Byron Bay has lost one of its larger-than-life identities, the surfer turned lawyer Lester Brien, who died peacefully at home on the weekend aged 71.
Lester came to Byron Bay in the l960s to surf and began working as a lawyer in the 1970s, including defending many local surfers who ran foul of drug laws.
According to the Facebook page Century of Surf (COS), Lester was a top competitor of the day, a finalist at the 1968 Australian titles, and a part-time Surfing World correspondent.
When he moved to Byron he soon became the lawyer of choice ‘for every surfer who was busted for drugs on the north coast – of which there were plenty,’ the website says.
‘I was well known around then because I had all these drug cases. 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,’ he recalled in an interview.
In 1977 Lester was summoned before Woodward Royal Commission into the NSW drug trade, which demanded he hand over all his client files.
When he refused he was jailed for six months where, according to COS, ‘he was treated royally by the crims because he hadn’t dobbed any one in’.
‘I was fortunate, I suppose, in that I went in in the best possible circumstances. That is, I went in, from the crim population’s point of view, for failing to give someone up – almost unheard of among solicitors. So I was seen as what they called “staunch”,’ he said.
As a result of his actions Lester was disbarred and subsequently ran a string of businesses, including Dinti’s (later Julian Rocks) Bar in Byron in the ’70’s.
He wrote a semi-fictionalised account of his experiences, The Byron Connection, which was published in 1979 and sold 25,000 copies.
In later years Lester ran Surfaris surfing and camping trips between Sydney and Byron Bay with his son Garth.
In 2014 he published his second and final book, The Ton Run and other stories, also set in Byron Bay.