Change is gonna come
“The only constant is change itself” – apparently. When I first settled here in the mid 80’s, dole and dope were at the centre of the economy. Many lived from dole cheque to dole cheque and had a few plants growing up in the hills. The stoners have moved on, but there are backpacker buses doing “grasshopper” trips up to Nimbin for herbal relief. There is also a fully legal hemp seed food and oil business in Bangalow. The Byron Centrelink office just closed and merged with the Brunswick Heads branch. The main employer in town used to be the chicken abattoir. It closed and now the biggest employer is TripADeal, an online tour amalgamator.
These are just a few of the ongoing changes we are seeing in our beloved shire. Whether they are good changes or bad changes is subjective. We are not in control of these changes. I would prefer my hair not to be thinning, turning white or thinning out. Since it’s not something I have control over, a certain degree of equanimity is required.
Good or Bad Change?
Some locals stress that change and development is going to ruin the community and the environment. Some would prefer everything quarantined in aspic and the Byron Bubble to be made of teflon. Unfortunately, only bad developments hit the news and get attention. For every ghastly development like West Byron, there are two amazing proposals for sustainable, ecological, innovative, cutting-edge dwellings or businesses. Unfortunately, they are all given the same degree of stonewall. For every developer wanting to holiday let or maximise a site, there is someone else quietly regenerating degraded farmland, replanting rainforest or big scrub, reclaiming wetland and creek beds, organically eliminating camphor laurel, replanting habitat for koalas and other species.
Byron is attracting lots of interesting, talented people who have done well and now want to give back. Sincerely and authentically: not just a green wash to get something done. Yes we do get the occasional carpetbagger wanting to make a quick buck. But with our complicated and stringent DA legislation, coupled with the intense logjam in Byron Council, making a quick anything here is a bit of a joke.
A New York State of Mind
A few years ago while visiting New York City on holiday I had an interesting experience. My wife’s family are from there and, as it happened, close friends of theirs ran a limousine service. We were picked up from JFK airport in a long black status symbol and were taken into Manhattan in style. As it also happened, my cousin and her husband had an apartment on 5th Avenue, next to Washington Square Park. Since they were away for the holidays, we were given the keys for the duration of our stay.
As the famous New York skyline came in to view it occurred to me I had suddenly stepped into a common mass fantasy. For a short time, and by complete coincidence, I was someone who was “living the dream” – the western/capitalist/consumer dream that is.
Ram Dass, a well-known American psychologist and spiritual teacher, had a good anecdote about success. What if, he mused, eastern mysticism was correct and we keep reincarnating until we get it right. If this paradigm is correct, the real winners in life may be the beggars and sadhus of India. The ones who get to die in Varanasi on the Ganges with only a handful of rupees to buy wood for their burning ghat funeral. The schmucks in New York penthouses may still be at the bottom of the snakes and ladders board game of life. Penniless mendicants get to pass go and don’t have to pay $200.
Off the grid and out of the rat race
Is Byron Bay a Varanasi or a New York? We now have real estate values that compete with the best in Sydney – even NYC. But at the same time, we also attract people who want to remove themselves from the normal trappings of life, people who want something different. Are these two things mutually exclusive? Can a rich man make it through the eye of the needle and settle in Byron Bay?
With the right outcomes, Byron’s great days are ahead of it. Many of the new arrivals here are generally not takers or exploiters. Most are just like the first wave of settlers – just with more money. They mostly want to build a good life and improve things, find a simpler, but comfortable way of life. Many have the means and capacity to really make a difference to the environment and other worthy causes. They are getting on with it under the radar. Lots of old time locals would not even be aware it’s happening. Some winners of the rat race really do want to stop being rats.