Hans Lovejoy & Eve Jeffery
A serious community problem has been bubbling away in the north of Byron Shire.
The end result – from past experience – will be that some local young men will become sad statistics: dead, drug addled or in jail.
If you’ve driven around the Ocean Shores area lately you may have noticed the OSB (Ocean Shores Boyz), YTB (Yelgun Tunnel Boyz) and SGB (South Golden Beach Boyz) graffiti/tagging and wondered what it was all about?
Who is doing this and why? Every couple of weeks, Council pays to have the street-sign graffiti removed but it just keeps coming back.
These tags are a cry for help from Our Saddest Boys, who are now on the edge of manhood with insufficient support and guidance.
Sadly, the boys have not learned social behavioural boundaries; few of the boys have had a male role model available to help them take their place among men in the local community.
By stealing and assaulting as a group, these unguided boys have found a way to feel powerful and worthy.
During this year’s Byron Schoolies, several of the youth gang members were identified on Main Beach, Byron Bay, starting fights and harassing schoolie revellers.
The local OSB youth gang appear to model themselves after the so-called Eshay movement, which is found in larger population centres around Australia.
Byron Youth Service response
Senior youth worker and program co-ordinator at the Byron Youth Service (BYS), Deb Pearse, says there is little for young people to do in the Byron Shire when many of the resources are focused on tourism.
‘How can a single parent seeking work, a home and an education for their children survive?’ she asks.
‘The focus on tourism, dwindling funding, the lack of resources to reach young people in need and the difficulty of bridging the gap with parental involvement creates a breeding ground for negative behaviours, which significantly impacts on the community, other young people, schools and parents.’
Pearse says that over the past 18 years, there is an issue that emerges again and again in different localities and within different ‘tribes’ of young people.
‘While we tend to focus on the current issues, it’s what lies beneath, what keeps creating these conditions that’s important. What these young people mainly have in common is a lack of positive male role models, neglect, anger and a feeling that their “territory” is not their own.’
Pearse says the BYS has a model for a First Referral Program, which would significantly address the ‘warning signs’ and provide a means by which high-risk young people are subject to an intervention.
She says it would not only benefit the community, but provide a pivotal point at which appropriate support and a positive change in direction can occur.
‘Right now, we need funding to get this new program off the ground as well as extend our current Street Cruise outreach program to the whole of the Shire.’
Mullum High School response
Mullum High School principal Donna Pearson told The Echo that the school’s Personal Development, Health and Physical Education (PD/H/PE) curriculum and its welfare and discipline code ‘certainly teach the importance of self-respect and respectful behaviour’.
‘In addition, students have access to a number of significant school and outside- agency wellbeing programs including the Chrysalis Girls Program, Crossroads, Young Men’s and Young Women’s group, Rock and Water Program and RRISK Seminars.
‘We are aware of community issues and our staff use that knowledge in how they encourage students to behave appropriately and be respectful to others in and out of school.
‘To address the issue, the community needs to invest in getting these boys the help and guidance they need.
‘The younger boys below 15 that are modelling the Eshay behaviour need the full attention of parents, schools and the community.’
Detective Chief Inspector Brendon Cullen told The Echo that police are aware of a group of youths who have a collective title of South Golden Beach Boys.
‘However, what police have observed is that this group of youths are little different from any other group of youths who congregate together socially.
‘The group is unorganised and lacks any lines of authority. The group does not display the characteristics of an unlawful gang as such. It would be false to label these youth as a crime gang.
‘Police in the local area are well aware of the youths that have been alleged to be causing trouble and have spoken a number of times to them and their parents.
‘There have been very few crime incidents reported to police attributable to these youth.
‘I am aware of one alleged assault, however; the victim to this day has refused to provide police with a statement.
‘This makes our job significantly more difficult as we can only take action for alleged crimes where those crimes are reported to us.
‘In most recent times, in particular Australia Day, police have interacted closely with these youths and their parents. There were no incidents reported to police.
‘We closely monitor anti-social and criminal behaviour in all areas of the Tweed Byron LAC including the Brunswick Heads, Mullumbimby and Byron areas.
‘Very little has been reported to police in relation to youth violence in these areas.’
Parents have told The Echo they have learned the hard way not to host large gatherings for their teens’ birthdays because OSB gang members have in the past showed up and ‘punched on’ – starting fights, intimidating and robbing others.
The Echo understands most of the boys’ ages range between 15 and 18 and they no longer attend high school, but still live with their mums in the Ocean Shores/SGB areas.
Hopefully the community will alert the parents of these young men of the effect their children are having on others and offer them the help needed to change the destructive path these young adults are on.
Another established local program is Pathways To Manhood.
It’s a contemporary, community-based rite of passage, where boys aged 13 to 15 years and their fathers (or a male mentor) camp in the bush for five days.