Byron Bay. Tuesday, 1.45pm
Byron Bay is a beautiful place despite the pillaging by modern humans. You can still experience that beauty if you escape the tinnitus and tinsel of town and get to the beach.
I gave money to a parking machine and wandered past the koala tea-towels and cold beers, beyond the bare-chested juggler and the old drunk under Norfolk pines to find the ocean.
The land around here, tended by the Arakwal people for thousands of years to provide everything required for a sustainable society (how could they have forseen the barbarity and lethality of the coming invasion?), has been replaced by an ugly conglomeration of shops, homes and exotic plants.
And let’s face it: It is bloody ugly. Sure, it’d be more comforting for me to squint and imagine the whole mess as civilising progress leading the populace to happiness, but… I can’t. Not anymore. I don’t believe in Santa Claus or capitalism. If rushing headlong into social and environmental catastrophe is your idea of progress, well, you’re probably a developer.
But, hey… the sea remains and the sun is glinting off the northern reaches of the Tasman. Surfers bob on their boards off The Pass, waiting for the wave that will carry them, for a brief time, into the here and now. A man with a gym physique and de rigueur tattoos shoulders past me with a woman wearing not much. They check their phones as they walk.
I strip down to my swimmers, ditch my sunnies and wander to the water’s edge.
Beautiful. The sea is as clear as hindsight.
The real value around here comes from nature. It is not the expensive homes,
profitable businesses, or reiki massages. Money does not express value, rather it is a gauge of how removed you are from the common wealth. The bigger the price tag, the more toxic and blinding it is. The juggler with his dirty pants hanging at penis level and the grey-dreadlocked drunk with his paper-bagged bottle are richer than the shop-owner counting money in a backroom of the Byron temple.
The real value in Byron Bay belongs to us all and has no price. (And how Council hates that: Imagine people sleeping in their vans at the beach! For free!) Two worlds exist side-by- side. One world is flashy, coming at us from every shop window, every screen – from everywhere. It is a cacophony of consumerism, spinning you into a acquisitive delirium, where fulfillment is just a few dollars away. But you never get there.
The other world is quiet, living in the neon shadow, existing outside the screen’s blue light, inhabiting the quieter places where nature and humanity are.
The water feels cool, but not cold. As a storm cloud covers the sun, a cooler breeze rolls in from the town, rippling the sea and making it warmer than the air. I jump over a few waves, strangely trying to avoid getting wet while walking deeper into the sea. I dive in – suddenly, I’m immersed in wealth beyond price.
The second Englightement is upon us. As consumerism accelerates to dangerous speeds, we are starting to feel frightened, aware that the driver of this bouncing bus is not human, has no children, and thinks long-term is to the end of the financial year.
Underwater, lines of light race across the bottom leaving small clouds of sand.
As the fiscal fantasy fades, we are waking up. Blinking, we look in horror at the devastation we have caused during our sleep. Awake, we wonder: What now?
Aboriginal people can guide us. They gardened and nurtured Australia, creating a world where people had a place, life had a point and the children had hope.
All this with no credit card…