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Byron Shire
February 25, 2021

Car mania clogs Mullumbimby

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More infill, residential and tourist developments on rural blocks, and more housing in Mullumbimby’s proposed southern precinct will increase traffic congestion and reduce the amenity of the town. Photo Aslan Shand

Richard Hil

It was a fatal error – driving half a kilometre into Mullumbimby to pick up a carton of milk. My partner drove while I conducted reconnaissance for that elusive parking spot. 

Jenn: ‘There! – no, no, that’s for disabled’. 

Me: ‘What about there? Look!’. 

Jenn: ‘No, no, that’s for loading’. 

Me: ‘Christ! What about there? Quick! I think that bloke’s trying to muscle in! The f***** – he has!’. 

Jenn: ‘Calm down’.

Me: ‘Don’t tell me to calm down!’. 

And so it went on: round and round the potholed streets of downtown Mullum. Every parking spot was taken. A convoy of frustrated drivers snaked behind us, craning their necks, left and right. ‘Oh, sod it’, I say, ‘let’s just go to Woolies’. 

We sped off in the self-flagellating knowledge that we’d added to the traffic congestion and pollution levels. We also berated ourselves – quite rightly – for not walking into town. Lazy sods! Inexcusable!

The fact is it’s impossible these days to just ‘duck into town’ any old time for a sourdough – at least not by car. It’s chockers during week days, with growing clusters of 4WDs, open top coupes and what look like military Hummers clogging the byways. Cyclists are a rarity as are folk on electric scooters and mopeds. During daylight hours, and sometimes at night, downtown Mullum is as congested as any inner-city suburb. It’s noisy and occasionally dangerous. Drivers seem increasingly ill-tempered. 

Most people complain about this in private. Some old timers bemoan the days when the occasional beaten-up Toyota carrying a Jesus lookalike would trundle down the main street with every prospect of angled parking. These days you need to get up before dawn for such simple pleasures. My mate Gregory tells me that when he used to saunter through Mullum in the early 70s ‘you could fire a missile down the main street and it might hit a couple of parrots’. Nowadays you’d wipe out a fleet of vehicles and umpteen pedestrians. 

But is it really that bad? Well, yes; it really is. Now that Byron has been turned into Santa Monica on steroids, made worse by a so-called ‘bypass’ which is no bypass at all, Mullum and surrounds have become the new epicentres of tourist interest, amply serviced by dozens of cafes, restaurants, and boutique clothing stores. It’s Fitzroy in the bush, the only difference being the fading presence of ‘alternative culture’. The Indigenous presence, although resonant and very much alive, has been visibly overlaid with a faux rainbow agrarianism and legions of superannuated ex-inner-city dwellers in search of nirvana. Those who managed to buy up proprieties twenty years ago are doing just dandy, while the precariat can only stand by and hope (usually in vain) for that ‘affordable’ home. 

Tallowood Ridge and the Tallowood Estate. Image Google Earth.

Meanwhile, the ever-expanding Tallowood estate on the outskirts of Mullum has ensured that its several hundred residents (and rising) are obliged to make their way to town by car. And once there, they’ll likely rub shoulders with countless Airbnb-ers who have driven long distances only to encounter what they experience at home: congestion. 

I first became aware of this self-defeating phenomenon in the pretty but horribly overrun town of Berry, a few hours south of Sydney. This lovely enclave full of dainty weatherboards and prissy cafes festooned with hanging baskets attracts thousands of visitors each year who flock there in search of an aesthetic experience denied to them in city suburbs. 

Here’s an obvious point: why can’t people make the places they live in look just like Berry, then they wouldn’t need to invade such towns? Sadly, Australia’s reputation for drab architecture and ticky-tacky subdivisions that pass for domiciliary bliss means that nice is always somewhere else. Modern housing estates might be called The Haven, Bliss Vale, Oakville, Sunnyside – whatever – but many of these suburban gulags are bereft of any hint of simple beauty. Farmers sell off the land, developers move in, and the rest is history. 

Now I know what you’re thinking: what a snob! Alright for the superannuated self-involved to sound off about suburban aesthetics! And you’d be right, of course. But then again, shouldn’t all people be entitled, not simply to a roof over their heads, but to some sort of spiritual nourishment that comes with places that are pleasing to the eye? Or is that too much to ask? Cars, car parks, and drab housing tend to work against such things. They take rather than give. 

Gold Coast.

What’s worse? Well, you might take a closer look at the Gold Coast where houses have become walled fortresses with their residents invariably hunched over computers or huddled in hermetically sealed media rooms. This is part of the great migration indoors, where relationships are increasingly mediated by screens. Cars are an extension of this atomised culture that gazes at the world through a pixilated prism. Just think how these metallic carriages wreck communities, drive kids off the streets, endanger, and pollute. We let it happen at our peril. Is it happening in Mullum? I reckon. 

Maybe we should be looking at Barcelona where city authorities have managed to reclaim inner urban streets by banning/discouraging cars in favour of cycle-friendly pedestrian areas. In these ‘superblocks’ community life, the social vibe, have returned – gloriously. So, Byron Shire Council, yes to ‘green corridors’ but let’s do something about those metallic, polluting carriages. 


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11 COMMENTS

  1. The words written 45 years ago by Don Henley and Glenn Frey of the The Eagles in “The Last Resort”:
    “They called it paradise, I don’t know why
    “You call some place paradise, kiss it goodbye”

  2. Richard: “a pixilated prism”? I hope your drunken pixels don’t get a hangover! (pixElated)

    As to parking spaces in Mullum: Our hopelessly air-headed council is about to deprive us of even more parking spaces by “beautifying” Stuart St with plantings, FFS! When Council re-paved the Poinciana carpark a few years back they wasted about eight car spaces by planting trees, which do nothing useful – they’re not shady enough to keep cars cool – and drop leaves into ventilation grilles. Roads and carparks are for vehicles; parks and gardens are for trees. Function before form, please!

  3. Well, well, here we go again.
    Next BSC elections must be held on a platform of managing tourism, Air B&B and traffic in the shire.
    What we have seen in the last 12 months, courtesy of Corona, is a look into the future and it’s not pretty.
    We must have a review of bed tax, public transport (electric busses on popular circular routes) parking stations outside towns for day trippers and a lotto system during school holidays to keep visitor numbers to a sustainable level.
    If those who profit from excessive tourism get a foothold in the shire, kiss goodbye the lifestyle we all once enjoyed.
    Please lobby our State and Federal members about this issue as Council can’t act alone.

  4. I’ve been trying to move to Mullum from Suffolk for MONTHS now so I can go to the School of Art. My issue is my disabilities prevent me from driving so my choices are basically nonexistent. Something seriously needs to change – lock rent prices for 5 years and do proper inspections of all properties renting etc.

    There should also be a locals before city slickers rental policy. How else are we going to be allowed to live where we grew up? Some people don’t have a choice.

    Enough capitalism, time to start advertising Byron (and surroundings) as a burnt out wreck and boot out the parasites making a fast buck.

    I want my community back.

  5. one of those “metallic, polluting carriages” happens to be my home. unless i’m topping up my drinking water supply there is no need to drive into mullum cbd ever.
    many motorists are too selfabsorbed, idling their engine for 5, 10, even 20 minutes, while tickling their device in plush aircon, to consider aesthetics, community, or – shock! – even nature (trees drop leaves! how disgusting!).
    why should this rather ignorant & selfish civilisation, indulging in its species privilege, end up with a kinder fate than the mayas, the roman empire or any other human culture to date?

    • Focusing on decreasing the accessibility of mullum via motor vehicle will only serve to increase congestion, exacerbating the problem. Byron council needs to take a look around and invest in more parking spaces, and better roads, not trees in place of car parks and wasted space.

  6. Mullum is my home town. I was born in 1960 and remember what it use to be like growing up. Yes, parking was never a problem. I learnt to drive in Mullum in 1977, (thanks Dad for teaching me. You taught me well). I now live in Hervey Bay.

  7. Byron Shire Council is to blame. Stop advertising the area to the world. Its to late now, the criminal council that wanted the gold coast to extend to Byron has got there way. The entire Shirley street development and the beach hotel and the development on the shore line has had foundations put in that will take high rise development, it was planned that way decades ago. The criminals are your fraudulent election’s that only allow their people to be elected. The law is the crime. We could have had self sustainable community development decades ago and been the shinning light for the rest of the country. But No, we got shafted by the council. And now we have so many City people that have moved in with there sold out mentality that there is no hope for Mullumbimby or the Byron Shire, you will have to look for a different shire to take up the fight against communism.

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