Welcome to this blog, the story of a great big Australian adventure. It documents my travels, life in Australia, and a subject close to my heart – environmental conservation. 

Dear Byron...

Dear Byron...

I will always love you. That is not in doubt, but...

(There's never been a but until last weekend. It was previously unimaginable.)

...last weekend had a public holiday tacked on to it. It was a public holiday that shouldn't have been there. Labour Day is in May, right? May 1st, or as near as dammit. That is the tradition and that is how it should be. Not in October. Labour Day is not something Campbell Newman can move around, willy nilly, in order to spread holidays evenly throughout the year, or show the labour movement who's boss. If he absolutely had to create a spring holiday, he could have moved Queenie's birthday. It never coincides with her actual birthday, so it doesn't matter which day it is officially. And since when does Queensland want to be in line with other states?

We all know what happens on public holidays, especially in Byron. You can't get a room even if your life depended upon it, and room rates double, at least. And the minimum number of nights you have to book increases in direct proportion to the length of the weekend. That makes me feel ripped off. And it was intended to be a day trip, for the Sunday Market (first Sunday of every month), for christmas presents. It was only when I got there and fell under your spell, and couldn't bear to leave you after so little time – and wanted to shop and beach again on Monday – that I needed to stay. But it was impossible for less than $500.

So, whatever happened to spontaneity? You go to a place, you love it, you fancy getting a room for the night so you can savour it some more. No chance. 'Sorry, we're fully booked. It's a holiday weekend.' Yes, I know. That's why I want a room.

I got well grumpy. I never do grumpy in Byron. But nothing was normal. I had to wait an hour and ten minutes for my takeaway fish and chips, so we could eat before driving back to Brisbane, which I didn't want to do. I stood outside Mongers in Bay Lane – near where the smelly bins usually are but weren't, mercifully – for what felt like forever. I eventually tasted some of the best fish and chips you'll find west of Winnetka, but it wasn't worth the kind of wait I should have been forewarned about. I don't think I'll be going back there, or recommending it, which I've done hundreds of times in my capacity as Byron guru.

And the Daylight Saving business. It really is time for another vote in Queensland, isn't it? I've tried to get used to it for nearly four years; the getting dark at 5 pm in winter and 6.30 in the summer. It sucks. I want lighter evenings, please. I don't want to go to bed with the birds, and I don't want to wake up with them either, at 4 am in summer. I don't always want to barbecue at lunchtime; sometimes I want to do it in the evening, but not in the dark. Do you understand? (This bit of the letter is to Queensland, not you, Byron.)

I knew that New South Wales had changed its clocks the night before. But we were awake early, away by 7.30, Queensland time. By the time we were approaching BB, however, the queue into town was halfway back to the highway and hardly moving, so we had to turn back and go a secret way, slowly following a car creating an enormous dust cloud. This meant I couldn't do what I ALWAYS do, the ritual, driving into Main Beach car park and breathing in my first glance of one of the most beautiful bays on earth, looking out along Belongil to Mt Warning and the other pointy bits of the caldera.

The market and the music were as good as ever, but it was hot, at almost midday. There was Pasión Flamenca, and the man with the voice to melt a thousand hearts (and induce goose bumps) and get the Byron characters doing their thing.


Later, Broken Head beach was a tad crowded, by Aussie standards, that is.

Back in town, after the futile search for a bed, it was horribly crowded. Horribly. There were lots of large, pink people, and in the Beach Hotel bar, where everyone was gearing up for yet another grand final, you couldn't move for cleavage and burly would-be footie players.

At one stage I thought I couldn't even take any photographs any more, but I was being a bit silly. And then I saw her. An innocent, wearing the sort of skirt every little girl wants, and chasing seagulls, oblivious of any world but her own. And I thought, how wonderful, to be so young and have Byron literally at your feet. Then she stopped, contemplating, but too young to have even an inkling of what she wants to be.

Friends who were concerned when I reported my experience, and especially those who worship you also, suggested I return as soon as possible in order to move on. All I need is to feast upon this for a while.

I will always return. Until the point in time when I no longer can. Because way back, when I drove around the corner of Lawson Street the first time, and saw the sea and sky and perfectly sized fluffy bits of backlit cloud, and surfer dots, and Julian Rocks and The Pass, and the Lighthouse and the dolphins dancing, you stole pieces of my heart and soul that can never be returned. Moreover, I don't want them back. Those who do not feel the draw of a magical place are missing something. A warm inner smile, for one.

Hasta luego, Byron.

The devil's in the dust

The devil's in the dust

Swan Lake: birds at risk in Bris

Swan Lake: birds at risk in Bris