Byron Bay is looking quite tacky these days. Shops are empty and there’s a general atmosphere of depression in a place that has fallen on hard times. The fallout of the Global Financial Crisis? I don’t think so.
Anyone who has wondered why Byron is in the dumps should think back and remember the campaign against tourists, which has been running here for at least the past 10 years. There were big spreads in the newspapers in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, reports in TV news bulletins and on the radio. I’m sure everyone knows which Shire-wide organisation was running this vendetta against the outside world.
The result was wholly predictable: the Australian family holidaymaker got the message and went elsewhere. You don’t see them in the streets of Byron or on Main Beach any more. They’re at Noosa, the Gold Coast, Yamba or Coffs Harbour – places where they feel welcome.
People who don’t read newspapers, watch TV news or listen to radio news grabs continued to stream into Byron. This distortion in the local tourist market turned Byron into a backpacker resort. Cheap shops and fast food outlets proliferated. Street crime increased considerably.
Businesses that used to cater for grown-ups left town. You have to go to Ballina or Lismore to buy clothing for adults. The dry-cleaners went, as did the smart hair salon under the cinema.
The overall result is a lack of vitality in the heart of the Shire, a lack of opportunity for young people and a growing sense of unease at the loss of energy in a town that used to sparkle with life.
There is an urgent need for a new spirit in Byron. The time for a change in direction is well overdue.
Ian Evans, OAM