Opinion

Our editor responds to Sue's blues on Byron Bay

Bluesfest is one of the world class festivals held in Byron Bay, that is a real drawcard.
Bluesfest is one of the world class festivals held in Byron Bay, that is a real drawcard. Marc Stapelberg

RESPONSE:

IS Byron Bay still the jewel in the crown of the Northern Rivers or the arse end?

That's the question I was left pondering after reading colleague Sue Gardiner's opinion piece in The Northern Star yesterday.

I totally respect Sue's right to criticise, she's lived in the shire long enough to be negative about the place if she wishes.

I agree with the premise of her article - that Byron Bay has changed so much it's not really liveable for many of its residents - but I am not ready to give up on the town yet.

You see, I also live in the shire and yet only really access Byron Bay for the things its renowned for such as its beautiful beaches, music and writers festivals and some of its bars, cafes and restaurants.

At certain times of the year (Christmas, New Year, summer holidays and Easter) I don't go near the place.

If I want to avoid traffic queues into town, I use the back road via Bangalow.

But without Byron Bay, the Northern Rivers wouldn't be the same draw card it is today and we wouldn't have its world class list of events to access such as Bluesfest, Splendour and the Writers Festival.

Crowd at the Byron Bay Writers Festival 2013 Photo Mireille Merlet-Shaw / The Northern Star
Crowd at the Byron Bay Writers Festival 2013 Photo Mireille Merlet-Shaw / The Northern Star Mireille Merlet-Shaw

That's not to denigrate Ballina, Brunswick Heads, Lennox Heads, Evans Head, Lismore, Alstonville, Nimbin, Casino or any of the other towns of villages we all choose to live in. They all have a character and beauty of their own.

But Byron Bay is definitely the magnet that makes this the epicentre of alternative cool.

ORIGINAL: BYRON Bay we need to talk.

After years of defending you, it hurts to have to tell you that my heart's not in it anymore.

We've slowly drifted apart to the point that it's time we called it a day.

Oh, we'll still see each other from time to time, but the days of a few visits a week are history now.

I'd like to let you down gently by telling you that it's me that's changed, but the truth is it's you.

But I probably should have foreseen that the cracks in our relationship would inevitably end in tears.

After all, since the late 1990s I've stomached the Ewingsdale Rd traffic torture and the inflated prices and the often shabby appearance of your streets.

But until now I've brushed these off as the price of living in paradise.

I know what you're thinking; that it was the recent introduction of paid parking that finally pushed me over the edge.

Well it didn't help, of course.

But Byron Shire Council didn't have many options after grappling with the disparity between the impact of the Bay's visiting hordes and their injection of revenue for decades.

And that brings me to what is the true underlying cause of the breach in our relationship.

You see, Byron has reached a point where it is so overly reliant on a niche segment of a single industry that it's not even pretending to cater to the people who live in the area anymore.

I know there will be locals and outsiders alike who believe I'm unfashionably late to the party on this conclusion because Bay bashing has been a popular sport for years.

But I can pinpoint the moment when I reluctantly concluded that the hassles now out-weighed the town's attractions.

After an absence of several days, I recently discovered that another couple of shops offering products and services useful to locals had been swallowed up by more retailers targeting tourists, including another backpacker booking agent on Lawson St.

These gaudy establishments have accelerated their spread in the Bay CBD in recent times like the Zika virus.

On the main strip, Jonson St alone, there are nine outlets flogging "super saver" trips to Nimbin and the reef and rock. 

If this trend continues, how far off are we before locals run out of reasons to come to town?

For that matter, how far off are we from the last of the tourists realising that the town once internationally famous for offering a bohemian cultural experience, has now disappeared up the backpacker back-passage?

And how did we get to the point where the dominant shaper of the town's commercial hub is  the lowest-yielding segment of the tourism market, the type that are the most likely to spend their money on partying rather than a legal camping site and end up crapping in our streets?

The parasite has well and truly over-taken the host, and is in danger of killing it.

I never thought I'd say this because as a kid I used to think it was daggy, but have you visited Mullumbimby lately, 15 minutes up the road?

It too has reached a critical mass - but of quirky shops and quaint cafes and alternative health purveyors, with nary a chain store darkening its streets (and free parking to boot).

Then there's Brunswick Heads, even further north, which is also often jammed with tourists, but a more sophisticated variety of the species.

Even on New Year's Day, there was not a pool of vomit to be stepped in at this seaside village, even though it was heaving with visitors cultivating their melanomas.

So fortunately for me and other locals, there are plenty more fish in the sea.

But how many others have given up on the backpacker theme park that the Bay has become?

 

APN Journalist Sue Gardiner was born and raised in the north of Byron Shire..

Topics:  byron bay opinion



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