‘I’ve Lived in Byron for 30 Years. Our Problem With ‘Byron Baes’ Is More Than Influencers’

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‘If you don’t like it you can leave.’ That was one of the statements by an influencer interviewed for The Project on the conflict that has developed between my local community of Byron Bay and Netflix ahead of Byron Baes — the reality TV show they intend to start shooting in May.

This is a colonising approach. An approach that removes any conversation or involvement from the community when it comes to what happens in your town. But we aren’t an ordinary town. We are Byron Bay — the seaside village that has become the most desired location on the Eastern seaboard.

This story of our David versus Goliath battle has hit the media big time. The rest of Australia doesn’t really understand why we don’t want the streaming giant on our land. We have been accused of being elitist and ‘up ourselves’.

The constant refrain from local business people (many of them influencers who have said NO) and residents opposing the reality show has been largely ignored and misunderstood. We aren’t against TV and film production here — in fact, we embrace it, we’d welcome Netflix engaging local producers so maybe they could film drama instead of creating it.

We are concerned about what kind of message about Byron this show will send to the 200 million people on the global platform. Influencers do one main thing: they influence people. Everyone knows that reality TV curates a false narrative, and that’s exactly what influencers do.

So what happens when the reach of the influencers goes from 100K to 200 million? What happens to our town? We’re not just the ‘backdrop’ as Netflix claims. We are the leading lady. It’s in the title. Is this going to create a tidal wave of visitors that will drown our vibrant community?

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A protest against Netflix’s Byron Baes from locals. Image: Supplied

Lack of housing availability and affordability is causing huge attrition in our community. We have record numbers of people sleeping rough. Our numbers for a town of 10,000 are second to Sydney, a city of 5 million.

Many of the homeless in our town aren’t counted as they are the hidden homeless — women and children sleeping in their cars, older women who can’t get a lease. I know of two women in their 80s who have been kicked out of their rentals when the landlord doubled their rent.

I know of women with kids who have found quiet places to park so the child protection doesn’t take their kids. They work. But they have been refused tenancy over and over – unable to compete with the big bucks that many new residents are able to offer.

Speaking with the crew from Today about the paddle out action against Byron Baes.

So is it elitist to worry about the effects of a show that has the potential to supercharge our real estate market? Make even more homeless?

Should our families who work here, whose kids go to school here, who have extensive community connections — should they just leave? Where to? Every village in the surrounding area is feeling the impact. According to the CEO of North Coast Community Housing, our region, which extends from Ballina to Tweed Heads is 15 years behind in public housing. Our region needs the government to provide thousands of houses to address the deficit.

We’ve never had a single tourism ad, and our town of 10,000 residents gets over two million visitors each year. Visitors outnumber residents by a ratio of 70 to 1. Close to 20% of our housing stock is in the Short Term Holiday Letting sector. Our median house price jumped by 26% last year bringing us on par with inner-city suburbs like Balmain, according to a story in Domain recently.

So is worrying about the impact of the narrative that Byron Baes is going to deliver unfounded? Our local influencers like Ruby Tuesday Matthews, Spell and Arnhem and many others have said no, even though this show would multiply their reach. They know what it could do to Byron.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to get the rest of the country to give an F.

The bias is already out there. Everyone has an opinion on Byron. We’re a bunch of shallow influencers tripping over celebrities to get the best selfie. Byron is the place everyone wants to be, but we’ve been stereotyped and ridiculed.

I’ve lived in the Byron shire for 30 years, and if you don’t live here, then you don’t get it. All you see is the artifice. You don’t see what Byron is on a weekend away – you don’t see it on the streets, and you certainly won’t see it on a reality TV show.

And, yes, we have celebrities here. Chris Hemsworth, Gemma Ward, Matt Damon, Carrie Bickmore… they live here quietly. We’ve always had celebrities come, they share values around community and culture just like anyone else here.

A community needs to be diverse. It’s our diversity that is at risk. Reality TV is the McDonald’s of TV production, and Byron Bay said no to McDonald’s.

We are a tourist town and most of our population work in those industries on minimum wage. Are the influencers going to serve coffees, clean toilets and work at the hospital? I can’t wait for that.

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