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Byron Shire
July 31, 2021

Storylines – Call for Aboriginal housing and support

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Belle Budden

Byron Shire has been experiencing increasing rents for over a decade. It has become a very expensive place to live. Like many coastal towns in our region, the COVID flow on of sea/tree changers has hit hard.

Rising rent and housing competition are pushing out Bundjalung and off-country Aboriginal people who have lived in regional towns for decades. With limited social housing or affordable housing options, and a decentralised / ad hoc approach to Aboriginal housing in our community, our communities wellbeing is heavily impacted by the lack of safe and secure housing options. This is further affecting our people’s cultural obligation to care for country and our ability to support and care for family.

A new wave of dispossession

The Aboriginal Community in the Byron Shire is threatened with a new wave of dispossession owing to economic pressures on housing. Our people are being forced to leave their families and support networks to find more affordable housing options; but where do they go and how do they rebuild their lives without support?

The Bundjalung of Byron Bay, the Arakwal people, have wrapped this place up in National Parks through decades of work, three Indigenous Land Use Agreements and extensive and successful Native Title agreements. They have held back the flood of development and increased the desirability and liveability of the area.

Arakwal woman, Nickolla Clark, says affordability and demand is out of her reach for all areas at the moment. ‘I cannot compete in these times, and priority is going to certain groups of people from outside our area’. Photo Tree Faerie.

Young Arakwal woman, Nickolla Clark, grew up on-country. She started contributing to community at 12 when she joined the Byron Shire Youth Council, was the vice-captain at Byron High School in her senior year, is the Byron Shire artist of the year, is currently installing a major public art installation, and works full time at the Arakwal Depot. Nickolla has been looking for a house in the area for nine months, but has given up.

Affordability and demand is out of my reach

‘Affordability and demand is out of my reach for all areas at the moment, I cannot compete in these times, and priority is going to certain groups of people from outside our area,’ she says.

‘Living on country is my priority but I also looked further in the region off-country. I looked in areas that could offer me access to my work and study areas, lifestyle and community involvement.

‘For me the biggest issue is not being able to access a house on country. Staying connected to country, my family, work and community is very important to me. I have grown up living with and listening to my elders share culture and country, and I have to face the rising housing crisis in Byron and the prices that come with the influx of Airbnb and limited affordable options to stay on country.

‘The greatest impact is the disconnection from country and culture. [Challanges of] affordability and access [are] setting unrealistic options [that are] out of reach for us. We have very limited support services that are hard to access or non-existent. This housing crisis is something that is directly affecting Arakwal and Bundjalung people, there are small numbers of Arakwal people living on country which is devastating, we are native title holders and most can’t even live here.

We need reforms around Airbnb and holiday letting. File image.

We need real solutions to this current crisis

‘We need real solutions to this current crisis. Firstly a service to help our Indigenous community is essential. Builders and developers should be engaging with Traditional Owners and setting aside housing for inter-generational living and Aboriginal housing. I think supporting a small Aboriginal housing service that provides access for our community will help gain more housing options on country.

‘We need reforms around Airbnb and holiday letting, we need changes to the laws to secure properties for long-term housing and more homes on the market,’ she stated.

Julie Williams, manager at the Mullumbimby and District Neighbourhood Centre, has been spearheading a local project advocating for improved services for the local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.

Not be able to live on country is heartbreaking

Julie Williams, Nickolla Clark and Belle Arnold at the Mullumbimby Neighbourhood Centre. Photo Tree Faerie.

‘The housing shortage is appalling for the local community, but for the Aboriginal community it is devastating. To not be able to live on country is heartbreaking and then there are no place-based resources to provide support to Aboriginal community here. It is critical that there is an increase to all services, but housing is past crisis. Aboriginal people need to be supported to live in the Byron Shire to maintain family and cultural responsibilities,’ said Julie.

‘People are shocked when they hear about the lack of Aboriginal health and community services in Byron Shire. The assumption is that services in the adjoining Local Government Areas are available in Byron Shire. They are not. Having accessible Aboriginal services based in this community is crucial to supporting Aboriginal community members with culturally safe wraparound supports. People might march for Black Lives Matter, celebrate NAIDOC, and generally make a public commitment to supporting the Aboriginal community, but this is not transferring to meaningful commitment to the “liveability” in our community.  And the gap keeps widening.’

It is impossible to address health, education and employment gaps for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people when there is no secure housing.  Housing is a need and should be a human right, when will our people stop getting moved on?

Bagwa Bugalma


Belle Arnold. Photo Tree Faerie.

Belle Arnold is a local dubay of Wakka Wakka descent. ‘Living off country I pay my respect to the Arakwal people and the wider Bundjalung people of this land,’ says Belle. 

Belle has worked in community for 15 years, Belle is an artist, dancer and weaver working across many other mediums. Belle is passionate about community and has committed to empowering women and young people through cultural practice. She has worked in government, arts and community organisation to advocate for improved access to land, culture and services. Belle is currently employed at Desert Pea Media as the Projects Manager.


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8 COMMENTS

  1. All the multi-million dollar land holders and celebrities in Byron Shire are lining up to provide their land free of charge to make this happen.

  2. Rents are rising in the Byron Shire because it is a tourist shire and as such the Tourists are treated with privilege before local residents.
    Air BnB is a problem with many houses being rented out at the tourist rate and that forces up the permanent rate.
    The Tourist dollar feeds the town so Byron Shire Council hops on that wagon to obtain money and puts in parking meters little knowing that Council are punishing locals for parking in their own town,Byron Bay. To get the tourist to pay, many things in the Byron shire pander to the tourist but locals and tourist go to the same venues and walk the same streets. Local are punished by the Tourist price. Byron Sure is getting expensive to live in. The local poor community is punished and so we have a complaint from the Aboriginal community.
    What is there to show for our Council rates that tourists don’t pay. There are potholes in our roads everywhere. Those potholes depletes the suspension of local cars.
    You would think that the money coming in from tourists would be spent on locals and facilities for locals? You would think that.
    The local beaches are getting eroded and the ocean and the tides are taking tonnes of sand away. Where is the money to fix our local beaches?
    Things are gritty in this shire of Byron.

  3. I don’t know who my mother and father were, or if I have aboriginal blood within. All I know is I was born here like the “Aboriginal people”.
    For me it’s not a matter of first in best dressed, who was in Australia first or last, we all need a place to live.
    The Australian government has created a country where the land is monopolized by a small percentage of it’s population, the rest of us struggle to pay ridiculous rents and just survive.
    Property investors have had it good for too long, constantly pushing rents up, curtailing affordability.
    There needs to be a limit on how much land one person or company can own and restrictions on rental increases.
    I guess it’s a matter of keeping the masses in debt and fear, a good control strategy.
    The housing market should have naturally tumbled during covid, a correction in the housing market should have happened organically, but the government propped up their revenue stream, supported the property investors and kept the housing bubble floating.
    Now housing prices have soared once again, what a rotten government we have.
    Let’s think of the “Have Nots” and future generations, greed is evil, not good.

  4. Sounds a though this is a great opportunity for the ‘Arakwal and Bundjalung people’ to take responsibility for their own welfare, like any adult must. While it is great that government has seen fit to hand out land rights ,medical,legal,free transport, housing and free aboriginal ‘loans’, education supplements, etc,etc How can these poor people ever learn to function, unless forced to stand on their own feet like everybody else ? I’m sure everybody would like a house provided where ever they chose to live, but this is the real world and if you want a home you buy one or pay the rent required.
    Who has “culturally safe wraparound supports”and when is enough, enough ? Cheers, G”)

  5. Now the insinuation is that homeless non-Indigenous people can live in the cars but Indigenous people shouldn’t have to. There is a word for this approach: racist

  6. So this proposal is to hand out social housing outcomes to Indigenous people, in full knowledge that this denies such outcomes for homeless non-Indigenous people – of which there are many in Byron. There is a word for this: racist

  7. Far out. I am so disappointed by the comments here. I really feel for you, Arakwal people!!!! As a white girl. privileged to have grown up on beautiful Bundjalung country, now like many others who grew up here, as a renter not home-owner I’m also recognising the squeeze as the shires gentrify, so I can empathise a TINY bit with what it must be like for you. But when I consider the way your people and cultural ways have been treated since Invasion, and the amazing resilience and generosity of Spirit that still persists … I just feel so sad and humbled and cranky about it happening yet AGAIN and on top of that – s4!77y insensitive insulting comments like the above. I offer you my solidarity and care and respect, for what it is worth. And my huge gratitude and respect for the way Arakwal people have so beautifully protected and preserved country from rampant development. May the tides turn and the right supports that honour you as First Peoples, as the spiritual custodians of this country evolve and emerge … SOON!!! <3 May gentrification become un-inevitable. May true Heart and Spirit prevail.

  8. Aboriginal people have land rights to 50% of the country and 56Billion dollars handed out each year. Go and live on that and don’t ask for more you are just locked into the handout mentality.
    If you want to live in Byron pay for it or go some where else ,

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