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Byron Shire
August 6, 2021

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Eleven local government areas (LGAs) in Queensland have now been identified as areas of concern in relation to COVID-19.

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Sky Wesolowski, Coorabell

Many of us in the Byron Market community feel completely betrayed by the councillors who last week voted to move us again, like an unwanted jigsaw piece.

None of the people who voted on our future have taken any interest in the issue.

The last time I saw a politician pretending to take any interest in us it was the former Mayor, Jan Barham, as well as Simon Richardson when he was trying to get re-elected as a councillor. We trusted that he cared and many voted for him. As he promised a ‘park and ride’ solution to our town traffic problem and he was representing the Greens, we thought that our future on Butler Street was secure and we could finally work on improving the grounds for us and for the community.

We also trusted that the green assets of the town would be protected and probably improved. For 13 years now there have been several attempts to move the market away from the site. A small group of stallholders were very vocal about moving the market to the beach site and abandoning the Butler Street Reserve. This group became the most influential with the management of the markets and it remains so to this day. Except now they support the move to the railway tracks. These individuals are used as props by the management to manufacture consent. They do, however, represent only themselves and never have been elected to represent anyone else.

The activists who were keen on improvements [to Butler Street Reserve] were slandered and bullied out of the stallholders’ committee. Instead of implementing a plan of improvements, which included the planting of trees and landscaping that was supported by over 90 per cent of stallholders, the ground became neglected and we were discouraged [from making improvements] by the establishment of a weekly farmers market on the site together with the parking by its customers. The fragile ground covering an old tip has been damaged and eroded.

When approached about it, then Mayor Simon Richardson, councillor Sarah Ndiaye and others in the Council staff all referred to the Reserve as ‘a dust bowl’. We knew this well-rehearsed expression from those few stallholders opposed to improvements. If the Reserve was not ‘a dust bowl’ then, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy when Michael Lyon, acting as mayor, established heavy vehicle parking on the recreational reserve, in breach of the Reserve’s Plan of Management. Despite all that, over 90 per cent of the stallholders signed a petition at the time to remain on the Reserve.

The legitimacy of the Council vote last week is questionable. There was no proper consultation process. Unlike in the past when we were offered a vote among the stallholders, this time the Council staff came up with a doctored survey, which mixed stallholders’ opinions with those of random residents in the Shire who could be bothered to vote and had no livelihoods at stake, and came up with a magic number of 42 per cent in favour.

The masterplan touted by the Council was an elitist affair concocted behind closed doors and the stallholder community was not included. I was asked to leave the masterplan meeting and told that market stallholders’ input was not welcome as it would ‘put a spanner in the works’.

A lot has changed in the last few years; the definition of the community market for example. We thought we were stallholders at our community’s markets. Now we are told by the management that we should shut up because it is not our market, it is The Byron Bay Community Centre market.

This Council’s mandate expired last September. Its tenure has been extended by the NSW government for 12 months owing to COVID-19. It does not mean that it has a mandate from the people. It should refrain from making life-changing decisions (which the future of the market is for us) before the elections.

Since none of the current councillors are deserving of our few hundred votes, is there anyone in the candidates pool who thinks that we deserve a say in our future? It is a number one issue in this election for many of us.

How can the Council claim that it is supporting possible transport on the transport corridor when it is proposing it as a permanent home for the markets?

How come the community market cannot go back to Butler Street Reserve because of the possible ground contamination, yet we are told that we have to park there, and that maybe the farmers’ market may go there?

How, after 27 years of having a spacious, grassy site, where I could trade in any weather from my stall secured by my vehicle, can I now be expected to carry my stock and move my car back and forth? Now, we are not only to support the homeless as our fees support the community centre, we are also asked to support some multinationals. This is a quote from the Council email trying to convince us that: ‘According to Council this proposal is based on national and global evidence that the positioning of markets in the commercial centre of towns positively impacts local bricks-and-mortar businesses’.

What is the future of the Butler Street Reserve? Will it become another ‘affordable housing’ venture? Or maybe a department store? For almost 50 years it was a community asset. It looks like it has been master planned away.


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1 COMMENT

  1. Very sad indeed.

    What a shame that market stallholders are seen as less important than the bricks and mortar retailers by council. This is, unfortunately, a pattern we see over and over again, and it is hard to think that powerful actors, rates and overall revenue is not a consideration in their decision. Markets and artisans make up a big part of the charm of our home, and brick and mortar retailers should learn to deal with the competition – it is great for our town overall.

    As an organizer of the Bangalow Flea Markets, I believe that markets support the grass roots of our community and should be seen, at least, as important as other retailers. The talk of affordable rent is a major issue in the rainbow region, yet affordable commercial retail space is also hurting us as it is stymieing our less affluent, or our more creative community members from being able to participate. That is also sad and needs to be addressed. Commercial rent is often far out of reach for some of our aspiring entrepreneurs. When we hold markets we support many of those in the community that need it the most!

    Having talked to many stallholders, my understanding of the ethos of the Byron Markets is that it needs a lot of improving. I was a stallholder there for a short time, and found the management and their cabal unbending.

    We’d love you to try our markets and and we feel quite confident that you too would feel the difference in the attitude and ethos of the Bangalow Flea Markets. Our markets are all about our stallholders. We feel our stallholders are first and foremost and everyone gets a say.

    We wish you all the best.

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