Not Very Fracking Byron!

Coal Seam Gas Mining in our back yard? We don’t think so.

In fact… A VERY BIG BYRON – WE DON’T THINK SO! If there is anywhere in this country that is going to object to something so devastatingly major…it will be the community of Byron Bay. Two thousand strong voices rallied together, unified in one big ‘NO FRACKING WAY’. The president of the Bsane body behind the rally, Anthea Amore, did a brilliant job organising the massive crowd, as did her counterparts… especially when it came to producing a reverse Mexican wave (a sequential collapsing of marchers after taking a drink of ‘fracked’ water from their water bottles). Arj Barker (the MC) was passionate in his delivery, and hilariously so when his American accent designated the premier of NSW as Bury O’Farrell. Arj was serious… Byron was serious… look out anyone who supports such an insidious attack on our basic rights… the right to clean water and the right to everything that flows from it!

Top: Check out the backyard! Bottom: Very Mick mixing with the political power brokers. Paul Spooner, Manager of the Byron Community Centre to his right and Jan Barham, Byron Shire Mayor behind.
Top: Protestors during the reverse Mexican Wave.
Bottom: Every man and his dog… all barking mad.

Calling all volunteers for Schoolies Week 2011

As we know, Schoolies ‘Week’ tends to be an ‘Avoid Byron’ time for residents. Having said that, it’s great there is a team of local volunteers, known as the Byron Schoolies Safety Response Team, providing a 24/7 presence in town during the celebrations. Like a big bunch of Byronite older siblings, this team helps young visitors find their way, and in the process, stay as tidy as possible. With only a few weeks to go before celebrations commence, the team is asking for volunteers to help woman/man the HUB (large marquee) set up in Main Beach Park.

 Schoolies HUB 2011 - Byron Bay
Schoolies HUB team ready for action again in 2011 – Joey, Bridget, Lily, Nicqui, Tania & Luke

HUB Co-ordinator, Nicqui Yazdi said “We would really like to encourage those that have had experience with working with young people to come and give it a go. And also those that might have done first aid training, although it is not a pre-requisite. Volunteering for the HUB is fun. These young visitors mainly want to know what happens in our lovely town, so, the HUB is a bit like a temporary tourist information tent, but we also have a hydration station (water tank), first aid station and lots of smiling locals.”

The HUB will be open 24/7 for the 18 days of School Leavers Celebrations from the 18th of November until the 5th of December. Volunteers will do rostered shifts of four hours. Last year nearly 100 local volunteers worked the Schoolies HUB, along with assistance from the Red Frogs and also local organisation YWAM (Youth With A Mission). This year the aim is to find another 100 local volunteers who would like to give some of their time to the HUB.

So if you would like to get board and do a bit of feel-good for our community you can obtain a registration forms  from the Byron Youth Service offices in the Youth Activities Centre (YAC) 1 Gilmore Crescent, or contact  Nicqui Yazdi on 0402013177 or email. And thanks in advance to Nicqui and her team for 2011. We really do appreciate all your hard work with our youth… both local and visiting.

Conversation with Renee Simone – The Blackbirds

“I was spreading myself too thin. I was in two bands, I was a youth worker in two different organizations, as well as building a house as a single mum…something had to give” 

We caught up with Renee Simone of The Blackbirds weeks and weeks ago at Fresh Café where the band plays every second Friday night. Whilst our coffee, tea and soy dandelion latte were delicious, the café was a tad noisy for recording an interview and consequently we turned some facts into fiction. Sorry Renee. We think we’ve got the transcript fairly well sorted now. By the way, The Blackbirds gig scheduled for October at The Great Northern has been postponed till December 9. So pop that date into your diaries now – their shows are a ‘must see’. We will also post a reminder of the new date closer to the time of the gig. And if you want to sample a taste of what you might get, check out their vids on YouTube

Now onto this amazing single mother’s inspiring drive and commitment to raising her child, building her own house and managing and playing in a band. Whoa – isn’t one of the above exhausting enough? Read on to be inspired and invigorated…

So Renee, you are of Jamaican descent with an English accent. Where are you really from?
That’s a tough one. I was born in England to Jamaican parents but I actually grew up in Germany because my stepfather was posted there when he was in the British Army.

But you have clearly spent time in the UK?
Yeah, at the end of high school I went back to England to do Uni and after that worked in London. 

What brought you to the Byron Shire?
I left the UK for a ‘working’ holiday in New Zealand and ended up in Australia. I had been living in NZ with an Australian guy who was a DJ. First up we travelled around NZ as a DJ and singer combo and then in 2003 we decided to come to Australia. We travelled from Sydney to Byron… and then we broke up. I carried on singing and joined a band called Radio Jupiter. Then I started working as a youth worker at Byron Youth Services, supporting disengaged young people… teaching them life skills etc.

Renee Simone, mother of all things

What was that like?
Well, put it this way, I ended up staying there for seven years. It was the closest thing I could find to Child Therapy, which is what I was trained in. I continued to play in the band and had a baby during that time too. My boss, Paul Spooner, was really supportive of my new motherhood role and allowed me to bring my baby into work so I could continue breast feeding. His philosophy was if we can’t support our staff how can we support a community? My time at the youth service was one of the best experiences for me. The young people I worked with were brilliant… I learned so much from them… it was an amazing way to reach the heart of a community. A friend took over my position and she’s really awesome so I knew the crew were in really good hands.

What’s your baby’s name?
Chilli and he’s not really a baby anymore he’s 5!

Why then did you leave BYS?
Um… to give up my day jobs really. I was spreading myself too thin. I was in two bands, I was a youth worker in two different organizations, as well as building a house as a single mum…something had to give.

Were you concerned about giving up the income and structure of your day job?
Part of me was, but after being there so long, it felt right…it felt like it was the natural end of that cycle. I tried rejigging the office and rearranging the furniture but that didn’t seem to work (laughs). After seven years I needed something fresh. Also, the house building was getting really full on at that time and I was constantly on the phone to builders and council about my house…I’d have the builder calling me asking urgent questions that needed on the spot decisions and I couldn’t make them because I was at work – I really needed to be focussed to pull off that miracle!

How did you start your career musically?
When I went to NZ I decided I wanted to develop my singing. I thought I wanted to study Jazz, but the teacher I ended up with… this gorgeous little old lady that taught from home had all this amazing old classical music in German and no one else had ever been able to sing it for her. She was really excited that I spoke German so she gave me the lessons at a really cheap price and she would play this amazing music so beautifully on her grand piano and I learnt to sing classically in German. It was sublime. She was really strict with me saying… ‘No, No, No… stop … that’s awful!’ But she really encouraged me to use my voice fully and I just loved it. Before that I had just been a bit of karaoke singer in the pubs in England. Then my DJ boyfriend encouraged me to sing over some of the tracks he was playing. I slowly learnt to sing my classical stuff over beats… it was pretty avant garde! Then other people joined in, rappers and the like – in NZ heaps of everyday people have these mad skills when you offer up the stage. The show became popular and we ended up running a radio show and became known around the place. We toured around NZ. It really helped build my confidence and I improved heaps. Then we decided to come to Aus but in Sydney they didn’t like our name ‘The Ghetto’. So we used the name ‘Skyrider’, which was awful. We kinda lost our identity there. So we left and got as far as Byron and you know the rest…

Renee’s lounge room…  complete with super cool retro sideboard and not just one, but two turntables

When did you start to play the ukulele?
I would pick it up after I had put Chilli to bed. I found it so therapeutic to just strum away, it’s such a gentle instrument… holding it against my body and gently strumming it until I hit a cord that somehow felt good and I would just stay strumming that cord. Then I would try and find the cord that went with it. Sometimes I would just cry. I would just sing or wail about whatever was going on at the time. It was like my own music therapy.

So onto the band… who are the other members and how long have you been together?
Benhur (the other singer) and Adi (on guitar and percussion)… we’ve been together five years. They had both been playing on the streets for years… so we started busking together and found the sound we were making felt right. There was a simplicity that really worked…  you could hear the harmonies and really focus on the vocals.

Originally we played together in a larger band called the Blue Hulas which was a Hawaiian themed band with ukulele, slide guitar and Ben and I singing. The band was really nurturing for me after just having had a baby. It was easier with a baby for everyone to come to my place to rehearse and it was like a really good bunch of friends would come around and we would just jam. Chilli loved it too. I could feed him while I was singing harmonies it was perfect. Then I’d pop him in a crib beside me and he would sleep right through the island lullabies. They were great days.

We played at markets and things and over time we evolved into the Blackbirds and became a trio. We dropped the whole Hawaiian theme and started busking in the streets for extra cash. People would come up and ask us to play at weddings and various events and we really started getting a name for ourselves. Then we made it onto Australia’s Got Talent and got a nation wide fan base.

What was that experience like?
Very positive… the people there liked us, which really helped because they can destroy you if they don’t. They were also very encouraging. I think though, if there was a next time, I wouldn’t let them dress us and do our stage set. We got a bit drowned out by all the TV glitz. Blackbirds is more simplistic.

But it gave us great exposure and it triggered the production of our first album. We had all these fans asking us for an album but we didn’t have any money to make one, so I got onto Facebook and posted “ If everyone who is requesting an album was to purchase it in advance we’d have enough money to make one… who’s in?” Within an hour we had 70 people deposit funds into our account… within 48 days we had made $10k.

OMG that is incredible, what a ‘truth tingle’ moment…
Yeah, it was amazing and it was all through social media…and not just from Australia either. We have fans in America, Japan, Canada, Israel, Sweden, the UK, France… all by people forwarding the YouTube clip to their friends or posting it on their Facebook pages. It was really powerful. I am a huge fan of social media because it is what made our band. We don’t sell out stadiums but we are internationally known and our music isn’t even on itunes. We have set up a shop on the website because we’re getting so many international emails with album requests that we need to make sales more accessible.

How many CD’s did you have pressed?
We had a limited edition of 500 done first…they were for all our fans who pre-paid…and we listed all their names on the inside of the cover thanking them for their support. Then we had another 2000 done and we’re nearly out of them.

Clearly, musical effects abound in Renee’s home

So, Australia’s Got Talent really launched you?
Well yes, but…if we hadn’t had a website or Facebook page then who knows what would have happened because as soon as we finished performing on the show we had people Googling our website. You could see the times the emails were sent and heaps of people jumped on literally as soon as we had finished singing. That’s what started our fan base. There were other musicians performing on the show who I really liked, but they didn’t have a website or Facebook page so I couldn’t track them down. That was really disappointing. But we had people asking us to perform at all sorts of gigs. I get emails saying “I was surfing YouTube and discovered your band and I’d love it if you could play at….”  We now get the plush treatment…  nice hotels with meals/wine included etc…  it’s a step up from my lounge room, that’s for sure. For one gig we were flown to WA for 3 days to play for half an hour at a corporate event.

And what about Chilli? Did he go with you?
No. He’s with his Dad when I’m working.

The wall between Chilli’s bedroom and Renee’s office has been removed so they can be together while Renee writes. Clearly, great works of art are produced from this arrangement!

Have you been back to England?
I’ve been back a couple of times but I don’t really enjoy it… a lot of people seem to have this weight on their shoulders…a weight that’s not visible here. It’s like they’re all on this city treadmill of wake up early, go to work in the dark, come home late in the dark, make dinner and eat it in front of the telly and do it all again the next day. There just doesn’t seem to be quality of life. I just want to rescue them.

Have you been to Jamaica?
Yeah, I went there with my family but couldn’t believe it when the locals all had a problem with a 19 year old girl wearing dreadlocks. Can you believe that? In the land of dread locks! I was already having an identity crisis because a year earlier I had spent time in Africa working on a community looking after disabled children. There they called me ‘Jamaica Lady’ because of my long hair. African women can’t grow their hair long. I thought for sure Jamaica would feel like home, so I was mortified when they treated me like that.

So where do you belong now?
Well then I went to NZ, and they go ‘hey sister… nice dreads’ and I’m kinda going ‘huh?’ But the Maories really identify with Jamaican culture and there’s a strong rootsy feeling there that I haven’t felt anywhere else… so I guess it’s the place I feel most connected to. I love lots of things about NZ…I love how the Maori culture is so integrated into society. I love the art, I love the geography… the beaches, the mountains, the snowboarding, easy roads to navigate, super hospitable people, amazing music… and I love how it is all packed into such a small country. I have travelled through about 25 countries and NZ is the one I love the most.

Renee feels a sense of belonging in New Zealand, despite looking like part of the decor in her Australian kitchen

How do you feel about Australia?
I love Australia too. I love the climate and I love how lifestyle is number one here…it is the complete flip side to the UK. Shops are closed on Saturdays because people are busy living… it’s hilarious! I love how people can get married on the beach here and how free and relaxed it is…people rock up in flip flops and without ties…in the UK everything is so structured.

Are you enjoying motherhood?  Did it come as a surprise?
It was completely planned. It has been the most empowering thing that has ever happened to me. Things you wouldn’t do for yourself you would do for your child. I feel like I have finally grown up… grown wiser. Before I had a child I was making all sorts of errors of judgement, but after, there was no way I would compromise our situation. I love being a mother.

Hmmm, whose room belongs to whom?

So it’s made you more aware?
More aware, more conscious, more spiritual, present, grounded and determined. I’m clearer on my boundaries… when it’s time for business and when it’s time for being a mother.

How has Byron been good for you?
People complain about the tourists but I love the fresh new energy, the way people are excited to be here on holiday. This is completely opposite to where I come from in UK where most people appear ‘over it’. I am the director of a Byron Bay entertainment agency There are so many fabulous entertainers in the region its such an honour to be able to connect them with visitors to Byron Bay. If we are able to give a visitor a good time through music and then they go home and tell their friends what a great place Byron Bay is… then that’s great. We (The Blackbirds) love giving people a Byron Bay experience… I mean the music and dancing in the streets is different from where most people live. It’s fantastic in town here on a Friday night. We play every Friday night at Fresh. People go away and then they email or Facebook us and say how when they think of Byron they think of us. So for me I feel really privileged to be part of all that love and connecting… and I get to do it through music… awesome.

Does Byron Bay challenge you?
I’m challenged by the lack of affordable housing here, that’s why I live in Goonellabah. It means I have to do a bit of travelling, but having said that, where I now live is a street where everyone bought land and built at the same time so we have this little community that looks out for each other. There’s lots of sharing… like if someone hires a bobcat for the day someone else can use it, or if someone is getting a load of mulch someone else can get some and pitch in to save on delivery costs etc. I have a communal veggie garden with my neighbour…so it’s kinda like an old England with an open door feeling. We look after each other… its very community and I realise I’m very lucky. So being forced to move out of Byron has actually worked for me in a way that I didn’t expect.

Sharing the love (and veggie patch) with the neighbours.


What’s your favourite Café in Byron?
I have two… for breakfast, Bayleaf… because you get the morning sun… and at night, Fresh… because they have live music.

Is there any one person in Byron Shire that has inspired or influenced you?
Paul Spooner. (Formerly Byron Youth Centre, who now manages Byron Community Centre)

What would we find you doing on a typical Saturday morning?
Scouring garage sales. I’ve always been busking on a Friday night so I have this bag of coins for me and my boy. I am looking for old vinyl (records) and he’s after toys. So when he finds something he loves and it’s only 50 cents he just thinks I am the best Mum ever (laughs).

What is your favourite shop in Byron?
Happy Flamingo… the retro shop next to the Bead Shop in Fletcher St

What’s your local’s tip for a visitor?
Leave your car home… walk.

And your tip for living?
I set my alarm everyday for 8am and when it goes off I give thanks for a wonderful life. I truly believe in the power of giving thanks.

Very Mick – Very Catholic!

Very Mick Mono“…three years earlier I extended my father’s eulogy to the point where mourners demanded an intermission…”

My 88 year-old Mum had been worrying herself to death over what I might say in her eulogy. I said, “Mum, you can’t hear me when I’m standing right beside you, so what makes you think you’ll hear anything through a padded coffin six metres away?” But no, Mother wasn’t about to relinquish control of anything… while she was alive… or dead. So what better way to overcome the problem than have her write her own eulogy… an exercise in creative writing that gave her a new lease on life. So, much to the family’s relief, Mother’s eulogy was signed, sealed and only needed to be delivered… well, so we thought.

The Catholic Church had other ideas. Bishop Christopher Prouse, head of Mother’s local Diocese, immaculately conceived a new set of funeral service guidelines, thus burying Mother’s best laid plans. Chris deemed the new guidelines were necessary to stem the influx of modern, secular activities into the funeral mass. No longer would heathen paraphernalia such as loved ones’ video clips or favourite poems be permitted because this was making the ceremony too long, presumably affecting what was once a lucrative churn and burn ritual.

Chris decreed that in future, the ‘Eulogy’ would be referred to as ‘Words of Remembrance’ and should not exceed five minutes. This gave Mother great cause for concern given she had just penned a six volume manuscript detailing her life’s journey. She was also cognisant of the fact that three years earlier I extended my father’s eulogy to the point where mourners demanded an intermission. And to think, all that valuable church time devoted to a chap who spent more time doing his tax than paying homage to God.

The new guidelines stipulated that only appropriate hymns were to be sung during the funeral service. Mother now feared her final two minute anthem, Kamahl’s soulful rendition of ‘Sounds of Goodbye’, might not be acceptable to the ears of The Lord, thus negating her 88 years of religious devotion. My suggested alternative, Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven, failed to gain favour, not just because she was unfamiliar with the tune, but because God hadn’t specified the number of flights. This was not surprising since Mother was a pragmatic soul. Two years prior, I suggested travelling from Byron to Melbourne to see her before a hip replacement, just in case she didn’t pull through. She replied “Don’t worry about it, you saw me last month”.

And Chris’s list of changes didn’t stop there. No longer were we permitted to refer to the upcoming service as a Celebration of Mother’s life, but rather ‘A Requiem Mass for the repose of her soul’. ‘Repose of the soul’ has always been a bit antiquated for me, a bit girt by sea. But in the Church, it seems tradition is sacrosanct… surprisingly it still doesn’t burn spinsters at the stake for promoting Witch Hazel for warts. This constant deferral to the past is incredibly trusting of one’s fellow man to accurately relay the word of God. Who knows who penned what, way back when? Why only fifty years ago as a kid, I forged my Mum’s signature so many times my mates called me Phyllis.

Of course there was no surprise with the Church’s inability to cope with the words ‘Celebration’ and ‘Life’ in the same term. The very idea leaves no room for guilt, the bedrock of the Catholic faith.

And while The Church continues to look backwards while purportedly driving forwards, its Gen Y market share is grinding to a halt. Admittedly it’s a big ask… convincing this faction of the flock that funerals are not always about them, and that Skyping the deceased is not cool. And so, while Mother Malloy continues to outlive us all, The Church continues to write its own Eulogy.