Byron Shire - at last white fella acts for country

Byron Shire – at last white fella acts for country (Photo: Stephanie Dale)

By Sarah Buchanan

Byron Shire’s white fella past has seen some biggish mistakes over its 130-year history – and last week Byron Shire Council took a vote for country, at last.

Firstly in 1770 Captain Cook changed the Arakwal’s perfectly adequate name of Cavvanbah (meeting place) to Byron Bay, which Cook named after the ‘circumnavigator of the world’, Admiral John Byron.

Then, in the early 1880s, Byron Bay’s first town planners named streets for an era of poetry inspired by the poet Lord George Gordon Noel Byron, believing that that’s who Cook had in mind.

Then, during the years from the 1840s to 1880s, the timber getters all but destroyed the 900 square kilometres of The Big Scrub that stretched all the way to Lismore from the coast.

The timber getters removed nearly all the red cedar (‘Red Gold’) and white booyong trees, destroying much else in the forest as well.

The Government of NSW gave allotments to potential farmers on the basis that they cleared it of rainforest.

Hence, most of the Big Scrub was cleared, and the surviving Bundjalung people were placed into reservations.

The logs were shipped from Tallow Beach to the growing colonies. And when the timber ran out in came the dairy farmers and the once-was forest became paspalum grass fields – and the beginning of the region’s huge weed problem.

After the wrecking our forests came the decision to commence sand ,ining operations in 1920 through to about 1936. The company Zircon Rutile Ltd returned in the 1960s to re-work the sand with more refined extraction techniques, all but destroying our natural and ancient sand ‘buffer zone’ that had protected the eastern seaboard for millennia, changing our coastline between Ballina and Brunswick Heads forever.

Then along came whaling, harpooning and slaughtering. 1146 whales between 1954 and 1962, producing 10,000 tonnes of oil for soap, lighting and margarine.

Then, last week, Byron Shire Council voted for an exclusion zone for all gas mining in the Byron Shire.

Thanks to all the separate surveys conducted in the Shire we are kitted up and keen for the fight against mining companies who are intent on destroying our water, land, health and communities.

Maybe – finally – we really have learnt something.