protest, Main Beach, Byron Bay, 11th September, 2003
Image: © Jeff Dawson/Byron Echo
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
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
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.
Wall, solicitor, Mullumbimby