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July 15, 2024

Public spaces or private profit?

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Banglaow’s Heritage House. Photo supplied

‘We need more public spaces like libraries where the expectation is that you can be there without having to spend money.’

Recently, this social media post was doing the rounds, which had me reflecting on what spaces exist in our local towns, where just being there, doesn’t cost you money.

Perhaps when Byron Shire towns were being established – in the late 1800s and early 1900s, open space was readily designated as public spaces: for parks and cemeteries, sports fields and libraries, showgrounds and scout halls – all that sort of thing. Today, some of these free public spaces are at risk of being elbowed out, or overwhelmed, by stealth. 

A developer will use a public access road to the private function centre in one of Bangalow’s earliest stately houses by having guests drive through the town’s fragile old cemetery. Twenty events, such as weddings, will take place there each year – regardless of the effect that might have on the neighbourhood’s fragile koala population, or any conflict with the farming practices at the next door macadamia farm. 

Can you imagine what happens when eager busloads of happy wedding guests, encounter a funeral along the way? Or even pass those people quietly remembering their dear departed, on a special day? Something of a clash of cultures. 

In 1894 the cemetery for the Catholic Church was created and the acre of land donated by pioneer Robert Campbell, where the cemetery now stands, was legally transferred to the community in 1905. Was that the intention of this very successful early Bangalow settler, Robert Campbell, when he donated that acre of land specifically for a cemetery for the community. Are Campbell’s civic-minded and philanthropic intentions being respected? 

That doesn’t seem to matter any more, either to Council or the developer. Some of our councillors are already rubbing their hands with glee at the thought of this old building, transformed into a wedding venue, ‘enhancing the Byron brand’. 

Value of public spaces?

What is the intrinsic value of our sports fields, skate parks, public parks and the walkways along our beaches, creeks and rivers? What value do those spaces have for the civic amenity of both local residents, and visitors? How can you put a price on that?

Another cafe for Bangalow? 

Various volunteer groups around our shire have found ways to establish museums, for instance, making use of old buildings for the benefit of their communities. 

The future function of Bangalow Historical Society’s museum, located in Heritage House, is also under question. Though it’s covering its costs and its modest annual rent to Byron Shire Council, which owns the building, there’s an option being considered in which an external operator might like to come in, rebuild sections of the building (a former brothel – fortuitously recycled as a museum) for several hundred thousand dollars, then make money from a commercial restaurant or café, the museum using the remaining space. This would radically change the inherent purpose of the building. It seems having 11 cafes and restaurants on the main street is still not enough and this public space may be invaded by commercial interests.

What about our libraries? There are few comparable buildings in our shire where you can hang out for as long as you need, without paying money for a drink or food, and where you can quietly make use of these valuable ‘public facilities’.  Might they, too, be in danger?

Not everything in this life needs to have a monetary value. The intrinsic value of so many of our public spaces is how those places serve everyone in the community, regardless of their status or financial position. They are places to spend time, not money.

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  1. Great article; so timely given the threat from all quarters to public spaces. The Bangalow cemetery decision is an absolute violation.

  2. Thank you, The Echo, for continuing your open dialogue on the subject. Rate payers are deserving of local unhindered free spaces without the interjection of ‘enhancing The Byron Brand’ perse. Byron Bay is its own brand… Bangalow, Mullumbimby and all other suburb areas in the Shire, develop their own identity without the aid of BBC’s self perceived need to ‘assist’. Afterall, seems they have little $$ to contribute and therefore, seek additional avenues, income to prop up their folly. Some , (but not all of them on BBC, thank Heavens) have had big voices (the Mayor perhaps no less) to demote and negate the wishes of local ratepayers in regard to home based, local issues and DA Aporovals. A number of local concerned folk throughout the Shire have come forward with information and concerns. However, they wished not to be named. That is to be guinely respected, appreciated, comprehended and understood. Kudos to them! But what does it evidence to us as a free society when our truth cannot be spoken without fear or repercussions .

  3. How long before we are having to fight off developers again for the Byron Bay Rec ground in the heart of town?
    All the camouflage reasons will reappear…it’s creating jobs!…we’re building houses for the not so well off…this will be a special place suiting the vibe of the town…there will be public spaces built in…
    Let’s have a standard to fend off “fast Buck” developers that don’t live, or work here.


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