REMEMBER WHEN: Enjoying a swim near Byron Bay Jetty
REMEMBER WHEN: Enjoying a swim near Byron Bay Jetty

Sleepy Byron Bay springs to life

TODAY Byron Bay is classified as a great tourist destination. People come by plane and car expecting to find glamour, alternative culture and excitement.

The beaches are famous for their wonderful surf; the scenery is magnificent. The wealthy retire there and build palatial homes, some of which cost millions.

The hotels are exotic but there is also a well-patronised backpackers venue. There are still a few people around who knew the old Byron Bay, but they are fast disappearing.

Byron Bay in what could be said was its heyday was a sleepy old place but with an undercurrent of much activity. It had developed around its long, well-protected natural bay and the original houses were built just over the ridge of large sand dunes.

It had been a shipping port for the timber industry in the old days when the logs were rolled down to the surf or else sawn first in the timber mills which were later established there. It was visited first by sailing boats and then by the steamers.

As there was a beautiful headland on the southern end of the Bay it was a natural place to build a lighthouse - this is in fact Australia's most easterly point. The flashing light could be seen for many kilometres in all directions as well as out to sea and it was a beacon to many a tired traveller going home.

As the years rolled by the sleepy little town developed into the centre of several important industries.

The dairying industry was looking for a more reliable port than Ballina from which to export its butter and so the large Norco factory rapidly expanded there.

Dairy farmers separated the milk into cream and skimmed milk. The cream went to Norco while the milk was fed to pigs which were a valuable additional income for the cash-strapped farmer.

Norco built a huge pig-slaughtering centre to process the pigs. Norco bacon was produced as well as other smallgoods including wonderful fillet steaks.

Andersons Meatworks was another institution in the town and its sausages were a by-word all over Australia. Later there was the whaling station and the sand-mining (zircon and rutile) industry. There had always been sand-mining all along the coast but these small-time miners were mainly interested in the gold they could obtain.

All these new activities employed hundreds of workers and brought wealth to the north coast area. The building of the jetty made the port much more viable, and the advent of the railway, with its link to the jetty, completed the scene.

There was much activity, and tourism blossomed as well. People came by car, boat and train. Weekend railway excursions were a great success and special trains provided these journeys. The small shops thrived on the weekend trade. Camping was very popular for those wishing to have a longer stay.

Growing up in Byron Bay at this time was ideal. Boys especially found the sand-hills the place to be - bare-footed and looking for adventure.

Jim McGettigan remembers the shang-eye and sling-shot fights between rival "gangs", especially when the camper kids joined in at Christmas time.

One boy was given a pellet rifle but as he was cross-eyed he could do little harm with this upgrade!

Nail-guns were more dangerous perhaps but were used mainly for pelting the backsides of passing horses!

Sometimes a visiting staff party would hand out ice creams and the local lads would boldly join the queue for these! Yes, those were the days!

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