Colourful life of Byron’s surfing lawyer comes to a close
BYRON Bay lost one of its identities over the weekend when surfer turned lawyer Lester Brien died at his home, aged 71.
Part of the influx of great surfers who moved to Byron Bay in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Mr Brien was a finalist in the Australian surfing titles in 1968, according to the Century of Surf (COS) Facebook page.
Shortly after moving to Byron Bay, Mr Brien became the lawyer of choice for pot-smoking surfers caught by police, of which there were plenty.
“I was well known around then because I had all these drug cases,” he said in a story published in The Sydney Morning Herald in 1979.
“If there was a drug case in the Northern Rivers I was the one acting, and that was simply because I was a surfer and I was known, and it was surfers getting busted for marijuana.”
After ruffling a few feathers in the police and legal fraternity, in 1977 Mr Brien was summoned before the Woodward Royal Commission into the New South Wales drug trade.
When he refused to hand over his client files to the Commission, Mr Brien was jailed for six months for contempt.
Behind bars, Mr Brien was treated like royalty by the other prisoners because he was seen as being “staunch”, according to COS.
“I was fortunate, I suppose, in that I went in in the best possible circumstances,” he said in the Herald article.
“That is, I went in, from the crim population’s point of view, for failing to give someone up, almost unheard of among solicitors.”
While in jail, Mr Brien began to write a semi-fictional novel about some of his experiences, which he called the Byron Connection.
The book was published in 1979 and sold 25,000 copies.
Mr Brien was disbarred as a lawyer due to his actions, so he then managed several businesses in Byron Bay including Dinti’s Bar in the 1970s.
He and his son Garth also ran Australia’s first learn-to-surf tour company Surfaris, conducting surfing and camping adventures between Sydney and Byron Bay.