In the 1980s and 90s, Byron Bay was a sleepy surf village. Now it’s a meme, the home of arguably Australia’s worst-ever reality show, and (not to be dramatic but) an often trotted-out example of everything that’s wrong with modern Australia. But are things really as bad as they seem? In a recent online community thread, Australians shared the various ways Byron Bay has changed over the last 30-40 years – and it’s not all doom and gloom.
I may have met more assholes in 2 days in Byron Bay than two years in Sydney, but I still think the whinging about Byron Bay is overhyped. Of course, if you visit during peak season it’s going to be crowded, but that’s just part of its vibe these days. If you like a place that’s buzzing, it’s even part of the charm (even if it means there’s more road rage than you’d expect in a town with a sign telling you to calm your farm as you drive on in).
That being said, judging by a recent Reddit thread, I’m in the minority when it comes to this view. If we extrapolate out the comments from the thread, even, it seems safe to assume the majority of (online) Australia thinks the place is, to put it politely, f**ked.
One Reddit user wrote: “Chalk and cheese. Sleepy surf village in the late 80s. Now, it’s an overpriced crowded look at me instagram influencer hole. Greed has killed the joint.”
More aggrieved comments included: “I sadly only visited it for the first time a decade ago and it was bursting at the seams with dickheads then… It’s only gotten worse… No vibe any more, just wankers,” “It’s gone from poor shitty scumbags to rich shitty scumbags” and “In the 80 I used to camp in the beach carpark and no one gave a shit now it’s up 100000$ fines.”
“Too many fucken range rovers.”Reddit user r/Ok-Cantaloupe6542
Another social media swanabout wrote: “Tourism changed the face of it basically. It was a surf town, but once businesspeople saw a draw, they invested heavily.”
Another keyboard warrior talked further about the formerly chill town’s commerce, opining: “While businesses were, until relatively recently, owned by locals, there are now more commercial enterprises that exist in the town.”
The same Reddit user added: “For a while there, in fact, Guzman Y Gomez was the only chain food outlet there. There’s now a Palace Cinema, a Woolworths and some of the hospitality venues are owned by large groups.”
“The businesses also know they have a captive audience there, so their prices cater to tourists rather than locals, with the exception of a few places, and there are rarely sales like you would see in a large city with a lot of competition.”
This does have its bright side, with one Reddit user saying: “As a result of all the investment, the food and drink are pretty bloody great for a place that is basically a large town.” However the flip side to that is that, as the same Reddit user bemoans, “it’s become the ideal for wanderlust-driven city people who want all the natural wonders of the area, but still expect city grade dining and an expertly made oat latte.”
Not content with this, “a lot of these people chose to move up to Byron, thereby inflating the housing market and driving locals further out.” Ok, that’s actually pretty heavy (and a serious problem that has been reported on previously).
One Reddit user put it, in a delightfully down-to-earth summation (and one that arguably outdoes that iconic Vanity Fair hit piece on Byron): “This Linen Mafia rubs shoulders with bohemian hippy types who live in their vans and want to try and capture a piece of what the place used to represent, which usually means doing a fucking drum circle on the beach, ripping bongs and getting maggot on Little Fat Lamb and whatever the cheapest case is at the Beachy bottle-o.”
“At least they still have Mullum and Nimbin (for now).”
The pile on didn’t end there. More choice comments delved into the exodus of old(er) locals to neighbouring places like Lennox, Ocean Shores, Suffolk Park and Bangalow and how “the same thing that happened to Byron is now happening to those places.”
Another Reddit user who claimed to have grown up in Byron wrote about the town’s problem with violence, typing: “I grew up in Byron. Went to the primary school and high school there too. Early 2000s it got pretty dangerous. Lots of youth fights. The top park (park next to beach across road from beach hotel) on a Friday or Saturday night was filled with teens beating the shit out of each other.”
“Middle park (where Rails pub is) used to have homeless that would mug you. Stretch of road from town towards Suffolk would get you beaten up or molested. Basically – I remember it being a town where the locals hated the tourists, had no outlet, so took it out on each other.”
Another social media user observed: “My parents took us to Byron in the 60’s, and we watched in horror as a whale was carved up in front of us. A sight I never can erase from my mind. Another time, not too long ago I was on a bus that collected passengers from Byron, and I had to sit behind a filthy set of dreadlocks for hours. No pleasant memories there.”