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Byron Shire
September 28, 2023

In praise of NIMBYs  

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The Nicholson NIMBYs – Nan, Hugh and Terri still fighting for all our backyards. Photo Tree Faerie.

I have often wondered why the acronym NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) is used as a term of abuse.

Humans have evolved for the last two million years deeply embedded in their natural surroundings. We must have known from the start that we were a part of nature and couldn’t be separated from it.

We haven’t changed. That is why someone living in a high-rise apartment in a big city has a pot of parsley on the balcony, a picture of a flower, and a budgie. When we ask people when they are happiest, they nearly always say ‘When I am in a natural place that I love’.

Caring about our surroundings is built into us. We have always worked together to protect whatever landscape we inhabit because it sustains us and our group (call it community). 

We have always been required to look after our backyard. Those who were disconnected from land and nature perished.

No shame in that, just pride

We are all NIMBYs − there is no shame in that, just pride.

For this reason, I am grateful for living in the Northern Rivers. This community seems to understand, largely, that natural places don’t stay safe – they need to be fought for. And, as Red Gum said, ‘If you don’t fight you lose’.

We battled to save our backyards from fire in 2019/2020, working together to protect people and forests. Most fire-affected folks helped other people in neighbouring communities to save their fire-threatened backyards.

In March 2022 we leapt into dealing with major flooding and landscape collapse in all of our backyards, quickly organising community rescue, emergency accommodation, food relief, transport, repairs, emotional care and support of every kind.

Everyone I have spoken to since these two disasters has been involved in some way in helping people with rescue and recovery, and restoring farms, forests and waterways.

Terania Creek

Logging protestors at Terania Creek, August 1979. Photo David Kemp.

Back in 1974, the Northern Rivers was in the lead in the defence of nature, teaming up with First Nations people to save local forests, starting with the rainforest at Terania Creek, in the Nightcap Range.

This resulted in the declaration of the Nightcap National Park in 1983, and finally in the protection of 120,000 ha of our most important rainforests and old-growth forests across NSW in 1982.

Bentley and beyond

A hard fought victory at the Bentley blockade. Photo Cloudcatcher Media.

In 2012, the Northern Rivers initiated the Gasfield-free Communities movement that succeeded in booting the destructive gas industry out of our region in 2014.

We organised, educated ourselves, and trained in non-violent resistance against an industry that threatened everyone. We then shared our method with other communities across Australia to help them defy the gas industry.

Now the Northern Rivers is resisting the proposed Dunoon Dam, a disastrous, uneconomic project which cannot protect us against droughts or floods and which would cause the destruction of Widjabul Wia-bal heritage, a rainforest Endangered Ecological Community and critical koala and platypus habitat. It would inflict further damage on a river system that is already at risk and which cannot afford further degradation.

The defence of nature and of First Nations rights

Local community members outside Rous County Council, February 2022 Photo Tree Faerie.

Local citizens have been able to demonstrate that they won’t let up in the defence of nature and of First Nations rights.

Widjabul Wia-bul woman Skye Roberts speaking to ‘No Dunoon Dam’ opponents at the Rous County Council meeting. Photo Tree Faerie.

All of these battles started small and then enlarged their scope. The backyard grew. The people ignored political boundaries and worked hard to protect each other and the land. These were great NIMBY efforts all round.

In the end, the whole planet is our backyard, and it is in more trouble than ever before. We need more NIMBYs, not less, especially those who realise that they are fighting for everyone’s backyard. I guess we could call them NIABYs: Not In Anyone’s Back Yard.

As a proud NIMBY/NIABY, I intend to keep working with others to get us onto the war footing required to tackle the really big issues threatening us all: global heating and climate chaos, both driven by a perverse, self-destructive fantasy of growth without limit.

Welcome to any new NIMBY/NIABY who wants to help. There is no time to lose and no shortage of issues that you can get stuck into.

When anyone accuses you of being ‘just a NIMBY’, you can simply respond: ‘What?! You mean you don’t look after your backyard?!’

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  1. Well said. Calling Mullum my home for the last 16 years until having to move up to tweed because of no affordable housing, I miss the byron shire and the people that care enough to fight for our precious natural habitat. People that live in the shire often grow to take it for granted – but trust me, out here in the ‘real world’ it is just people not caring, destroying natural habitats with no one standing up and saying no. The difference is heart breaking and it makes me miss my home dearly. I hope the byron comminuty can maintain its heart and stregth to keep the area special and kep nature at the heart. We have a good council there and hopefully the community will keep them honest when developers cash looks too inviting. The whole area has been consumed by investor predators and the most obvious problem is the plague of holiday lets that displaces locals that would otherwise be living there. A bit like those indian miners, we need to deal with that infestation at the root. Changing legislation for the number of homes that non-locals can own in our shire would be a good start. Because without doing something about our housing disaster, some of us dont even have a backyard to protect.

  2. But the house you live in once was not there either right? so its OK for you to live in your ‘once not there house’ but in your mind its already there so its ok , but lets say someone wants to build a house next door in your view, than anything from this point forward is not ok ie. NIMBY. its all a construct of the human mind, temporally and spatially as to trying to maintain the current circumstances, that is NIMBY attitude, its a mental projection of the surrounding world, in that any change is seen as being disruptive. The points raised about saving terania or the gas fields are real environmental heritage protection events, this is not a justification for ALL nimby attitudes. Most time nimbys are just selfish, single minded and not wanting change , they are not protecting anything except their current way of life and are fearful of change.

  3. NIMBY is not about a simplistic conversation concerning the environment. NIMBY is it about putting ones individuals rights above the rights of another. It is about complacency and about shoring up personal vested interests at the expense of others for fear of losing some perceived entitlement. This behaviour results from a perception that this can be achieved by denying rights to others. However when “My Backyard” is threatened then of course the narrative changes. Sound familiar? Yes. This could indeed be what is happening when people believe they have a right to Vote No in a forthcoming referendum. All non – Aboriginal people have come from elsewhere over the last few hundred years. They came uninvited by the Indigenous people of this country. Try as the Indigenous community might to educate us we are either incapable of or unwilling to listen and learn. Aboriginal people are the caretakers of this land. They know how to care for it. We have irrevocably damaged it. It is not our backyard and never will be.


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