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Byron Shire
January 27, 2022

You Can Close Your Eyes

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David Heilpern

There is a beautiful James Taylor song (‘You Can Close Your Eyes’) that commences with the words;

Oh, the sun is surely sinking down

But the moon is slowly rising.

I seek that sky. Many years ago, on ridge west of Casino, carrying equipment to a North East Forest Alliance blockade, the sun was rising to my right and the moon was setting to my left. There was a fusing of white cool moon and red rich sun that left me speechless. It was as though the Earth was delivering a pyrotechnic miracle to remind and thank its protectors of our duty to the forests, the lungs of the planet.

And so, seeking that sky, I trekked up to the lighthouse on 26 May 2021 to watch the blood red moon rise at 16.48 and the blood red sun set at 16.50, just to feel that extraordinary blend of light again. And magic it was. There were rock wallabies and an echidna on the incline. The world looked different for a moment with every colour a surprise. There were people with pretty offerings to the full circular lunar, an occasional wolf-baying from laughing youngsters, a set of flexi yogic sun salutations and deep warm smiles all ‘round. I wanted to hug strangers. As the moon rose, shining its silver sliver on the sea, the dolphins danced their thrill.

In that fused moon/sun light I spun around and around slowly, and pledged anew to Mother Earth. These waters and this land deserve our attention, our protection, our passion, our energy.

I turned to look at the darkening bay, and the hills behind, and compared the view to when I slept the night on that same lighthouse spot in the 1970s. Then, the hills were largely barren of trees, the abattoir at Belongil was still going full steam, the darkness was lit split by chook farms, and the railway rattled into town in the early morning. I was woken, then, by the headland goats snuffling at my adolescent stubble. There were so few whales in those days. By and large we have done well to protect our patch.

I was drawn back to the present by the snake of red tail-lights leaving Byron as the workers scurried home to their cheaper abodes in the hills, or turned left or right at the highway. South to the monolithic Ballina/Lennox continuum. North to the Gold Coast belching stain. A stark reminder of the practicalities of accommodation shortages.

And so, to housing. It pains me greatly to see our tribe suffering from lack of affordable places to lay their weary heads. The insecurity of place is an appalling scourge for many, especially those with children. But I am utterly convinced we cannot develop our way out of gentrification – it is a bulldozer of unquenchable thirst. I have seen it before; from Bondi to Pearl Beach to Cinque Terre. We can, and should, muddle around the edges with clipping holiday letting, increasing government-led affordable housing, only permitting sympathetic development, trailblazing with more tiny houses, micro farming, MOs and second dwellings. We are a uniquely innovative and creative mob that can achieve much. But to the north and the south where there has been comparatively untamed development for decades the working poor are still increasingly being driven west. So too it will be here, I predict, no matter our fiddling.

I learnt in court that there are often no good solutions, only bad and worse. The real question to be asked, as I gazed down upon Byron’s bay in fairy-tale light, is ‘What do we want this view to look like in ten years?’. I want it to be an island of green. I do not want another Gold Coast or Ballina suburban splurge seeping and squeezing this haven. I know this means it will be an enclave for the haves, just like Wategos, but that will happen anyway. I know that this means more workers will live outside the Shire, and this could change the very character of the culture here. And for that we will mourn. So while that is a sad vision, it is not as tragic as the alternative. The alternative is still gentrified – but big and ugly and brown.

I fear many children and grandchildren may well not be able to buy in the Shire, and that is a significant change, because up ‘til now they largely could. They can still visit here, maybe on an evening when the full moon rises and the sun sets at the same time, basking in the glorious. And they can stand on this headland, sleep here if they’re game, and drink in a view unblighted by high-rises or ticky-tacky boxes on the hillside. They will see a sea of green, not brown and grey, and I think they will thank us for keeping this place Earth-special, even if humanly-elitist.

The moon kindly gifted me enough light to walk down the steps to Wategos, and I hummed some more of my favourite James Taylor song;

Well it won’t be long before another day

We’re gonna have a good time

And no one’s gonna take that time away

You can stay as long as you like.

Ah James, optimistic as always.


Recently retired magistrate David Heilpern. Photo Jeff Dawson

David Heilpern is a recently retired magistrate and the author of several law-related books, journal articles and reported judgments.

He was the youngest magistrate in Australia when appointed in 1998.


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5 COMMENTS

  1. Beautiful words David. I am a great admirer of your work and your ethics, thank you for always being just and kind.

  2. How lucky are we to have David in our weird & chaotic & crazy community. You David are a much needed voice of reason /wisdom and enlightenment. You are a rare gem & many of us value & treasure you. Wow! we would all be wanting to have you as magistrate , if & when we had to appear in court. You have shown your commitment to fairness & understanding over your many years within our legal system, which is most often frightening & daunting. Thank You a million times.

    • Well said David. As always pointing out the solution that’s needed for the greater good which includes nature – not just one which benefits the economy.

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