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Byron Shire
May 20, 2024

Mandy Nolan’s Soap Box: the kids aren’t alright

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When I was a kid we went skating. There was a drive-in. A cafe with booths that we gathered at, eating burgers and playing Space Invaders. There was a regular Blue Light Disco. And I lived in a shitty country town with nothing to offer.

Here we are in the Byron Shire with so much talent at our fingertips. So many innovators. So much capital and there’s nothing for our teenagers. We need to start giving a shit about our kids. Not just the ones in our bellies or on our back seat, but the ones in the street, the ones hitching into town, the ones getting drunk and causing trouble. The ones we look at and think ‘thank god that’s not my kid’.

Well, guess what, you live in a community, and that is your kid. Everyone’s kid should be our responsibility. An idyllic paradise promoting the utopian dream, Byron Bay should have state-of-the-art youth facilities. It should at the very least have an amazing children’s park for the littlies – all bespoke and wooden, crafted by artisans out of breadboards and kale. Instead we have beachfront playgrounds littered with bottles and ciggie butts.

What about a beachfront skatepark? Or one of those temporary inflatable water parks? A PCYC? A cafe where kids actually feel welcome? It’s great not to have McDonald’s, but could we have a cafe where kids can actually afford to eat and recognise something on the menu? We have none of this. Nothing that tells our young people that they matter, that they can see benefit from the constant invasion of holiday makers.

The other day a local youth worker posted on Facebook about her disappointment with the lack of interest and engagement of the wider community, and namely, the Byron business community, in the welfare of the kids in our region. I guess it’s easy to blame the parents and forget about the bigger picture of what it feels like to live in a town where you’ll never be able to rent a house or afford to live. Where you see all the services and energy in your town geared to the visitor, and not the resident. Certainly not the under-18 resident. If you’re not legal to drink you sink.

The youth worker noted how many initiatives to keep kids safe, occupied and meaningfully engaged had been brought to a halt because of a lack of cash and a complete lack of interest of anyone in the business community to step up. It seems crazy that in a town absolutely bloated with affluence and opportunity that so little benefit trickles down to the young. I don’t think they want a bypass, or more development, more shopping districts on streets that no longer feel or look like home. What have they got to look forward to here? It must make you feel a little locked out of your hometown when everything is laid on for milking that big creamy tourist cow, but nothing for you. It’s enough to make you a little tourist intolerant.

It’s time those who profit from the 1.7 million tourists each year to put their fat little arms into their bulging pockets and throw some cash on the community table. And I’m talking real cash, not the spare change you hide from the tax man. That’s right, you big fat profiteers, I’m talking to you. Do something big. Something impressive. PUT BACK.

Build something. Fund something. Have a vision. Make it happen. Stop relying on volunteers to do the job of paid workers. We don’t live in a region of limited resources; we live in a region of financial abundance… for some. Frankly, the ratepayer is sick of having to pick up the tab on all the infrastructure costs around here and not even get a pothole successfully filled while businesses like Woolies sit with fingers in ears going la la la.

The irony of a rate rise just after a forum on the lack of housing affordability doesn’t go unnoticed. This place is crazy. You know what under-18s in our region, Byron, Lismore, Ballina, Ocean Shores, Mullumbimby, Lennox etc have to do on a Friday or Saturday night? They get ‘sloppy at toppy’. Basically it’s getting smashed at the park opposite Main Beach. When it gets messy we use our police to clean up.

It’s not like we don’t know. We all know this has been happening for years. God knows I’ve had to pick my kids up there on numerous occasions. That’s what we offer them here. Underage drinking in a poorly lit park. Somehow, that doesn’t feel like the Byron dream. We can do better. Affluent Byron can do better. They just choose not to. Shame on them.

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  1. We must protect all children from the lack of cultural integrity that is currently pervading society. All mothers and fathers of teens have a full time job protecting their teen kids.

    Yes it is time to overhaul the whole tourist industry in Byron and contribute to the welfare of kids. Start with the affluent, illegal letting , a tax on businesses that profit from the 1.7 million tourists that descend on the town, a Council that shifts its ‘development’ mentality to imperative policies addressing inter-generational welfare and protection.

    Add to this the rights of rate payers to demand an input into KNOWING where their rates are going! The democratic right of rate payers to say “No” to the current political agendas that exclude the real confronting issues that kids face in Byron Bay…Double Pay.

    By actions of addressing human welfare we show the kids ‘WE CARE’.

  2. Again you have hit the nail on the head.Pity those you write about seem not to read your column,too busy counting their ill gotten booty,from their ILLEGAL holiday lets.Seems Money is the new god after all.So sad.

  3. Awesome Mandy. Well said.
    Only thing I would say is that there ARE some business people who do contribute a lot – thinking of those who support Pathways to Manhood for example and programs that have followed. It’s not enough and it is time to step up for “seven generations’ ahead….or at the very least a deeper recognition of the true cultural and capital value of our younger people, whose lives are uneasily embedded in the uncertainty and restless grasping of the world we have created. Their innovation and energy, if fostered, will provide many of the solutions to the issues we face faster than we may think. Our youth are an incredible resource, a repository of the future, as our older folk are libraries of meaning and purpose.
    thank you

  4. yep Mandy, tell it like it is!! They keep cutting back on YAC funding, we could do so much!! Percussion groups for girls, skate parks like you said. roller skating at Cavanbah….thanks again xx

  5. Mandy you stir my sleeping soul. This community needs leaders. Maybe you can do it. Join Lions or Rotary and show them the way to do more than free tea on the highway sometimes.
    When rich men get together on a mission things can happen. Rich people are usually limited to a vision of their own wealth and what others think of them. This is their Achilles heel. Get a couple of rich guys to press other rich guys toward contributing toward an event or a mission and they all fall over like dominoes.
    Your skate park by the beach is a good start, maybe a skate park by all the beaches, so nobody is left out. Even tourist’s kids can use it. Then add to them banana pancake stalls for no profit. The hearts of all participants will expand.

    • Thank you Mandy for an awesome article. Surely with the amount of wealth and creative know how in this Shire we could come up with some great ideas. I’d love to hear from the teenagers, that are probably bored and feel unseen, what their ideas and input would be. Perhaps a community meeting?

  6. Well said Mandy. I have been thinking about this for years, each time I come back. These wonderful talented kids are the future, why not fully support and engage them in far more than just a social appendage or ‘nuisance’ role? A few years ago theatre and drama was thriving in the Bay … older people belonged… it was alive. So what happened? Was it when ‘community’ became just ‘business’ … and jaded? What is a community without thriving youngsters?

  7. What I think you are be moaning Mandy is the loss of freedom, the loss of innocence and the loss of community. Where are we heading? Possibly a good place to start is community events with no money making outcome, a commitment from us to our children beyond giving them things, valuing time above money, they are both in limited supply.

  8. Well said Mandy. Before any moves the young people need to be consulted and asked, really what would you like to address a social problem. Coolangatta lost their roller skate park to a car park, there is a skateboard arena at South Tweed Heads, and I think that is all there is for the under 18’s.

  9. i addressed a gathering of young people you mentioned at the beachfront,cops on horseback telling me dont you think you could be somewhere else other than here.i said your exactly right ,same with this lot here including you lot.i then said 2 youths,if you had a party 2 go 2 would you rather be there than here?they replied,where is this party? i said sorry no party our community is not catering 2 your needs ,go home.one cop said correct.same story in many towns.someone needs 2 fix this.

  10. Mandy as usual you have the bull by the tail. I am so glad to read your epic and honest writing and I agree entirely with you. I have 3 grand children who have lived in Byron, two have left however one remains. Other than the Blues festival and Writers festival and a few other annual gigs my three have always commented on the lack of decent, wholesome, enjoyable, suitable activities for the younger person. I now live back in the west in a seaside town and it is about the same size as Byron. Here we have a number of activities kids can enjoy and are still in the process of building more. However we do not have nearly the amount of tourists annually, yet due to the proximity to Perth the council are aware of those who tend to visit on weekends and put on many activities.
    So I so hooray to you girl. Get out amongst those “fat profiteers” and make them see sense, and what good facilities will bring to the town.

  11. We are doing something about this in the Byron Shire!! We completely agree with you Mandy which is why 10 months ago we funded and began a Girls Club in the heart of Byron Bay ( Marvell St) for teen girls. We provide free events and workshops and a safe space for girls to be themselves, try new things and be inspired by all the amazing women in this town and beyond.. We have incredible women who mentor these girls, provide free tutoring , teach them boxing / dance / yoga before school plus so much more!!! Check us out http://www.futuredreamers.com.au or our Instagram @future_dreamers I think you will appreciate what we are doing for the girls of this community xx

  12. Places to go, things to do that don’t cost 20-80 bucks would be a great start. How do people think 14 to 17 year olds pay for cigarrettes, petrol, alchohol and gunja? (their alternative entertainment) The things these kids do to keep a supply happening are all the things that so called happening adults are complaining about. CRIMINALIZING KIDS BEHAVIOURS THROUGH LACK OF PROVIDING THEM ALTERNATIVES IS CRIMINAL IN ITSELF. Deb

  13. Dear Mandy
    I really like your comments however I really disagree with you here on some level here. I think the problem starts in early child raising. How many of us baby boomers like our kids to be a bit naughty and rebellious??
    It’s sort of cute our sweeties getting up to a bit of mischief, as we are all rebels deep down???
    Well, I don’t think money can fix the problems only parental diligence. I am not saying to be hard on the kids but consequent and following things through. It’s hard work to always be consciencious and don’t let it slip. Very tiring and at times relentless. It also makes us constantly question ourselves.
    I work at the Market and today as I was going to get my car I got some stuff knocked off from the back of my Stall. Works out it was a bunch of kids about six years old. When I went to tell their dad he just laughed and just a short time later those same rascals littered the already not very good toilets. Dad again just laughed. What message is he sending???
    I think it’s okay to take your kids and make them clean up their mess especially at this tender age. Life is about boundaries and respect. Easier for everyone. Also means I care as a parent if I act. It means I value who you become in Society. Start early, be prompt. Sad if you can’t be bothered to give the right message.
    I got a sixteen year old who plays sport. It involves competitiveness, bullying, Fairness, humanity and lots of other life skills. We talk about it whilst I drive him around involving many hours of my time. Regards to you Mandy xxx

  14. Good article Mandy.
    You actually could start something as well instead of your various businesses (comedy school and appearances etc etc.) How about the MN young adult collective and go for a Council/ Govt grant .Nityabodhananda is spot on when she says JOIN IN and BE CREATIVE !!!
    Rotary would love you to do a FREE appearance to raise money towards the skate park on the beach (brilliant idea by the way) or whatever. Gotta make a start somewhere instead of the endless talk by do nothing do gooders Put your money where your mouth is people !! The Echo would give free advertising I’m sure..
    Very sorry to hear your kids get sloppy at the toppy with the rest of em..
    I read somewhere…There are no bad dogs, just bad owners
    and its also up to good parents to actually know what good parenting is and apply it. Knowing where their kids are…oh thats right, you knew…sadly… but how do you stop em you ask ???
    As kids we all went against our parents wishes because we were rebels and as we age we actually become our parents to an extent.
    If the people of Byron were genuine in their moans it would happen..Yes ask the people who make money here..including you PRODUCE !!!…and put up or shut up… Woo Lees stupermarket couldnt give a rats.
    Will it be like the 25 year plus wait for the Bypass…good to argue the point over though…. by a bunch of useless, incapable do nothings.
    I’m .fully sick and I’m goin to get sloppy at the toppy…



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