Last week in Byron a house that doesn’t yet exist hit the market for $60 million. A beach front holiday house. A tidy little weekender. The buyer will purchase a drawing of the house that is yet to materialise. It’s not even a home.
It’s for holidays. A holiday from what? Makes me want to puke. We should all be appalled. This sort of wealth should not be celebrated. It’s destroying us. What is going to happen to our town if this continues? Where will we live? This whirlpool of speculative wealth in a coastal village is not sustainable. Real Estate is our coalmine. It’s an ugly quarry of gauche profits laced with infinity pools and Japanese spas, yoga rooms and private walled oases. The capitalist model of continuous growth may favour a few, but in the end it impoverishes the many. Extreme wealth does not come without extreme poverty. Homelessness is our quartz lung.
So why are the super affluent coming here? Why not any other coastal village in Australia? For ‘the vibe’. As many times as someone says ‘It’s over’, or ‘Byron’s overrated’ it’s not entirely true. There is still something potent about Byron Bay. It exists because of the generations of story that precede it. The Kaye sisters who walked back from Cabbbage Tree Island to later claim home, the working class who worked in abattoirs, the surfers who found the waves, the hippies who protested development. The wealthy come here because we have something money can’t buy. A real fucking vibe. It doesn’t exist in Surfers Paradise or Coffs Harbour. It exists here. They buy the magic of our intoxicating ‘connection’ and in the process they create disconnection, disharmony and disadvantage.
How will the super wealthy engage with our town? Will they care for country? Will they volunteer to replant the sand dunes? Pick up cigarette butts off the beach? Plant thousands of trees? In the future it won’t ‘just’ be the coast that has eroded, it will be our sense of community – and once that has disintegrated, this place is finished. The vibe they paid $60 mill for will be gone. Byron will be a town full of multi-million dollar mansions full of rich pricks who can’t work out why they can’t find a cleaner. The cleaners moved out years ago.
I find that kind of money repulsive. It’s like concrete cancer. It undermines the foundations of our social cohesion. There is no place for the poor in Byron Bay. Except on the streets, or in the parks or sheltering in the doorways of public buildings. The numbers are growing. Every time we get a new record price in real estate, there are more people made homeless. They move unseen, like ghosts amongst us.
There is something grotesque about billionaires buying yet-to-be-built holiday houses in a town where so many are homeless. I hope they don’t mind stepping over the sleeping bodies on their way to the beach. Fortunately privilege renders those without it invisible; you’re not responsible for something you can’t see. But it’s their legacy. I wonder how they sleep in their $60 million mansion knowing that they’ve authored the increased homelessness of the people in our town. I guess they tell themselves when people become homeless it’s their own fault. And that the government should do something. But you should do something about it. If you can spend $60 million on a holiday house, why wouldn’t you spend another $60 million doing something meaningful in this town where the privilege of the few underwrites the suffering of the many. I’d like to see them take social responsibility; make a purchaser contribution – of another $60 million. Build social housing on one of our disused hospital sites. And if you find the views of ‘social justice warriors’ like me nauseating, then let’s reframe this call to social responsibility as self-interest. You need a town that has good low cost housing, otherwise where will your cleaners live?
I am not impressed by your stupid wealth, your stupid house, or your stupid car. In a world of social inequity and climate change these boring badges of excess are immoral. We need to stop being impressed by money and start being impressed by kindness, compassion and meaningful action.
Do something good.