 lots were sold in the first speculative land sale.

The land sales, building of the jetty in 1886, and opening of the railway in 1894 (when the village of Cavvanbah became Byron Bay), set the scene for growth.

These crucial developments all took place at a time when the rush for timber was slowing and dairy men were starting to settle the land. Cows were milked by hand and cream skimmed off settling pans for butter.

New centrifugal separators took cream from milk quickly and hygienically. The cream was then churned to butter. A number of separating stations had been established in the district. There was talk of a central factory.

The jetty and the railway at Byron Bay made it the obvious choice. A co-operative was formed in 1895 to provide cold storage for perishable goods from the district, to manufacture, store, sell and export milk and dairy products, and to make and sell ice. This was the beginning of Norco, and the plant was built beside the railway line.

But the first farmers had trouble with poor natural grasses and the industry didn't begin to grow until Mr Edwin Seccombe found on his Wollongbar farm that paspalum (grass) improved his butter production. The factory at Byron Bay was the ultimate beneficiary of this discovery as farmers improved their pastures. The manufacture of butter trebled in five years from 1899 to 1904.

The factory expanded its operations to become the biggest butter factory in the southern hemisphere - some have said the world.

With the growth of the pig industry on the north coast, a small goods section was added to the Co-op's commercial operation. This was highly successful and its bacon and canned processed meats became famous.

By 1939 4,000 dairy shareholders from the Richmond to the Tweed supplied Norco at the Bay. The processing plant employed 350 people in the district and ships took products to the world.

It was the port facilities at the Bay which gave it the edge when a meat works was to be built. Named the Byron Bay Co-op Canning and Freezing Co Ltd, it was formed in 1912, the plant was built along the sea shore near Belongil. It began operations in 1913, and had a fitful life until it closed down in 1920.

It was not until Mr A W Anderson came along, with his chain of butcher shops, that the works became viable. He took over in 1930, depression days.

The works became modern and efficient and after the second world war, exported to America. Anderson sold his works to F J Walker & Co, who in turn sold it to Elders IXL.

The late 1930's saw the beginning of sand mining which extracted zircon, rutile, and other minerals from the rich deposits in the beaches between Ballina and Brunswick Heads. The company, Zircon Rutile Ltd returned in the 1960's to re-work the sand with more refined extraction techniques. The plant was in Jonson Street where the Plaza shopping centre now stands.

The whaling industry in Byron Bay had a short life. In July 1954, the first whale was taken for Mr Anderson's Byron Bay Whaling Co. The whaling station was built next to his meat works, handy to the railway line. His quota was for 120 humpback whales. This was increased to 150 in 1959, but the yield was lower than at first, and it continued to decline. By 1962 another of the Bay's industries had gone.

For most of its history Byron Bay has been a working man's town. It's only since the factories have closed, and the many social and economic changes of our nation have created the time and the money to spare, that Byron Bay has become a playground.

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