Poem: Shadows in Byron Bay…a Postcard.

Ghostly shipwrecks,

Snakes in the grass,

Jaws in the surf

Blue Bottles on the beach.

Dingo in the park.



Empty wallets.

Nowhere to park.

Drought then flooding rain.

Crikey, mate!

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.

Geoff at Wategoes Beach, Byron Bay.

Geoff at Wategoes Beach, Byron Bay.

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.

Blue Bottle

Blue Bottle

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!

Painted onto one of the park benches in Railway Park, a dedication to all the young people who have suicided in the region.

Painted onto one of the park benches in Railway Park, a dedication to all the young people who have suicided in the region.

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. .

Free art in the park ...the kids did a few paintings and had a ball. Must say they had good quality paints too. Very much appreciated!

Free art in the park …the kids did a few paintings and had a ball. Must say they had good quality paints too. Very much appreciated!

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.

Mister's vibrant interpretation of a sunflower.

Mister’s vibrant interpretation of a sunflower.

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.

xx Rowena

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/

22 thoughts on “Poem: Shadows in Byron Bay…a Postcard.

  1. Beaton

    Snakes??? I really really really don’t like those big ones, little ones, sticks that look like snakes :-/
    I can’t get over them not having legs

  2. roweeee Post author

    Thanks very much, Kat. Byron Bay does tend to have that effect on you. Have you heard about Byron Bay at all? Is it as legendary overseas as it is here? I first went there back in around 1994 in my 20s and stayed at the backpackers. When I arrived back home from this trip, I’d experienced some kind of cosmic shift and I could barely remember home, work the lot. It was incredible. I was very corporate back them and I think realised where I truly belonged. Who I was. The creative, left-field character. I couldn’t go back.

  3. New Journey

    I have heard of it, I was doing some research about visiting and that was one of the places recommended….It looked beautiful….don’t you love places that take you to another realm….kat

  4. TanGental

    Now I can go one better with dingoes having spent a week on Fraser Island and had them everywhere along the beach. Somewhat sinister in their dog looks and undog like ways. Byron Bay sounds really like a place to visit but you are quite right about seed underbellies and the need to acknowledge them. And the rainbow metaphor is very apt.

  5. Norah

    I love your postcard poem, and then the explanation. How wonderful to be able to return “home” and receive the support from your wonderful in-laws.

  6. roweeee Post author

    They have been fabulous. My auto-immune disease was triggered by the birth of my daughter and so we were bringing up two very young children under very challenging circumstances. My mother has been coming up one day a week since our son was born and my in-laws have had us for holidays and taken the kids off our hands so we could have some breathing space. They’ve been such lifesavers to us xx Rowena

  7. merrildsmith

    I liked your poem.
    I’ve heard of Byron Bay–but really just the name. It does sound lovely. I’m sure the problems that you mention also occur in many other places, as you say with your rainbow comparison. Also, the caution, that in life we can have our eyes wide open looking for snakes, but still get stung by an unexpected bee.

  8. roweeee Post author

    The thing about the dingoes in Fraser Island is that we know they’re there. I’ve never seen a free dingo before, especially one that looked so pure bred. I grew up in the post Azaria Chamberlain era and we had some dreadful jokes at school such as “What do you call a dingo on a pram on Ayers Rock?” “Meal on Wheels”. My husband’s family knew the Chamberlains and that reminded me of the human suffering behind that media witch hunt. I still felt uncomfortable around this dingo even though it seemed to be a pet.
    I do like that rainbow metaphor. Actually, I’d much rather just have sunshine but I’m a realist and I know that’s what it takes to grow, even if I don’t like it!

  9. TanGental

    the English press loved the story, exotic and sensational. I don’t think I remember the outcome apart I think that Lindy (is that right) Chamberlain went to prison and was then released after being shown to not having lied? I could check on the Net but just thought I’d ask how the memory works.

  10. roweeee Post author

    It’s a very interesting case. Your undersatanding of the facts is spot-on but knowing how you like conspiracies and corruption, the Police case run by the NT Police was shocking. Moreover, a lot of Australians thought she was guilty because she looked composed on TV but they were advised to stay cool. It was one of those cases that really makes you hope they don’t come knocking at your door or some disaster strikes which thrusts you into the limelight. Don’t of us have way to many quirks to appear normal and could get ripped to shreds.

  11. New Journey

    I agree….when we get home my husband and I have a ritual we go through and its helping put the pieces back where they should be…LOL but all we have is a dog..no children no jobs…so much easier than you have….my husband is the type if its not in its place he can’t relax, me, it can lay in a pile on the floor until I am dam well good and ready to put it away…LOL but its easier to just do it so he will settle down…LOL men!!!!

  12. Debbe

    I keep reptiles. So, I love them. I would not want to get too close to all of your venomous snakes, but admittedly I would love to see them in person. I also have quite a few lizards, fish, and spiders. The grandchildren do not seem to mind. And we move the spider enclosure off of the table when we have guests for dinner. It is our centerpiece. lol. Yeah, not much adult company. I loved the poem. I wish I could beachcomb with you. It would be delightful.

  13. Pingback: Weekend Coffee Share: Byron Bay – Back to Earth. | beyondtheflow

  14. roweeee Post author

    You’re welcome. I actually posted a link to this post mentioning your post to our Scout group. I thought they’d really enjoy it and I must read your post to my kids. They’ll love and hopefully also get a few pointers. Many thanks xx Rowena

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