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June 24, 2024

Byron Bay’s club scene snubbed

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An article in the October edition of Australian Way, the Qantas in-flight magazine, which recommends Byron Bay's nightlife is best avoided.
An article in the October edition of Australian Way, the Qantas in-flight magazine, which recommends that Byron Bay’s night life is best avoided.

Luis Feliu

Byron Bay’s late-night club scene has come under fire in a widely read international magazine, while its notorious alcohol-fuelled violence has been noted in a debate over the issue in the Northern Territory parliament.

Both negative views of Byron Bay have been seized on by the Last Drinks at 12 campaign, which says they are telling points against Byron United, the local Liquor Accord and mayor Simon Richardson, who oppose stricter restrictions to curb the violence.Australian Way clipping

In this month’s Qantas in-flight magazine, a feature article promoting ‘one perfect day’ in Byron Bay ends with a swipe at the town’s late-night club scene, saying it is ‘best avoided unless you’re recently out of high school’.

And independent MP Gerry Wood in the NT parliament last week raised the issue of Byron’s alcohol-fuelled violence in a debate over ways to address Darwin’s increasing binge-drinking-related violence.

Mr Wood told NT MPs that Byron Bay was ‘trying to look at last drinks at 12pm because of the problems they have’ and was one town in NSW looking at Newcastle’s successful strategy, which has reduced alcohol-fuelled violence.

Byron shire Last Drinks at 12 supporter Tony Brown told Echonetdaily that Byron’s reputation with drinking and violence on Friday and Saturday nights after 10pm was ‘corroding’ its positive daytime image as painted in the Qantas magazine to tourists everywhere.

He said widespread negative mentions of the town’s problems were trashing its tourist destination appeal.

‘What has taken decades to develop, Byron’s international tourism reputation for peace, harmony and tranquillity painted on a  beautiful natural aesthetic canvas, will be washed down the gutter,’ he said.

‘This is the reality of Byron’s so-called current “vibrant” night economy dominated by just five or six late-trading pubs and clubs that enjoy the tacit kid-glove support and protection of the NSW government,’ he said.

Mr Brown, a longtime campaigner for safer communities, will take part in a forum in the NSW parliament in Sydney on Thursday to speak about the Byron and Newcastle experience with the problem.

In the lead-up to the forum, the NSW Alcohol Policy Alliance, which includes the NSW Police Association, Australian Medical Association and hospital and surgeon groups, this week called for a community defender’s office so residents, schools and hospitals can fight a flood of unwanted bars and bottle shops.

It would be funded through the introduction of annual licence fees for pubs and clubs.

Misplaced blame

Mr Brown said a few powerful lobby groups such as the Australian Hotels Association (AHA) like to blame the alcohol-fuelled violence problem on consumers, when ‘really it’s the money-makers behind it causing it and consumers are just the pawns’.

‘The problem is not just the consequences of drinking but the business models, and that’s where it has to be tackled,’ he said.

‘In Newcastle, five years after a big reduction in harm due to late-night alcohol restrictions, the night-time economy is thriving with more jobs, and it’s a safer town.

‘It the mono-economy culture (nightclubs, bars) that’s promoting binge drinking.

‘This fast-drinking, fast-bucks mono-economy is a false economy… and cannot deliver the Byron community sustainable jobs and a sustainable financial future.

‘The majority in the community and the health sector are seeking proven, evidence-based solutions to prevent alcohol-related violence and associated harms.

‘Cringing and curtailing the binge supply, service and consumption of cheap, high-strength alcohol into the early hours of the morning to younger locals and travellers will dramatically reduce dangerous extreme levels of intoxication and consequential violence and harms.

‘Conversely, a safer, sensible and more sober night economy in Byron will allow more diverse businesses such as licensed restaurants, small bars and live entertainment for all ages, to flourish well into the night and replace the unsustainable binge-barn business models that crowds out such opportunities except for strip clubs.

‘We don’t need more police, riot squads, CCTV, more lighting… what we require is effective community-centric leadership to lead us down the right path.’

Mr Brown said he would focus on giving hope and encouragement to other communities fighting with the same problem at tomorrow’s forum, titled ‘Breaking down the barriers: community involvement in liquor licensing decisions in NSW’.

Interest in Newcastle

He said Armidale, Tamworth and other towns around NSW were looking at the Newcastle model, which he helped get established.

A South Australian parliamentary inquiry was also looking at it as are also senior Queensland government officials.

He said, ‘all roads lead to Newcastle,’ in terms of what should be done.

Mr Brown said, ‘all communities have the inalienable right to have a safe community free of preventable alcohol-related harm’ and the Last Drinks at 12 campaign helped to achieve that.

‘It’s a fundamental right of self determination and local communities should not be dictated to by a small cabal of powerful, licensed premises, as the community itself was directly impacted on by the dangers of alcohol serving practices.’

He said that in Byron, the state government through its liquor licensing authority was continuing to support a small number of licensed operators and ‘ignoring the community, its police, doctors, nurses, paramedics and other small businesses’.

The recent six-month expansion of the local voluntary liquor accord trial, he said, was such an example of this support and he rejected the accord’s claim that their restrictions were ‘tougher than Newcastle’s’.

Mr Brown said people were now saying the police riot squad would attend the town over the New Years Eve break for fear of alcohol-fuelled violence getting out of hand.

His comments came eight men another violent incident flared in Newcastle at the weekend with eight men charged over assaults at a  hotel which left several police officers injured.

About 12.30am on Sunday, police attended a hotel on Hunter Street to help remove several intoxicated men but were set on by other intoxicated young men outside the hotel. The publican was forced to close down the hotel.

Byron Bay’s Visitor Industry Association (VIA) says the negative publicity again highlighted the need for the government to get tougher.

But VIA president Cameron Arnold told Echonetdaily the problem was a ‘whole town issue’ and had to be addressed as such. Addressing the problem involved talking to the venues, the business and wider community.

He said the process had already started with a workshop held last week involving all stakeholders on ways to deal with the issue .



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  1. No surprise! I pointed out in the Echo a couple of times, that I’d heard from families I know in both Sweden and Germany who have decided not to allow their kids to come to the Byron area for their gap years due to the reported drunken violence. In fact, I gather Oz is missing out entirely for their travel plans, and parental guidance has been more leaning towards encouraging skiing/work trips in Canada, both families being avid skiiers in Europe anyway.
    Side trips to the Caribbean are on promise too for when the kids need a break from the cold of Canada. Tough bickies, Byron, you had the chance to clean up the act and you blew it!

  2. With 1.4 million passengers per month reading this Qantas magazine it is good to see that the daytime and early night traders are doing a great service for our local tourism ,a shame that the after 10pm night clubs let down the team.
    We had better hope that this tourism article doesn’t reach Qantaslink (400k passengers/month) or Jetstar (834 million passengers/month) as it will deter our late night we’ll behaved crowd.

    Come on after 10pm nightclubs ,change your business models.You can’t keep using the same model that worked in the late 90s and early 2000s, get up to speed or The Roadhouse will leave you to eat its dust.

  3. Single viewpoint strategies will not serve the Byron community’s need to a more diverse management approach to this matter. The upgrade to the industry has been profound over the last 12 months due to the issues arising from alcohol fueled problems. The issue is street wide all night long. More Police presence and basic lighting is town 101. The international and domestic youth tourism should be accommodated for just as much as anyone else. Pop music and disco lights are still an acceptable form of liaison for anyone’s age group. The high-horse cultural stance of this particular data is not well informed in relation to the resources provided to the township via this economy of entertainment. It is obvious the demographic of this writer and editor. After midnight, the youth will happily suck on cheaper alcohol on the beach and then just lie around there instead. No security, no licensed staff. The intox levels are street based & the violence stems from no caring presence across the board. Byron has never invested into the night-scape. This is the time to re-evaluate how the town represents itself as a consumer experience. Rather than knee jerk old fashioned fixed viewpoint blame game. There is a place for everyone in Byron Bay. Disco singalong happy cold beer moments are valid currency in my universe. It is nice to see a balance with new boutique venues open. Would you like the Roadhouse to be filled with Gold Coast youth or English lads? I think the resources should be commended and supported. Big picture inclusive & responsible! Cheers!

  4. As long as the Byron night scene is geared seemingly exclusively for youth, there will be problems. Anybody over 25 is regarded as too old to be catered for. Where are the more sophisticated bars etc. for the more mature clientele? There used to be a good mix of ages in Byron but the pubs, clubs, bars & most restaurants have been taken over by new owners only interested in selling booze, raising the music sound levels to uncomfortable & making sure anyone over 20-25 is not included.

  5. Johnson St after midnight is starting to affect tourism. Anyone who saw the smashed window in the plaza arcade last Sunday morning or the people sprawled across the road last saturday night hitting taxi windows etc. can understand it. Is it any wonder that people are reluctant to stay out late. There is nothing “vibrant” about Byron’s after midnight nightlife. It is just dangerous. If the late night trading venues shut earlier people would either not come from out of town to Byron for a late night party, and those going out in Byron would preload less, go out earlier to party and go home earlier less intoxicated. Less drunks on the street would bring the locals out and the families back, eating at restaurants later and frequenting small boutique sophisticated bars. Unfortunately we are stuck with night clubs and a titty bar.

  6. There needs to be a focused multi layered approach to the problem of anti social behaviour.
    Interstate experience shows that responsible licensees working in collaboration with police, council, residents and patrons can reduce the instances of violence and damage to the local amenity.

    The venue managers and owners all have a duty of care to the patrons, public and residents to ensure that their venues are operated in a responsible and lawful manner.They hold their economic future in their own hands.

    Government and Industry authorities have the power and responsibility to preserve Byron as a premier International tourist destination.

  7. I still can’t believe some are trying to defend outrageous levels of late-night public intoxication in Byron Bay, as ‘vibrancy’ or ‘an individual right’. I say bring back true vibrancy, where all can enjoy without fear, and I would have thought the community’s right to safety and peace overrode an individuals right to be intoxicated on the street.

    Also, it is of great concern that the Byron Bay Liquor Accord, fronted by Hannah Spalding, herself a licensee and the daughter of the town’s biggest publican, seem to be promoted as an objective voice on this issue, and is getting involved in supposed youth education. Reminds me of McDonalds advising kids on nutrition, or the tobacco industry giving health advice. Let’s not forget the Accord exists to represent the interests those that sell alcohol in this town.

  8. Byron’s degrading reputation at home and abroad has more to do with just late night alcohol fueled violence. What Tony Brown forgets to mention when drawing parallels between Newcastle and the Byron Shire is that Byron has one of the highest rates of unemployment in Australia, with no new industry arising outside of festivals, which employs few people for sporadic periods.

    With more and more unique outlets and small businesses closing in Byron to make way for more chains due to outrageous operating costs, and with no infrastructure and a zero-growth attitude in place it is no surprise that alcohol is becoming one of the only viable industries in town. It is all well and good to blame the “evil” venue owners for drunkenness, however it is clear that this is only a small part of a greater problem. What hope do the youth in this area have, what opportunities? As a zero growth area, with staggering rates of unemployment, and failing infrastructure, in the past these were the issues that would be discussed in the mayoral elections. Now we talk about potholes, and drinking; two issues that are just a small part of the bigger picture that is ongoing mis-management of a town that is constantly running over capacity.

    When our elected leaders won’t even discuss the bigger issues, and while they continue to ignore that the shire is bigger than just a bay, this anti-social behavior will continue. Last drinks at 12 might work in a large area like Newcastle, but before you start offering band-aid solutions to a tiny town like Byron, perhaps they should address the issues that the problems stem from. Unfortunately it is becoming to late to capitalise on Byron’s waning eco/alternative reputation and use it to try and lure viable and sustainable businesses to our Shire, this should have been done when the problems of high unemployment first arose. Until we get some real leadership and direction, perhaps even a plan for the future, Byron will just sink deeper down, until a topless bar will be the least of our worries.

  9. Hardly surprising. Alcohol fuelled violence is damaging our town’s reputation. Whereas Last Drinks at 12 will show the world that we are a community that places a higher value on health, safety and peaceful living than on drunkeness, violence and offensive behaviours.

  10. It’s a no brainer that alcohol should not be served to people under 21 years of age. People who cannot handle alcohol are children and should be treated as such for the safety of others. Anything less is a criminal act of provoking violence against innocent bystanders, private and public property, and the general community. Think of all the other folks who are harmed or suffer loss. Lowering the opening hours won’t help, because they keep drinking from their cars.


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