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The Embrace of the Caldera Amidst Byron's Housing Crisis

Updated: Aug 9, 2023

I’m wrapped in the embrace of the caldera, the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere. Here, deep time seems to pulsate with twenty-three million years of erosion from the volcanic plug of Wollumbin or ‘Cloud-Catcher’, known to white fellas as Mount Warning. From my bedroom I can see its peak, the first on the Australian mainland to be touched by the rising sun at the Autumn and Spring equinoxes. Mount Chincogan, a minor lava plug from that same prehistoric eruption, looms large in front of me as I write.


I’ve landed in a seriously powerful spot and I don’t quite know myself. With a new house in an estate that sometimes reminds me of ‘The Truman Show’, and a much more functional second-hand car than the trusty bomb I’ve been driving for decades, I feel reborn. And to top it all off, I’ve inherited my first ever dog/god, Gingi Baru, an eleven year-old Cavalier King Charles spaniel who’s just cost me a fortune in dental fees and I don’t begrudge her a cent. I’ve joined the ranks of the HOWDys (Home Owners With Dogs) and I’m in some kind of fresh Mullumbimby heaven.


But I can't help wondering if I am part of the region's increasingly obvious problem? As many locals will tell you, the entire Shire is a victim of its own success as an alternative lifestyle choice for city escapees like me. Property prices are at a premium in this highly desirable location and a housing emergency is in full swing. So how does one turn this dilemma around and make a positive contribution towards Byron's housing crisis?


Former US Vice President Al Gore, with whom I trained as a Climate Leader, says that you have to heal yourself before you can help others, and there was a fair bit of that to do when I first arrived pre-Covid. My wild bush retreat near Mudgee, that I had owned with friends for over three decades, had just been incinerated in a waterfall of fire. Arriving, as I did, in the middle of a Northern Rivers deluge, literally quenched my scorched soul. And while horrendous for many, the dreaded virus was the perfect excuse to slow down and work out the next steps.


Living up on Midgen Flat Heights, I got to surf Broken Head regularly without crowds of tourists. Dodging dolphins torpedoing through the waves and gannets plunging into the sea became a favourite pastime. Asanas practiced by the sacred ti-tree lake and swims in it’s fresh tannin waters were equally rejuvenating. And watching fluorescent pink sunrises and cosmic lunar eclipses made me feel like a tiny speck of a spectator on planet Earth - one in 2 billion yet somehow unique. I was exploring a whole new side of myself and totally tripping out on it. As our mate Rusty says; “Byron Shire is a place where individuals come to not just meet people but to meet themselves”.


So, who am I? It was the question at the heart of my first Satori retreat at one of Byron’s original meditation centres. Set high on the ridge off Old Bangalow Road, Sangsurya (a Sanskrit word which means “a place where the sun reaches everybody”) hosted a group of fifteen of us perfect strangers for six days in a rigid structure designed to lead us to enlightenment, if only for a flash.


At the end of it all, I had the not so extraordinary revelation that I was the sum total of my long life’s experience. But the real discovery was that I wanted to stay in the region and needed my own home rather than the old surfboard shaping garage that I had been renting for the previous year. It took another six months of crowded house inspections and depressing auctions where prices soared above the reserves, but I eventually found it - a nest in a cul-de-sac in Mullum. As my dear old friend, who just so happens to live around the corner, tells me; “It’s so you!”.


Me? Turns out I ‘m now a person who, after living in rather dysfunctional homes all my life, finds herself in an architect-designed, solar-powered house, inspired by its functionality. With no renos to contend with I can get involved with my new community but it takes a little while to work out where one fits in. Localism is a thing here. Like most places in this country, your right to take up space is judged by the length of time you’ve been in residence. I still feel so fresh that I’m finding it hard to identify as anything but a colonising settler.


I started helping out with community events like the annual fundraiser for the Domestic Violence Escape Fund for the Women’s Resource Service; acting in a pilot for a locally-made TV series; and co-curating TEDxByronBay2021. I also started hosting a weekly show on the local radio station BayFM. But as much as these kinds of gigs support the community, they give so much more back to me.


I am blessed. I now have a network of fabulous friends and a fixed address. So many people here do not. You see them camping in the sand dunes around Brunswick Heads and sleeping in their cars on the streets. Drawn by the promise of a place that will welcome them in all their diversity, they are unable to find somewhere to rent, let alone purchase. It’s a shit storm. The Women's Village Collective was established to help some of these families settle and I also support it, in the first instance by donating funds from an exhibition of archival film stills from the cult surf movie I featured in 40 years ago.


Who am I? I am that person immortalised in the character Debbie from the film ‘Puberty Blues’ who shocked the boys by taking to the waves and smashing the outdated rule that “Girl’s Can’t Surf”. When I paddle out at The Pass these days, I rejoice in all the girls and women ripping it up or at least giving it a crack. I’m just stoked to be able to jump up on my board and feel the thrill of drawing a line on one of these legendary waves.


Not long after I landed here, I noticed that I was actually being stalked by rainbows, the sacred geometry caused by sunlight beaming through drizzle at exactly 42 degrees to fracture into the seven colours of the spectrum. The regularity of these marvellous manifestations is quite bedazzling, but If you allow their colour therapy to work its magic, it’s not long before you recover from any anxiety or stress.


They say that people are called here to get healed, here in the Green Triangle. I certainly feel fabulous and even Gingi Baru has got a second wind now that her ten rotten teeth have been removed. Maybe soon we will be able to accommodate all those homeless people too. Wheels are afoot to make it happen. After years of the growing housing crisis, of lockdowns and unlockdowns, of tensions between the vaxxed and the unvaxed, it seems we could all do with a good dose of healing in the caldera’s embrace.


This story was first published in Rusty's Byron Guide 2022.

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