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May 18, 2022

Comment: Welcome to the Byron Bay family law dilemma – Jesus wept

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Divorce can be a BUMMER.

In spring 2013, Mary and Joseph bought a house in Suffolk Park for $500,000.

They had moved up from the Central Coast a year before, newly married, returning to beautiful Byron Bay where they had fallen in love at schoolies.

They borrowed $450,000 of the purchase price, and managed to pay the stamp duty and legals – just.

Every time they paid the mortgage, they bought a bottle of wine to celebrate.

The kids came in quick succession and interest rates just kept going down, but between maternity leave and Joseph’s recurring back injury, the loan stubbornly stayed about the same.

Mary loved her job in retail fashion, and Joseph was a shop-fitter in between surfing and diving and golf.

They managed, and watched in awe as their house surged in value up to the heady heights of over a million dollars by 2021.

They felt rich.

Sadly, over time, their interests diverged. Joseph was always a bit of a conspiracy theorist, but COVID-19 had sent him seriously and intensely on the 5G Bill Gates Clive Palmer Craig Kelly Chem Trail. He was unvaccinated and missed out on work as a result.

Mary, well she loved anything Mandy Nolan said, or wrote, or thought about everything.

So things at home were, to say the least, pretty tense. Mary started studying, and Joseph stopped reading.

Things came to a head when Mary caught Joseph putting up posters for a demonstration at the Gold Coast for FREEDOM.

Separation for unresolvable differences was on the cards.

Stop. ‘Stop right there’ – think Meatloaf in Paradise by the Dashboard Lights.

Just stop and think Mary and Joseph because this is Byron Bay, and The Echo has just set up a Byron Un-Marrying Market Equity Referral Service (BUMMER) exactly for this situation.

Here is what happens if you don’t use BUMMER.

Mary and Joseph separate under the one roof until they can sell the house, which goes for auction at just over $1.2 million.

Gasp. Smiles. Millionaires for a moment!

After they pay the mortgage and the lawyers and agents they are left with $700k split two ways – $350k each.

And on their incomes, they can only borrow about $300k more, so are left with the grand total of $650k to buy… well, something so the kids can still live around their friends and stay at the same school.

For decades the answer to this conundrum was north of the Brunswick River.

What can you buy with that there now? Nothing.

Fast forward three years, and Mary lives in Casino, where she has traded fashion for Norco, yoga for darts, Mandy for Pauline, and the kids still get called dirty hippies.

Joseph is eternally couch-surfing in Lennox, at ‘mates’, and his equity has dwindled to bugger all.

How does BUMMER work?

You register your equity in the ‘I’m soon to separate’ category, and list your employment status, political preference, vaccination certificate (or not) and number of dependants.

Most importantly, you detail your amount of equity post separation.

And then you wait to be matched with someone with enough capital that between you and a big mortgage you can buy back in to Byron Shire.

You don’t actually separate until you have been matched.

Yes, occasionally straights and gays have to learn a bit of compromise in the old bedroom department, age differences of more than 40 years can be challenging, and compatibility takes second seat to practicality.

Because this is Byron, and getting a house is the only game in town.

Mary gets matched with Jane. Their relationship is prickly with six kids between them, but neither are living in their car on Koonyum Range so that’s something.

Joseph gets matched with Margaret, who is aged 77, quite deaf and quite cantankerous.

As you can imagine, weekends are pretty tense when he has the kids.

They live in the back of Ocean Shores, with a view over the highway. Still, it beats a pal’s foldout lounge in Lennox.

Joseph has long COVID, so he’s eternally grateful to have a roof over his head.

And thus the moral to this tale is to register with BUMMER well prior to separation, because the alternative is a lifetime subscription to Soulful Abodes for the Tribe – a fate worse than crucifixion.

Or just stay together with your original partner and live with seething resentment and chronic revulsion. Many do.

And fees for BUMMER are a one-off payment of $500 (Afterpay available). Refer your friends for a discount.

Welcome to the Byron Bay family law dilemma. Jesus wept.

* David Heilpern was appointed as a magistrate in 1998, and was at the time the youngest magistrate in Australia. He ‘retired’ in May 2020.


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10 COMMENTS

  1. Weeping at the truth while laughing at the same truth. David’s writing is precious. Much applause. High praise Mungo would have agreed.

  2. The dystopian shire we now inhabit , perfectly described by David. Your earlier article about the pandemic was spot on too , but this article really leaves very little room for the denialists to squirm .

  3. Just Love this brilliant but tragically true comedic ( but not funny really) overview of unaffordable housing in our Shire. I have tears in my eyes, the clever wit is all too relatable. Obviously Mary & Joseph could never afford a barn or a tool shed or even a yurt up here since about 1999. The complex detail & creativity within this article , along with the belly laughs make me feel privileged to be here & have a roof over my head. Mungo would be very pleased indeed & would have applauded these cryptic ‘BUMMER” references , highlighting the sad reality of negative gearing & capital gains concessions which benefits the rich. PROPERTY INVESTORS ARE TO BE FEARED, THEY MADE BUYING A GARAGE UP HERE IMPOSSIBLE.

  4. Share housing has been my standard till we settled down and now own a home.
    I have seen co-habitation and co-ownership both work and fail.
    So joint tenants or tenants in common ? It comes to agreement and then getting along.
    If I end up on my own, I’ll definitely open my home to share in some way.

  5. Excellent article, David!

    But it’s not only the costs of ‘owning’ one’s home; renting has similarly become a nightmare. An example of the obscene rentals situation in Byron Shire:

    My rent was already 62% of my pension income. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) defines rental stress as when one is spending more than 30% of gross income on rent.

    The latest proposed increase takes my rent to 90% of my pension. Food? Transport? Utilities? Forget those! I’ll just have to exist on the peace and love of the Shire (forget the lentils and brown rice!)

    I’m moving out – of not only the Shire but of the Northern Rivers, which is entirely poisoned by rental greed, exacerbated by half of the Shire’s rental properties now being monopolised by parasitic short-term holiday letting through Airbnb and Stayz, leaving a vacancy rate of 0.03% (national average is currently in the range 2.5–4%).

    As I can no longer afford to feed the parasites, it’s now bye-bye Byron!

    BTW: I’m no Johnny-come-lately to the region. I was born in the Northern Rivers and have lived here for three-quarters of my 72 years.

  6. Personally I find this disgusting.

    An article stereotyping people from Casino, to try to justify people going to great lengths to maintain their sense that they are better than people from Casino.

    Trying to buy an expensive place in an elite suburb is a risk, and it is a form of mental illness in my view to think one must subject oneself (and one’s children) to such stress and loss of quality of life, to take that risk, rather than choose the modest outcome of a good life in a less elite suburb.

    There are loads of decent, modest, people in Casino – who have a good life because of their wiser choice. Why not point this out, instead of slurring them David?

    • Shane , I plead guilty. Stereotyping Casino is unfair. There are lots of great folk in Casino, and I was the Magistrate there for ten years. I chose it because it is still affordable, and it’s easy pickings – like Tasmania. But no excuses – you are correct. I’ll make it up to Casino in the future.

  7. A great insight borne from experience of the reality, everyday life our wide, proud and diverse community (rural and coastal)… and I feel for good people like Gordo forced to relocate in the past year alone, with rentals now even getting harder to find in sought-after Casino and Kyogle etc. Loved the article, must say David’s getting better and better with each opinion-outing and chuckling turn of phrase.

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