Fifteen years ago David Bradbury screened Battle For Byron. It was a documentary that told the story of a community’s struggle to halt development, to attempt to still time as it were and create a uniquely sustainable community. According to Wilsons Creek-based Bradbury, Battle For Byron ‘documents the different takes or perspectives on how community grows itself and the development model that has seen urban sprawl up the coast versus the desire of the people who moved here. What we wanted to do then was different from the mainstream values of society based on money and the economy.’
But things have changed. Developments have proceeded and the march of progress has continued forever onwards. It seems fitting then that the Byron Greens should present this touchstone of Byron ‘counterculture’ in the lead up to the council elections, hoping to remind the community of just what is at stake.
‘I think of the film as an historical document; we lost the battle, we lost the war, we saw what was happening in the Gold Coast and Noosa, and we saw the potential for what was happening in Byron and now we see the potential for climate change to ruin the future for our kids, and it seems that in the end we are powerless to stop it. Byron is now like any hip coastal destination anywhere. It’s not the town that it used to be,’ says Bradbury.
It seems ironic that to safeguard community there’s a sense of closing the doors. But why wouldn’t more people see the light and want to come and live here as well? Bradbury agrees that it’s a curly one.
‘In such a naturally beautiful environment, and people switched on to that, who wouldn’t want to live here. And I guess we see the same attitude expressed by Australians on a bigger picture for asylum seekers. We need to get it right. At the end of the day, it’s always about commerce over community. Money and development, like rust, never sleeps; it’s all right for the artistic community to live on a subsistence level, but the chippies and plumbers and electricians and real estate agents don’t like to have the downgrading of the lifestyle – they like the nice new car, they don’t want to work out of home, or be of more substance; they rely on the growth model, the place gets loved to death and it moves on…’
But Bradbury still believes that people can effect change.
‘There are farmers markets, the hospital meeting I was at last night, where the people told the bureaucrats we want to keep our night doctor. When people empower themselves at a local level that’s when things happen. Often the problem is that we are stuck with a power system often that’s not ours any more.
‘We all want heroes – but are we prepared to pay the price? We are looking down the barrel of a future with Tony Abbott… I’ve gone back to the Uniting Church, because there is a sense of community there, and a great people power through the church.’
Battle for Byron features the Echo’s founding editor, Nicholas Shand, who died in 1996 in a tragic accident that took from the community, according to Bradbury, one of the greatest bridges of activism. ‘He had the ability to talk to people from both ends of the political spectrum. In the doco, Shand remarks, ‘They say You Can’t Stop Progress. You can, and we must.’ Does Bradbury believe that, 15 years on?
‘I certainly like the noble sentiment. It’s a good time that rather than being nostalgic for Battle for Byron, it’s good to acknowledge a lot of the oomph has gone out of what we were trying to do here; we have all for various reasons dropped the ball, and it would be good leading up to the council election to revisit some of the issues – let people know the truth so we can move forward.’