Snakes in the grass,
Jaws in the surf
Blue Bottles on the beach.
Dingo in the park.
Nowhere to park.
Drought then flooding rain.
The fractured postcard
beneath perfect skies.
Think I’m heading home.
When you’re a local and you know the realities of life beyond the tourist postcard, the perfect tourist view can almost feel like a lie. Those perfect, eternal sunny days printed onto tourist postcards without even a hint of what goes on.
While we aren’t Byron Bay locals, we’re not tourists here either. We’re more like migratory birds which keep flying home, although for us there is no particular season. We visit once a year and stay with my in-laws who’ve lived and worked in the district for over 30 years. When I visit Bangalow and go through the shops, I am sometimes recognised and given a “you’re back”. In so many, many ways, I’ve never left because my creative heart belongs in Byron Bay and nearby Bangalow and my in-laws give us such love and support, which touches me very deeply inside. This has been right through my medical highs and lows and looking after what were very young and stressed out kids and they pulled their sleeves up and dug in and helped and not just with the easy stuff either.
Anyway, Australians love scaring people overseas with our various sightings and encounters with deadly wildlife. Carnivorous koalas known as “Drop Bears” are legendary but coming down to earth a bit soe of our wildlife is very dangerous but thank goodness, you don”t see it very often. You just need to use your head and take precautions. We know there’s likely to be Red Back Spiders nesting under stuff in our backyard at home but that also means we’re careful moving things around. Recent shark attacks near Byron Bay are actually unexpected and so we’ve been not so sure how to deal with that and many are just staying out of the water or going elsewhere. Snakes are a fact of life but keep the doors shut. Watch where you’re walking and you’re going to be very unlikely. Most of us Aussies have never been bitten by a poisonous snake, spider, shark or croc.
The same can’t be said for for the blue bottle, which is also known more formally as the Portuguese Man O’ War. If you have ever been stung by one of these nasty critters, you might well think the war reference refers to its sting However, it derives its name from it’s physical similarity to a Portuguese war ship going back. Blue bottles aren’t unique to Australia so it’s quite possibly that you’ve also experienced the Summer horror of feelings it’s tentacles wrapped around your leg and screaming out for the vinegar.
While we were in Byron Bay this trip,, we actually spotted what looked pretty close to a full-blooded Dingo at the Railway Park. It seemed to be a pet, although I couldn’t quite work out any kind of ownership and he could well have been a community dog. He was quite friendly and used to being around people though. It’s probably the first time I’ve ever encountered a dingo outside a zoo.
An empty wallet is a travelling hazard. I’m not talking about having your wallet stolen but the never-ending temptation which leads you to buy things you know you can’t afford. IN Byron Bay this, for me, goes way beyond buying some dress or fashion item to finding artistic masterpieces which somehow reflect or express an inner part of myself which has remained trapped, or somehow locked in an inner labyrinth. This trip I bought myself a stunning ring which had a piece of ceramic on top with a butterfly on it. The butterfly had its wings spread out and it looked like to was perched on my finger ready to take flight. I bought that ring to encourage myself and to launch myself into the air and learn to fly again after a few severe health setbacks.
Of course, this wasn’t the only thing I found either.I also found a stunning range of gift cards which I felt were me. I’ll have to dig them up and put a link through to the artist.
Bee Sting…Mister somehow managed to get stung by a bee out in the paddock. This is the same paddock where we’d seen the snake and so we wondered how he managed to get stung if he had his eyes out of storks like he’d been told???? Kids!
There’s one other thing I should mention about Byron Bay is that it attracts a lot of young people and travellers, which I’ll collectively call “seekers”. Sometimes, they are just looking to party, have a good time etc but Byron Bay tends to attract young people looking for something deeper, more intangible and also more concerning. In once sense, there’s that piece missing in their own puzzle and for repressed creatives, the Byron Bay region can be that missing piece. A way of being themselves. At the same time, your early 20s can be a time when mental health issues start to manifest and that very tenuous, downward spiral into debilitating anxiety, depression can start as well as the hallucination associated with schizophrenia. While drugs and alcohol might exacerbate these problems and intensify the nightmare, they are also a form of self-medication. These people can drift into Byron and find themselves in serious trouble. Sexual assault, rape, suicide are some of the dark, unspoken underbelly of Byron Bay, which is just as much a part of it’s cultural make up as the postcard views of the sun, surf and stoic lighthouse. .
As much as the seekers head for Byron Bay, so does a lot of love and care for the wounded. Mama Dee, whose son died in Railway Park, was running a free art in the park program while we were there and there were people giving free lunches and the young enthusiasts from a Christian group called Youth with A MIssion were giving away a lovely BBQ dinner and also played guitar and sang in the park. The Adventist Church across the road has also been reaching out for many years. At the same time, the huge volume of seekers moving through Byron Bay can exhaust the local community. People arriving in Byron with no money. Nowhere to stay and expecting someone to help.
While it is important to be positive and upbeat, it is also imperative to acknowledge what’s real. We can admire the beauty of the rainbow but we also need to be conscious that it takes both sun and rain to produce what has to be one of the most beautiful wonders of our planet. As long as we deny that the dark side exists and sweep it under a picture-perfect postcard fascade, people will keep falling off the edge wondering why paradise never measured up.
PS: Just to show that these sort of dangers are not unique to the Australian context, here’s an interesting post from True Nomad about A Day in the Life of A Canadian Park Ranger: http://truenorthnomad.net/2015/09/24/day-in-the-life-of-a-park-ranger/