Tent town triggers a mixed response
By MEGAN KINNINMENT
SYDNEYSIDERS Andrew and Liz Gibbs are paying $1700 per fortnight for their beachfront Lawson Street unit, while 50 metres away up to 40 squatters are living in the bush for free.
But the Gibbs aren't bothered.
"There was one guy who popped his head over the back fence when we were having dinner the other evening," Mr Gibbs said.
"He said 'Hello, how are you going' and we had a chat for a while.
"He was pretty friendly...drunk, but friendly."
The Gibbs say the incident was a part of 'quirky' Byron Bay and will make a great story to tell the folks back at home.
"You just put it down to being in Byron Bay, that mix of people. That's why we come here," Mr Gibbs said.
"I can see why rate-paying residents would get upset with them living there, but at the same time, the campers may have rights as squatters."
Another group of holidaymakers told The Northern Star they had no problems with the squatters, but were careful not to leave any possessions outside their holiday unit in case they got stolen.
"I'm not at all bothered," Jenny Bell, from Sydney, said.
"As long as they keep to themselves."
Another holidaymaker, who did not wish to be named, said she had encountered squatters at the back of her holiday unit helping themselves to water from the tap.
"They had their bottles to fill and they said 'hello luv, how are you going'," she said.
"But, it's only water."
However, the woman said she would no longer walk along the sandy track through the 14ha Sandhills Estate as a shortcut to town, after one man come out of the bushes: "That man made me feel uncomfortable and now I'll walk the long way to town instead."
Some nearby permanent residents, however, are not as keen on the 'quirky' characters who have lived on the Crown land for the past two years.
"I've lived here for 19 years and now I don't feel safe walking through that track," said a Cowper Street resident who asked to remain anonymous.
The man alleged he had been attacked along the track by two squatters and was chased out after the altercation.
"They're illegally dumping rubbish, removing Woolies trollies and lighting fires in the bush," the man said.
"I'm not down on the people living there. I know you can't just throw people out, but why can't the police book them for defecating in the bush and having unregistered dogs?
"It's illegal to camp there and the council and the police should have stopped them at the very start."
Yesterday the Sandhills squatters had a clean-up day, filling several skips provided by the Department of Lands.
Byron Shire Council and the police will meet with the Department of Lands later this month to discuss the Sandhills Estate situation.