By Road & Track
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By Road & Track

Coastal stories…

A way of life now gone

Byron Bay beach the day a way of life came to an end.

I’ve mixed emotions when I look at this photo. It’s an image of becoming and going, the loss of the old and the hope of the new.

I was at Byron Bay, down the far southern end of the main beach. This was quite some years ago now, long before the time I lived in the town. Then, I worked as editor of an environmental industry journal in Sydney. My partner lived just south of Byron Bay, a place called Broken Head where she had a shack in a multiple occupancy community in the littoral rainforest, a good place to be if you ignored the mosquitoes and the diamond python in the kitchen. Her work was with a town planner a twenty minute drive south, Lennox Head, a place best known for its point break.

There were several part-time journalists who wrote for the publication I both wrote for and edited, and I could rely on them to have their articles in on time. That allowed me to cram my work into two or three weeks of the month. Then I would walk from my office on the eighth floor of the National Building in the city, down to Central and board the overnight coach. Eight hours later I would step off in Byron in that dazed condition well-known to those who make overnight coach journeys.

Last day

That day, I drove my partner to her work in Lennox, then drove her van back to Byron. That’s how I came to be at the far end of Byron’s main beach that fine summer day.

What’s going on, I wondered? I wandered down and stood watching as a team of fishers hauled a net from the surf. Large silvery fish thrashed around in it. The fisher I spoke with, a guy perhaps in his fifties whose appearance and manner of speech suggested that the sea was his long-time livelihood, told me the fish end up in the market in Brisbane, a good two and a half hours drive north.

Then he volunteered another bit of information, stimulated perhaps by how he was feeling. This is the last of our fishing at Byron, he said. The government has declared a marine reserve in the area. No more fishing.

Curiosity had led me to the last time these guys would haul their nets onto this beach. I had mixed emotions. I knew that overfishing was a real problem along the coast, so the marine reserve would be a good thing to allow fish stocks to recover. There was a lot of local support for the reserve although it was not shared by all in town. It was driven by the strong environmental sentiment that kept out unwanted development. At the same time another emotion conflicted with that. It was that this was small-scale fishing, not large scale industrial fishing from boats.

With these fishers, I was standing on the temporal turning point where one way of life was ending to give way to something new.

How do I reconcile these clashing emotions, I wondered? I realised I couldn’t. They had to both exist in my head at the same time, one pulling one way, the other in a different direction.

Years have passed since I stood there making a series of photos of the fishers going about their work. The marine reserve is still there. That’s good in its own way. But when I look at this photo I end up wondering about those fishers. Did they find another beach to haul they fish-laden nets onto? What became of them?

Those are questions I will never know the answer to.

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