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Byron Shire
February 1, 2023

Something… or someone’s gotta give

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According to data from the most recent census, as reported on local ABC radio, 50 per cent of the people who live in Byron Bay moved there within the last five years. Have a think about what that means. It means that half the community is new and half the pre-existing community is gone. What does that do to your social cohesion? To your ability to build on generations of social capital?

It means half the community who volunteered, who ran a raffle at the pub for the local footy team, who organised the Xmas street barbecue are now living somewhere else. In their place is a new class of super-affluent Byron Bay locals. That’s not an unfounded assumption. The median house price is now $3.5 million. That’s significantly more than most Sydney suburbs. So if you moved here over the last five years chances are you sold in Vaucluse and relocated here. Chances are you are wealthy. 

The worst housing crisis in the state

We also have the worst housing crisis in the state. According to the last census data, more than half of those renting spend 30 per cent of their household income on rent. The vacancy rate for Byron, Ballina, and Lennox is 0.9 per cent. Although on census night almost 16 per cent of our homes were unoccupied. One can only assume that’s short-term holiday lets. Free-market capitalism has given our housing market cancer. We have super wealthy new residents and a growing homeless population.

Many relocated here because the hardcore creative and hippie crew pioneered a coastal utopia. We have a strong connection to Country. The Arakwal people fought and won native title. The very people who have made this place special, who underwrote the uniqueness that fed market desirability are the ones who can’t afford to live here. Yeah, it sucks. But maybe it doesn’t have to be that way. In my outrage I always look for optimism.

An opportunity

So here is the good news. We have an opportunity. We have a lot of new wealth in our small towns. It’s not Liberal voting wealth. We have progressive wealth. We know these people vote Green. We know from their voting trends that they care about climate, they care about equity, that even though they are the beneficiaries of enormous privilege, their values are aligned with more co-operative ways of living. So here’s the opportunity. Philanthropy. We need to grow our philanthropic sector. And when I say grow, I mean blow it up.

One of the trends that shaped philanthropy in 2022 was a worldwide increase in charitable giving. This was spurred on by racial injustices and climate disasters. We are a long way off curbing the growth in social and economic inequality, but perhaps our local wealthy can make a dent. You see, we are small enough to see the impacts. We already have many incredible services, like the SHIFT project that addresses homelessness in older women, the Fletcher Street Cottage – support service for people at risk of homelessness and Human Nature Adventure Therapy – non-clinical mental health program for at risk young people. All these programs run on philanthropy. In the absence of government’s agility, flexibility and insight, the sector has found its own money and created its own services.

A helping hand

During the floods I was given $5k grants from an anonymous philanthropic source that I was able to give to women who had been flood impacted. It was transformative. Being able to give someone money on the spot, in their time of need, without a lengthy approval process was powerful. One woman told me the act of generosity had restored her belief at a time when she had none. Kindness does that.

I’m not saying government shouldn’t step up. They should. We are billions of dollars behind in expenditure on housing and human services. They are slow. Compliance and data obsessed. People become numbers and funding programs and recipients are at the mercy of election cycles. We have our own philanthropic community grants program with the Northern Rivers Community Grants Program. Since 2005 they have granted $2,436,166 across seven LGAs (local government areas) to 349 projects across 143 organisations. 

That’s brilliant, but we can do better. Half of the population who moved to Byron Bay in the last five years need to get involved in giving. We can fund the pathway to reach a Zero Emissions Byron Bay. We can reduce poverty. We can innovate public transport options. We can create housing options. We can give.

Old mate capitalism

Capitalism isn’t going anywhere. Try as we might, we can’t seem to break it. It’s the foundation stone of poverty and exploitation. Philosophers Fredric Jameson and Slavoj Žižek said, ‘We can envisage the end of the world more clearly than we can the end of capitalism’. That observation rocked me to my core. Capitalism is a cult, and none of us are leaving any time soon.

So, in the meantime, if you are wealthy and you want to be a disruptor – fund it. Find programs that need money, and grow the community you want to live in. You can fund the change you want to see. 

With the collective wealth we have in this area it is immoral for anyone to be without housing. It’s our responsibility. So put your hands in your pocket and find your change. It’s the season for giving. So give.

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Like all businesses we are struggling to keep food on the table of all our local and hard working journalists, artists, sales, delivery and drudges who keep the news coming out to you both in the newspaper and online. If you can spare a few dollars a week – or maybe more – we would appreciate all the support you are able to give to keep the voice of independent, local journalism alive.


  1. I don’t think there is a lack of money on offer Mandy. I challenge someone to find the serviced and accessible land suitable for development of 500 affordable homes in Bryon Bay. Find me a site and I will find you a local community protest group. Community housing organisations with government funding are the answer but they will tell you that this is a significant factor.

  2. Watch out for the ‘heavy hunters’ who’ll one way or another crush what’s already there. Many went through that in QLD.

  3. You forget we were a very strong generational community long before hippies and whoever you mention. These were the true community who did not capitalise the area. It was when hippies and city folk came in the 70’s and into the 80’s they had big ideas and bought it out from under ‘true locals’ and capitalised on everything. This has continued until we have what we have today. City people don’t have small community values. The ‘farm’ down the end of the road is a joke compared to the real farm that existed. Nothing is real in Byron. People cash in on a name even when they don’t live there. It’s sickening. Especially when you grew up here with the giving locals who loved this place and didn’t treat it like a piggy bank. They actually lived in harmony with the rural area we were farmers producers it was productive. Now all you have are trendy farms . For city people who have come here over the years it’s too unhip to be country. It’s not sophisticated enough. Life was simple here but the people who came just didn’t get it. They use to say there is nothing to do! Gee really look around you. But now you have your trendy city cafes restaurants and boutique lifestyles. It has come at a great cost on the simple and nesecarry basic needs . Yes since capitalism came to town you can kiss the goodness we have known for generations and what you liked this place for goodbye till it is fast lay resembling the cities and culture you all came from.

  4. If you take a good look, you may find there is no free marketing in the wealth accumulation. With some questioning you find the usury and regulator capture behind the curtain. Not wealth creation, only accumulation.


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