Byron Bay has changed over the years.
Byron Bay has changed over the years. The Northern Star Archives

Byron Bay, my how you've changed

A WORKING class, industrial town home to a whaling station, butter factory and abattoir set against a spectacular coastal backdrop is how some long time locals remember Byron Bay.

Today, Byron Shire Council is struggling to accommodate its annual pilgrimage of 2.2 million tourists. Those who have lived in the beach village for most of their lives have mixed attitudes about visitors.


WHALING: Cape Byron, with its dramatic cliffs and spectacular views, is today one of the premier land-based whale watching locations in the world.  Humpback whales head north on their annual migration to breed and give birth in the waters off Queensland in the middle of the year.  But it hasn't always been like that in the waters off Byron Bay.  Whaling was conducted for eight years in Byron Bay, from 1954 to 1962 with the first whale taken in July, 1954.  The company was permitted to take 150 whales per season with a minimum size of  35 feet.  When whaling finished in Byron Bay, a total of 1146 Humpbacks and two Sei Whales had been slaughtered. Humpback whales are now protected as a threatened species. Pictured her are workers seperating blubber in the 60's. Photo: The Northern Star Archives Photo Contributed
HISTORIC: A look at the streets of Byron Bay circa 1950s (right) and the whaling station operations before it closed in 1962 (left). Contributed

Some, like adaptive world champion surfer Mark Stewart, who has lived in Byron for four decades, said tourists need to understand that locals live in the town 365 days a year.

"People driving at five miles in a 50km/hr zone so they can have a look around, it's pretty frustrating when you have to get to work," he said.

For Ella Lucas, 85, she said its a "different strain of people here now" but felt indifferent towards their presence.

Others like Debby Ginger, who moved to Byron when she was two, welcome tourists with open arms by opening her home to visitors. Former hotel operator, Desley Daniels said tourism was an important part of the town's social fabric.

All four agreed out-dated infrastructure was at the centre of the difficulties in hosting visitors. Conversations about building a bypass date back to the 1940s when Ms Ginger's mother was growing up.

Ms Daniels said her 101-year-old mother Phyllis Flick lived in Burn St, now Carlyle St, for 80 years without a footpath.

So why is Byron with its ailing and lack of infrastructure still pulling tourists?

Ms Daniels believes the Bay's beaches, events and alternative lifestyle rank it "one of the best places to come and to live".

The four locals also agree the celebrity factor of actor Paul Hogan and director John Cornell buying the Beach Hotel in 1991 cemented Byron's place as a holiday destination.

"Then they brought their friends and that's when it became the Hollywood town and then it became the hipster town. It just goes with the trend now I think," Ms Ginger said.

The Beach Hotel, Byron Bay.
The Beach Hotel, Byron Bay.

When the three industries moved out of Byron between the 1960s and 80s, Ms Lucas said most people followed the work out of the area.

This Ms Ginger said left a gap in the housing market, attracting sea changers and investment property purchases that sparked a "a slow gradual shift" in the town's status as a tourist town.

Historic: Whaling Byron Bay in the 60's A whaling vessel whinces a whale Photo The Northern Star Archives
Historic: Whaling Byron Bay in the 60's A whaling vessel whinces a whale Photo The Northern Star Archives The Northern Star Archives