“Not all those who wander are lost.”
Every time, I go to the markets around Byron Bay whether they are in Byron Bay itself or perhaps over at Bangalow, I have this all consuming sense of coming home. That this is me.
I doubt this would come as a surprise to anyone these days. However, I was a 25 year old marketing executive when I first came to Byron Bay 25 years ago and had somehow managed to allow my writer-poet self to become fully corporatized. I also have to confess that I was on an ardent quest to find Mr Right, who also seemed to be corporatized and didn’t exactly draw out my creative side either. So by the time a friend of mine suggested that she could see me being a market stall holder in Byron Bay, it was a revelation. Indeed, by this time, this part of my self was even estranged and lost from me… buried alive and mummified in many dead layers of detrititus. Clearly, this was a shame particularly when I rewind back to my university days where I was performing my poetry at events like the Newtown Street Festival. Indeed, I could’ve gone right down this creative path so easily, but it was one thing to dabble in this world as a student. It was quite another to stay there and that wasn’t going to happen. Even if you took away parental influences, I was still a product of the system and once you get used to living the high life, it can become an end in itself.
Anyway, when I was 25, I visited Byron Bay for the first time. I was driving very slowly from Sydney to Queensland to visit my grandparents in Ipswich and drove as far North as Maroochydore visiting friends via the breathtaking Glasshouse Mountains. To anyone who knows me now, it would come as quite a surprise that I actually set off all by myself in my beloved first car… the Mitsubishi colt. I loved the freedom of being able to stop off WHEREVER and just being totally free and independent. I made a friend, Jody, at the Youth Hostel in Byron Bay and we drove up to Murwillumbah and stayed at the Youth Hostel there on the river and kept in touch for a bit. There was definitely a sense of being Easy Rider or Thelma & Louise on this trip and when I arrived back home, I experienced a seismic shift. Nothing felt familiar and it was like I’d stepped into someone else’s life and not my own. Yet, this was also the time that the neurological storm in my head was brewing and a year later, I would be diagnosed with hydrocephalus or fluid on the brain and off to the brain surgeon..a rather radical approach for staying in tune with yourself but I’ve always trod my own path.
I don’t think the markets were around back then, although they could well have been. Byron Bay and that entire region of North-East NSW was at the tail end of its hippy heyday and the streets were still packed with hippies and ferals. Kombies with surfboards loaded up top were parked along the beach and not taking their last breaths either. I think it must’ve been a round 1995. Whenever it was, it was definitely long before marriage, mortgage, kids and 24/7 responsibilities (which the dog has reminded me includes her. She’s just deposited the components of her tennis ball on my laptop. If ever I’m in doubt about what I’m focusing on, I just need to see where she’s deposited her bits of stick or ball. She’s onto me.)
Oops! My apologies! I’ve clearly taken you on a massive detour along the long and winding road to Byron Bay Markets, and at this rate we’ll be lucky to get there before they shut shop.
The Byron Bay Markets are held Butler Street Reserve, which is just over the disused railway line and a short walk from the main street. Just in case you’d like to know when the markets are on, here’s a link. Having been to the artisan markets the night before, the initial impact of arriving at the markets didn’t quite get my heart racing as much as usual. However, I did hear the most exquisite violin my music, and was all ears. Where was it coming from? I started scouring left and right and discovered the virtuoso was a moth-eaten Pirate Cat. Looks like he could use a bit of a makeover, but he could play the violin better than me thanks to a recording.
As much as I loved the markets, I soon realized that our demographic has changed significantly since I was here last and both the kids have outgrown all the handmade children’s clothes and toys which used to draw me in. After many years of op shop devotion, paying full price for clothes has lost its appeal these days and things don’t fit me easily and madam is fussy. So, I’d covered a good 50% of the market before I’d spotted anything to buy and I was starting to wonder if a miracle was at hand. Would this be the very first time Rowie went to Byron Bay Markets and came home empty handed? Surely not!! However, don’t fear. I haven’t lost my magic touch. It turned out even markets like suspense, and the best was yet to come.
Indeed, I spotted a chatty Willy Wonka type character in a purple top hat and loud shirt with his sketches. What initially caught my eye was a sketch of a tree over a sheet of music. It was beautiful. However, I’m constantly watching my pennies and you don’t know what’s around the corner. So, I went for a smaller sketch of a woman in a purple robe and a card with female nude sitting on a bed taken from behind and she’s looking across the room to a picture of a fairy on the wall. It’s like she’s found her wings. There is an answer, a way out, a way up. We were chatting and it came up that I play the violin and he soon returned with a tiny sketch of a woman with red hair holding her violin. Her eyes are closed and it’s like she can hear the music in her soul without needing to actually play. Naturally, I had to have that. I also bought a few cards. I felt rather fired up after stopping off there.
Then, I spotted a vintage stall and I should be ashamed to admit to buying more books, but I’m not. Rather, I’m cheering because I found a 1937 edition of the famed Yates Garden Guide and a Wolf Cub Scouting Book from the 60’s from the UK. If you’ve seen our garden, well you might wonder what I’d be doing with a gardening book. Indeed, you’d be thinking I’d be buying something out of Hogwarts for casting nasty spells on gardens, because I’m a serial plant killer. However, both my grandfathers were avid gardeners and this one dates back just a few years before they embarked on married life. Looking at it, it’s hard to believe that it’s from my grandparents’ life time as it looks a lot older. Not quite ancient, but older than old. Well, Dad’s Dad would be turning 109 this year, which I guess was hardly yesterday. It just reaffirms how quickly time flies by.
By the way, I should’ve mentioned the heat and just how sunny it was at the markets. I’d forgotten my hat and sunscreen and was trying to stay in the shade just to survive. There are days when out hot Australian sun goes into griller mode, and this was one of those. Fortunately, there were some huge shady trees and the stalls themselves provided much needed shelter. Boy, I really needed it.
As it turned out, the heat was also to blame for a low turnout at the markets. Perhaps, people were at the beach or simply hibernating indoors. I’m not sure. However, you have to feel for the stallholders. For many, this is their livelihood. Bread and butter on the table kind of stuff.
Hey, before we leave the markets and head up to the beach, I wanted to share a few photos of a couple of double-decker buses I spotted across the road. You never quite know what you’re going to find around Byron Bay (other than the unexpected!)
Before we head off to the beach, I thought I’d leave you with a parting shot of the Pirate Cat, who looks like he’s taken a Bex and is enjoying a good lie down.