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Byron Shire
June 13, 2021

The history of protesting and banner politics

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Lynne Richardson, Suffolk Park

On a recent Saturday afternoon, Nakba Day in Byron Bay, a small group of peaceful protesters gathered outside the Community Centre in Jonson Street. We had our banners, leaflets and free falafel to draw attention to the Palestinian cause. This was for a mere couple of hours, following the unconscionable attack by the Israelis on the Al Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem during Ramadan, the eviction of Palestinians and the bombing of Gaza.

Shortly after the banners were attached to the building, a manager approached and asked for the banners to be taken down. It was explained to us that, however laudable, the cause was irrelevant; that if we were protesting that Black Lives Matter or anything else, the request would still be the same.

This was owing to Council regulations regarding the ‘heritage’ value of the building. The banners were not removed and, inevitably, the police were called. The same arguments and examples were put to us by the constabulary, and the onus of responsibility for the requirement that the banners be removed placed squarely with Council.

I believe it is time for the community to address several issues in relation to this ‘regulation’. Firstly, the historic and present day role of the Byron Community Centre. Secondly, what heritage actually constitutes. Finally, the inconsistency of Council’s enforcement of policy, particularly in relation to political expression.

The eponymous Community Centre is unquestionably for the community, not some bureaucratic regulator. It is not just about a physical building, ‘beautified’ for visitors and residents alike after the contentious removal of the murals in the early years of this century. The BCC is there to attend to the needs of the people of Byron Bay, not some misguided Council notion of a heritage aesthetic used to obstruct the historic activism of the town’s long-term as well as newly arrived residents. The building featured multiple banners on the upper balcony as recently as 2016 (John Main’s photo). Why shouldn’t the community be able to use banners in a focal and highly symbolic point of the town for an afternoon, whatever the cause?

The town and Shire of Byron Bay has long been notable for its counterculture and activism, from The Age of Aquarius Festival to the Battle for Bentley and the contemporary Boycott of Byron Baes. This activism is also part of our ‘heritage’, the tradition continuing with the Shire’s citizens’ ongoing engagement with the politics and issues of the day. To inhibit the expression of political activism in the simple form of prohibiting the attachment of banners to buildings is counter to our democratic values, and Council needs to be reminded of its essential representative function.

My final point relates to the glaring anomaly of a certain high-profile banner in Mullumbimby, located on the heritage 1903 bakery building, just down the road from Council Chambers. Why is it that anti-vax campaigners are allowed unfettered self-promotion, for months now, whilst a little purple house in the same town generated such ire? Where is the consistency on traditional heritage values, let alone freedom of democratic participation? The attitude of Council and the managers of heritage buildings in this Shire are unjust and discriminatory.

Let Byron ‘Stay Gold’ to its meaningful heritage values, and leave peaceful protesters alone. Justice for the Palestinians!


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4 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you Lynne, for this very timely letter which raises issues essential to our democratic freedom of expression which is increasingly under attack.

  2. The far north coast and northern rivers area has many people and organisations that are strongly supportive of, and active in promoting social justice. It’s really un-necessarey to quibble over terminology such as counter-culture – this being one of many influences on the spectrum of positive social change. Let’s just get on with it and make opportunities for enhancing what we have and changing those things that are negative. Opportunities such as changing petty by-laws and small minded officials – so they too will com to grow deep values about community, heritage, sustainability and the environment.

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