Rainbow Dreaming  

No Becton protest

'No Becton’ protest, Main Beach, Byron Bay, 11th September, 2003
Image: © Jeff Dawson/Byron Echo

Protest in Paradise

In 1992 Club Med announced that it had purchased the Byron Bay Beach Resort. Its development proposal was applauded by conservative elements within the community. However there were some ordinary people who were concerned.

People had their own reasons for not wanting Club Med. To many people this development was seen as the thin edge of the wedge, opening up the town to unlimited development. To others it was seen as an overdevelopment on an ecologically fragile site. There were even people who were suggesting that the development was part of a French conspiracy.

Among the members of the business community the area of most common concern was that the development had very little to offer any of us. Apart from the fact that it was a multinational organisation that would direct its profits offshore and that its key employees were foreigners who rotated around the various Club Med resorts every six months, it was a total destination resort.

In other words, it was a one stop shop. It was designed to extract maximum profit and return very little to the host community. Notwithstanding assurances to the contrary, we reckoned that out-of-town builders would construct the establishment, leaving the only significant employment for cleaners and groundsmen, who weren’t even permitted to communicate with the guests.

To us it looked suspiciously like all we were likely to get out of this resort was more effluent in Belongil Creek, more motor vehicles and more tourists using public facilities. We were proud of our culture and our environment and we felt vulnerable, fearing that they would be diminished by the operation of a wealthy and powerful multinational corporation.

A meeting of local business owners and professionals was hastily assembled to form a committee to oppose the plan. The committee met after work a couple of evenings a week for several years. An alliance formed between business operators and the activists, many of who went on to become Byron Shire Councillors and Mayors.

In a congenial atmosphere we plotted our moves. We engaged in a massive media campaign. We staged rallies. We lobbied the local councillors and anyone else who would listen to us.
In the end we were ignored and Byron Shire Council voted to approve the resort. This led to our court challenge. The decision of the Council was overturned on the basis that the developer had failed to prepare a fauna impact statement. Ironically the day in court was won by the comb-crested Jacana, or Jesus Bird, that had strutted its stuff on the waterlilies in front of the assembled team of wildlife experts.

Club Med never submitted another development application and went on to sell the site. The next owner, Melbourne-based property developer Becton, also faced tremendous local opposition to its massive residential development proposal, including a gathering of 1500 people on Main Beach, Byron Bay, who voiced (and sang) their objection to the development on 11 September, 2003.

Despite all protests the State Government ended up approving the development and then Becton offered it up for sale.

The future of the site is presently uncertain. With rising sea levels and a receding coastline one can only speculate whether much of the site will end up being inundated. After all the acid sulphate soils there indicate that has happened in the past.

Wroth Wall, solicitor, Mullumbimby

   
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