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Life in Byron’s squatter camps

Photo Rudiger Wasser. For more visit www.rudigerwasser.com.

Photo Rudiger Wasser. For more visit www.rudigerwasser.com.

Anna James

The gypsy kids’ campground would be beautiful, if not for the debris.

A baked-bean can, water bottle, and a dog bowl are scattered on the dirt among three deflated tents and piles of soiled blankets. There’s a pink massage claw, a tabloid magazine and liquor bottles.

The squatter camps like this one in the hinterland surrounding Byron Bay are illegal, but easy to find; behind the main strip, Jonson Street, walk a few metres inland, and tents appear. Neon-green, foliage-topped rosewood trees join baby blue sky; the salty summer air steadies and waves tumble nearby.

‘Sometimes the police ask you to move on, only if you’re being disrespectful to nature and trashing the place,’ says 20-year-old Kai, who’s been living out here for three years.

Kai, like the other people interviewed for this article, didn’t offer his last name, as illegal camping is punishable by fine, or worse — disdain from his peers for opening their secret world to the media.

‘At least someone is interested in us,’ says Kai, when approached for an interview.

Kai is a typical Byron Bay gypsy kid; under 25, impassively homeless, and living in a tented community with his peers on the fringes of one of Australia’s richest towns.

Photo Rudiger Wasser. For more visit www.rudigerwasser.com.

Photo Rudiger Wasser. For more visit www.rudigerwasser.com.

The name ‘gypsy kid’ is typically used by those who’ve never met them, professionals looking on from the other side of town. The kids refer to themselves as a ‘pack,’ ‘mob’ or ‘family.’

Kai’s dark skin makes him stand out, a rarity in a predominately white town; his father is Maori, and his mother English.

He sports a tuft of peroxide in his fringed hair, and a ripped sleeveless Hawaiian shirt. He’s shoeless, always. He could be an extra from the movie Point Break.

Fearing police, the kids abandon camp at daybreak.

‘No-one’s at camp during the day, [police] can’t do nothing if they don’t see us with our tents,’ says Kai.

‘We’re like a little family. We share what we’ve got, and if someone shares with you, you share with them,’ he says.

Travellers sometimes share their supply of weed and wine, a non-verbal exchange for companionship and accommodation in the dunes. ‘We get a lot of travellers,’ Kai says.

The gypsy kids divide public opinion. The weekend before Christmas, a community enforcement officer was attacked in the dunes during a blitz on illegal camping. He sustained a black eye, facial cuts, and a broken dislocated thumb. Incidents like this fuel perception of the gypsy kids as a public safety issue.

Divided opinion

Many resent the strain they put on local resources like the Larder, which provides free food.

‘Modern-day gypsies just want a free ride,’ wrote Terry Gray on the Voice of Byron Facebook page. ‘Go book into a caravan park like everyone else and put money back into local businesses (not just the pubs and bottle shops). Stop being a burden on the welfare agencies (’cause it’s all about a free feed) and take the bloody rubbish with you.’

Over the phone, Gray’s voice softens when he reveals that, at 50 years old, he was homeless. Until recently, Gray illegally squatted around Byron in a tent with his dog. He divides Byron’s homeless in two: ‘ones who choose that lifestyle, and ones who can’t genuinely find a place,’ reserving resentment toward ‘takers’ who live off the land, just as he did recently.

‘I’ve been struggling and homeless before and I’ve had to use some of the services around town, like the Neighbourhood Centre [Larder].’

But others believe they’re just kids, pursuing a higher spiritual journey, for which Byron was built.

Charlie is a 34-year-old former dental technician and empathises with the gypsy kids because he’s on an odyssey himself. Mid-2015, he left the corporate world in WA, his job, house and professional community, to join the protest against ‘insidious’ invasions of the rights of Indigenous Australians.

‘Some kids are on the streets because of drugs and alcohol, but a lot of them aren’t,’ Charlie says. ‘Some are using them recreationally and for spiritual reasons, like taking magic mushrooms. They’re not just getting out of their heads. They’re making a connection with the infinite.’

 

Journalist Anna James produces and co-hosts the Community Newsroom on BayFM on Friday’s from 11am. For more visit www.annajamestown.com.

 


5 responses to “Life in Byron’s squatter camps”

  1. Jon says:

    ‘…. to join the protest against ‘insidious’ invasions of the rights of Indigenous Australians’

    More bullshit! They couldn’t spell ‘indigenous’, clean ’em all out.

  2. Steven Frank says:

    “They’re not just getting out of their heads. They’re making a connection with the infinite.” WTF.Seriously?!?
    Looks like the “Gypsies of Byron” are rapidly becoming the Australian version of America’s “wetbacks”– the difference being, of course, that the South of the Border visitors there will gladly mow your lawn, dig a ditch, or basically do any chore unpleasant to muscle or nose. And they’d be back the next day to do it again, at a fraction of the going rate. To call a European a “gypsy” is regarded as highly insulting, as gypsies there tend to live in groups that can sometime lend themselves towards, well, how can I put it, theft and crime. OK, PC gloves discarded, these Byron beach holiday bludgers are just that. Bludgers. Sure, some are uneducated, others mentally unstable (drugfucked, in other words) with perhaps a few lost causes looking for redemption thrown in. They have given the social safety net the middle finger while taking the cash, then carry on like New Age anarchists looking for an easy pot of gold, or maybe just pot, at the end of the Rainbow Region rainbow.

  3. Sveeny says:

    Steven frank seriously ? Look at the bigger picture, the distribution of wealth etc. How the common man gets ripped of his rights. Think again.

  4. Lucia says:

    Wow! It doesn’t make anyone a better person just because you live in a box and are busy busy busy working all the time to pay it! Why do people get so upset when others choose to live differently? Maybe because somewhere deep in their hearts they feel unhappy with their lives?Power to choice, as long as we respect each other and do no harm! People are governed way too much in their choices already!

    • Lillian says:

      No problem with genuine homeless. Stuff happens and we all find ourselves in unfortunate circumstances.
      As for those rejecting mainstream society and finding themselves that ok too, but don’t hold your hand out for mainstream funded dole money. Where would the gypsies be if everyone suddenly went bush? Who would provide the dole money?
      So find your connection with the infinite but don’t do it on the public purse.

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