Not Very Byron!

Post by Prue with thanks to Fiona Hunter

“As there were so many of them I resigned myself to locking ourselves on the property for the night, rather than draw further attention.”

You may remember our interview with Fiona Hunter back in 2011… well, at a recent haircut appointment with Fi, I learned of her horrendous New Years Eve. It was jaw droppingly horrendous and I felt very strongly that it needed to be heard. Reluctantly Fi agreed and provided the following account of her 2013 New Years Eve  in ‘paradise’.

As residents of Melaleuca Drive (near BP Ozigo), we are naturally concerned about the threat of bushfires. This threat was close to being realised on New Year’s Eve.

Our lovely neighbours kindly let friends of friends – young people from Sydney I believe – camp on their property for a couple of days over New Years. Access to this paddock was via our road. Harmless enough, you would think, until this road was posted on facebook as the place to camp for New Year.

At 6.45am on New Years Eve I drove to town and counted ten vehicles parked along the road. As it is often a campsite for two or three vans/cars, I accepted the inevitable increase in number for this time of the year.

On the drive home I pulled over and spoke to four girls, mentioning that the rubbish around their vehicles was really bad and I hoped they would take it with them. I also pointed to the evidence of a bushfire along our road, caused by a camp fire in November. I expressed my safety and rubbish concerns in a polite manner.

Thirty minutes later I ventured into work along the bike path. As the path was crowded, I needed to (respectfully) ring my bell on a few occasions to navigate my way through the layers of people. It wasn’t fun being told to f..k off and ride on the grass. Lovely. Nice way to start my day.

When I returned home late that afternoon, our road was full of cars and people sitting around drinking. The amount of rubbish was increasing. A young man, about my stepson’s age, yelled out ‘Hey you in the red dress…show us your tits’, much to the amusement of all. It was unpleasant and upsetting to say the least.

I told him to pick up his rubbish and leave our road and continued my ride home.

As there were so many of them I resigned myself to locking ourselves on the property for the night, rather than draw further attention. It was too late to do anything else.

The next day the lovely neighbours and I spent a long time cleaning the road. They were definitely not to blame for the situation that arose. A lot of people had rubbish to deal with… we overfilled a backhoe.

The situation that scared me the most is best highlighted by the attached images…

tent fire_02 tent fire_03

… a gas canister in the middle of a mattress with the tent all burnt out. This was so dangerous and I wonder if anyone presented to the hospital with burns from that event.

I am apprehensive about what might happen on the Australia Day weekend as the majority of the cars had QLD number plates. Will they be back for that weekend? My partner is not coming away with me on a planned trip as we fear they will be back, and if we are not home, who knows what will happen. I don’t have all the answers but I would definitely like to see barriers on our road to avert a potential fire disaster.

Fiona Hunter

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Shaz the other half of Baz – Fruit & Veg

Interview and pics by Prue. Edited by Mick.

Very Mick and I first moved to Sunrise Beach back in 2002 where we were amazed at what you could buy at the so called ‘fruit and veg’ shop known as Ozigo’s, near the BP. Apart from your bog standard types of milk and bread, it stocked a huge variety of sourdoughs, gluten free spelts, kamuts, etc, stuff we had never heard of.  On the adjoining shelves sat handmade soaps, incense, buckwheat flours, and everything in between. Formerly from Melbourne, we used to lovingly mock the quirky stock necessary to cater for the average Byronite.

After 12 months we moved to hillside Suffolk and assumed we would lose our quirky, local shopping experience. We were pleasantly surprised, however, to discover a funny little fruit and veg shop at the caravan park opposite the golf course – it had no signage but was parochially known as Crosby’s, apparently the name of the former owners. It wasn’t long before we came to know the new owners, Shaz & Baz.


Shaz with her other half, Baz.

These two managed to surpass the old Ozigo shopping experience with their higgledy piggledy, make shift shop that stocked EVERYTHING. The shop was tiny, with customers climbing over boxes and each other as they surveyed the overstocked shelves. Friendly, tolerant smiles exchanged as customers unintentionally nudged and bumped their way around the two tightly packed aisles. They queued patiently at what was apparently the check-out, a piece of bench the size of a postage stamp, as the incredibly friendly staff juggled weighing and packing the purchased goods.

Two years ago, Shaz and Baz moved from the Crosby location to a far bigger premise, and as luck would have it, it’s at the end of our street! We now have a massively stocked ‘pantry’, literally a stone’s throw from our kitchen. We have watched what was an empty, soulless, mothballed shop, stocked with last year’s vegies and week old bread and run by unmotivated tired owners, morph into a buzzing thriving shopping haven with shelves filled to the brim… everything a reasonable cook could wish for and all served with the usual warmth and friendliness that is Shaz & Baz. We are blessed… and this cook even loves the prices!

I recently met with Shaz who shyly requested if daughter Dani could also attend the interview. When I enquired as to why, she replied very coyly, ‘I’d just feel more comfortable’. No problem, but was surprised how shy Shaz really is, especially since Very Mick and I are in the shop up to 3 times a day. My first question was a no brainer…

How does someone so shy work 12 hours a day dealing with the public?
I don’t feel so shy when I’m working. I guess I can hide behind the role of serving people.


How many daughters could work with their mothers all day, then book regular date nights with her – both leaving their boys (Luke & Baz) at home. Clearly Dani and Shaz are incredibly close

You are always smiling, polite and happy  are you sure theres nothing in the vegies youre not telling us about?  Don’t you tire of the public and the constant demands of we punters?
Well, I guess I would if everyone wasn’t so nice and lovely. We really do have very nice customers.

I’m guessing you must hate socializing then?
Yeah, well, work is my social life. I certainly don’t need one outside of business hours.

Are you aware of the sense of community you have created by moving your business into hillside Suffolk?
I guess… you see people chatting here all the time. We’re aware how we’ve changed it but we were also aware of the potential… the change was inevitable. And we benefit from the community as well. For example Mel, who lives across the road, she lets us know if we’ve left lights on or if there is anything she feels we should know about. She has our phone number, and we have hers, so I can call her if ever I’m here at night by myself and need company. And Sardia over the back is the same…  we’re not just a business next door, we’re their neighbours.

It’s one of the best things we’ve ever done, but we wouldn’t have done it without the help of Dani and Luke. (Luke is Dani’s loooonnng time partner. They met at primary school.)

Notice BoardYet another sign of the sense of community Shaz & Baz have supported.

How did you get into this line of business?
Baz was doing wholesale fruit & veg and used to deliver to the caravan park shop (Crosby’s). He came home one day and suggested buying it… yet another one of his crazy ideas… but we all agreed. (We, being Dani, Luke, Shaz & Baz’s son Aaron – who initially worked with them until he moved interstate) Initially I kept my job at the nursing home (St Andrew’s in Ballina).

You actually live in Wardell. Was the driving from there to Byron ever a concern?
Not really… it’s better than driving in Sydney.

Who could argue with that? When did you live in Sydney?
I was born in Sydney and met Barry when I was 18. He was born in Lismore, but grew up in Bonalbo, a tiny town west of Casino.

What did you do in Sydney?
A million jobs… we owned a gift shop for a little bit, we did courier work and Barry was a car salesman at one stage. We moved up here when Dani was five. Barry wanted to come back to the Northern Rivers area and we thought it was a good place to bring up kids. We worked for ten years in a variety of jobs before going into the business at the Caravan Park. We were there for ten years before purchasing here in Beech Drive.

How has the shift in location affected you and the business?
It’s a lot busier here. The shop is open longer but we do the same hours as before… 60 hours per week.

Santosha, Amanda and Joal
These pics were taken on a Thursday when the shifts cross over for an hour and all staff are on board to help with the deliveries. Amanda top, Santosha left and Joal right.

Does everybody work 60 hours?
No. Santosha works five days a week, Dani and Luke do five six-hour shifts and one 12 hour shift

And Baz?
He’s doing all the behind the scenes things like going to the markets and ordering… and we’ve got a few hundred chickens… so he packs the eggs.

Baz and his eggs
Baz and his eggs

Gosh, that’d be a job in itself, wouldn’t it?
Yeah, there’s a lot to do… change their bedding, keep the feeding up, but it’s good because all the scraps from here go to the chooks.

Now that ‘s sustainable living! Is that something you guys are concerned about?
Oh, definitely. We also installed all those solar panels on the roof when we moved here.

Dani & Luke are about to go on a European holiday so how do you structure things when key people are away?
(Dani laughing, says… Shaz doesn’t get a day off! ) We’ve got really great staff and we’re taking on another guy who will take over Luke’s role while he’s away.

Is that the market gig?
No, that’s Barry’s job. He goes up once a week and we get deliveries five days a week. Baz loves going up. It’s his day out of Byron… he has lunch and keeps up with his market contacts… that’s why we can do the specials we do, cos he knows a lot of people and maintains those relationships.

Independent grocers are notorious for high mark ups, yet you keep your prices down. Why don’t you follow suit?
We don’t believe in doing that. Byron Bay has so many beautiful products and whilst some of our supplies come from the  Brisbane markets, we also stock a lot of local products and believe everybody should be able to try them… so we do our best to make them affordable. Like the Brookfarm muesli… it’s normally sold for $25 plus, but we sell it for $20… it’s beautiful muesli and really popular.

Some of the popular produce sold at Baz & Shaz's
What type of salt would you like? And the spices on the shelves to the left are not even half the choices we have.

Has the lolly aspect of the business changed things? Does it annoy you serving all the kids?
No… they’re mostly good. We have had to ban a few so that keeps the others on their toes. We do get lots of kids from the skate park asking for glasses of water and wanting to use the phone to call their parents after skate accidents.

What do you love about living and working in Byron/Suffolk?
I love being able to walk to the beach and seeing people I know. Everybody is so friendly… especially here in Suffolk. We went to the pub recently to watch the Rabbitos play and some of our customers came up to say hello and invited us to join them… it was really nice to see them outside of the shop.

What are the challenges for you living/working here?
Hmmm… I ‘m trying to think…

So what’s your fave restaurant?
It use to be Hot Rock but it’s closed now. The food was great and the owners are lovely. We felt really comfortable there. We have lots of others we love but we also supply a lot of the restaurants with wholesale… so they’re all equally great (she says chuckling).

And your favourite shop?
Well, we don’t shop anywhere else so it has to be ours! But for clothes and other needs we always shop locally because we have so many businesses that support us.

The team
Leaving the shop unattended, we had to make our team shot snappy. In descending order: King of the egg castle, Baz, followed by Luke, Joal, Santosha, Dani, Amanda and shortie Shaz.

It took some doing to drag Shaz away for this interview but is it any wonder when she devotes 60 hours each week to satisfying the culinary callings of Suffolk Park. Energy is a thrashed word in Byron Bay, but if you want to experience the best of it just pop into our Beech Drive ‘pantry’. Shaz, Baz, their kids and staff (Santosha, Joal, Amanda and newbie, Joel) exude a fun, fabulous energy, a commodity Woollies can only dream about… old style, friendly service where nothing is a problem and every effort is made to accommodate patrons’ needs, no matter how Byronian. Through passion and a work ethic that would make Kevin Rudd jealous, this humble family’s investment has created a heart and soul hub in a suburb where there was none. We, and all of our Suffolk neighbours, are immeasurably grateful.

Peter Westheimer – Musician

Interviewed by Prue; edited by Mick

“To perform and share my music in a contemporary arena like Splendour is a total honour.” – Peter Westheimer

From a seven year old novice violinist to leader of the Victorian Youth Symphony Orchestra, to a degree in Medicine, to political street theatre performer, to writing and performing in bands, to composing music scores for film and TV, to a term as a councillor in the Byron Shire… Peter Westheimer’s list of achievements just goes on and on. Check out his website and you will get my drift. Also check out his latest project on youtube Tranzworld Express. Wow!

I met with Peter on a seemingly rare sunny day in Brunswick Heads for a coffee and a chat that lasted for as long as his bio. Clearly there was a lot to cover. Starting with the usual Very Byron question of ‘When and why did you come to the Byron Shire?’

Peter Westheimer

I came to Byron because I was interested in alternative culture, spirituality, and a hankering to reconnect with the land and country. I had grown tired of suburban Melbourne and after spending time in the warmth of Indonesia, studying Tai Chi and meditation, I chose to live in a warmer climate. When friends mentioned Mullumbimby I jumped on a train in 1974, not long after the Nimbin Aquarius Festival, and got off at ‘Mullum’. I eventually moved here in 1978 and after twelve months bought into an MO (Multiple Occupancy) near The Channon .

What did you do once you made the move?
I gained knowledge about the bush and building, and immersed myself in music full time. I wanted to venture beyond my classical music background so I tried Rock and New Wave… started playing in bands, writing and singing. Technology was beginning to emerge so I could put my music into the public arena myself, without a record company. I produced my first EP called ‘Laminex Lovers’ and it happened to get quite a lot of airplay on Triple J (Double J then). Then I enrolled in an Audio Engineering course at RMIT (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology).

You already had a degree in Medicine. Wow, you must really like studying?
Not really. I was well and truly over it so I didn’t sit any of the Audio Engineering exams.  I wanted the knowledge, not the qualification. I even rebelled against reading music scores.

So did you ever practice as a doctor?
Yes, until five years ago I practised part time in the fields of occupational health rehabilitation and in the legal side of medicine.

Was it a good time in your life?
Yeah… Medicine gave me an income to support my music. I practised for about nine years and in that time bought a house, renovated it and built a home studio. I was also doing a lot of composing for TV and film in Sydney. One day a director friend did a video clip to one of my tracks and it was nominated as one of the Top 10 Australian video clips of 1985 by the producer of Rage – Mark Fitzgerald.

In 1992 you were also invited into the ‘Musicians As Artists’ publication. How did that come about? Do you also paint?
For my 1992 album ‘Transition’, I painted a canvas to reflect moods and concepts of each track and launched the album in an art gallery restaurant. A friend of a friend was putting the publication together in Los Angeles and he had a spare spot. He thought it would be good to have an Australian inclusion… a case of right place, right time.

Book - Musicians as Artists

What an amazing experience. You share equal space with legends… John Lennon, Carly Simon, Ron Woods, David Bowie… the list goes on. If you are struggling to read the above list of legends, click here for a clearer image… it really is a spin out.

Peter’s paintings appeared along side legendary names like John Lennon, David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Ringo Starr, in the publication Musicians as Artists

So the creative process… when did you become aware of creating intuitively?
When I was a Med student I lived in a share-house near Melbourne Uni… lots of people would come through the house and we’d jam (me on the violin) and I soon realised I could create original music pretty easily. When I was in the right space, without getting too esoteric, I kind of channelled it. I use feeling and intuition for making music… I’ve rebelled against formalities of form and genre.

How do you get into the right space to create?
I simply spend time in my studio, or wherever, with the tools of songwriting… a laptop, good headphones, small mixer, decent speakers and good software.

I essentially do jam sessions with multi-track recorder software and overlay tracks… endlessly experimenting, adding and subtracting and ultimately honing  the sounds. For my current album, Tranzworld Express, I brought in Amir Paiss on Persian Santoor, and Parissa Bouas on vocals.

The creative splash of this album happened a few months after my mother died and I felt the need to look inside for a while. I took off across Europe for two months where I spent a lot of time on trains. It was then that I wrote Tranzworld Express… hence the strong train theme.

Publicity for Tranzworld Express

Interestingly, there is a train theme running here also – you arrived in the area by train and you are Vice President of TOOT (Trains On Our Tracks) … the local action group trying to get the Byron train running again. Have you always been a politically active person… is that why you became a councillor?
I‘ve been political since I was 21. At Uni I lead a protest about the way medical students were being treated. I also did a stint of funded political theatre. I was in a group called the The Portable Players, which was funded by the Australia Council and the Amalgamated Metal Workers Union.  We were paid to perform plays that questioned the establishment from an informed, and probably wholistic perspective, although that word was not in my lexicon then! I was also involved in street performance… protesting against the Vietnam War. When I came to this area I became involved in a variety of issues. In ‘92 I was part of the Suffolk Park Progress Association and we successfully took developers and Byron Council to court for over-development. I was also part of the Club Med push (a successful protest against Club Med building a resort in Byron).

Protestin for TOOT and Club Med
LEFT: TOOT lobbyists campaigning for reinstating the Casino to Murwillumbah train. Pic courtesy of toot RIGHT: Protesting against the Club Med development. PIC courtesy of John McCormick

I decided to run for Council because I was involved in so many local political issues I figured I may as well be on Council full time where I could be better informed and potentially have more influence on what was going on in the Shire. I also wanted to take a break from my music and be more involved with people. I had put out an album the year before I got onto Council… it was like a sampler, or taster for music to be synchronised in films, so it could do its thing in the background while I focused on my role as councillor.

What were some of the key things you hoped to achieve?
I wanted to support creative industries. I wanted to protect and enhance the environment… particularly biodiversity. I wanted to be a voice on Council to get trains back on our tracks, to build more cycleways and for public transport development throughout the Shire. I supported a Byron by-pass, but only if it was in conjunction with a Park and Ride system.

What was your greatest achievement as a councillor?
Getting the Mullum Civic Hall restored. It wasn’t part of my platform but I took it on as part of a personal initiative. It wasn’t the only thing I did but it took a good part of the four years I was there. The effort I had put in to make the restoration happen was enormous and the relief of its completion was very emotional. I am currently completing a stint as chairman of the Hall’s board of management, trying to introduce air conditioning, a portable stage, solar panels, improved acoustics, Internet capability and improved audiovisuals. Council staff obstructed these improvements when I was a councillor.

Was being a councillor a thankless task?
No, a lot of people thanked me. Some even gave me a hug. Generally I found it a positive experience. Not so much the hugs, but more the privilege of being a representative of such a vibrant, creative community. I have thought about running again but it is all-consuming… too many dealings with mediocre bureaucrats, too much mundane reading and too many sweet biscuits at too many meetings… and it’s stressful. You get paid the equivalent of the New Start Allowance… that’s a problem for many people who might consider being a councillor.

Do you think Australia is over-governed?
Definitely, Prue. My model would scrap the State Government tier and have larger regional councils answerable to the Federal Government. Too many local decisions are not understood and overridden by State bureaucracy. That sucks when your driving motivation for being on Council is your passion for the area.

Election Ads

Given Council elections will be in September this year, what advice would you give to a new, successful candidate?
Make the most of your first term. Choose two or three key areas in which you want to achieve something because as a councillor you are pushed laterally all the time… and be prepared to spend an inordinate amount of time reading material that’s not your core interest. Be positive, responsive and gracious with all the amazing people in this Shire. I did feel it was a privilege to be voted in… to have that amount of support. It was a great feeling.

One of the reasons I wouldn’t return to Council is I have found another vehicle, in the form of my music, to express myself politically. That’s one of the reasons I’ve been asked to perform at Splendour.

Do you consider it an honour to be invited to perform at Splendour?
Yes, absolutely. To perform and share my music in a contemporary arena like Splendour is a total honour. My show is evolving… it incorporates contemporary issues into the lyrics and partially fulfils my desire to speak out. For example, one track I’ll be performing is called ‘Change Now’. People don’t like change but the lyrics are all about it. Another track is called ‘Peace Dance’, which proposes if life is a dance then we might as well dance for peace.  I’m also singing about 100% renewable energy. I feel there is now a positive, achievable solution to this issue, so it’s worth trumpeting.

When are you performing?
I’m performing twice… at 9pm on the 27th and 28th July on the Temple Stage at the Global Village. The show will include videoclips of each track, costumery, masks and vocal overlays.

Bringing it back to Byron… is there anything else you like about living here?
I love the creative and political community and the extraordinary coastal and hinterland beauty. I do a lot of land and ecological restoration and I find every day I’m nurtured by this environment. It helps give meaning to my life. I like Byron, Bangalow, Mullum and Brunswick Heads for the urban fix, the people-part of life. I feel very fortunate. Generally I like the climate, except for summer…  it’s a bit hot.

Where in the Shire do you currently live?
I live on the land not far from Mullumbimby. It was pretty much all cleared when it was bought. I have been revegetating large sections of it… restoring the wildlife corridors with tree plantings and bush regeneration.

Are there any aspects about life here you find challenging?
One thing I still find challenging here, and why I remain politically active, is the terrible public transport. I grew up with good public transport in Melbourne and I have seen how effective it is in Europe… I’ve seen how disempowering the lack of transport is, particularly for the elderly and youth. I remain really passionate about that… hence my involvement in TOOT.

I am also guarded against rampant over-development. As beautiful as the Northern Rivers is, there is still a lot of degradation, and it is in our own interests, as well as tourists, to preserve and improve the natural attributes of this jewel in a challenging and challenged world.

What are your thoughts on tourism?
Tourists are inevitable… the question is how we manage them. The pressure of 1.5 million visitors a year on the Shire’s infrastructure is enormous. We don’t get enough financial support to accommodate the influx. I see good public transport as an essential.  A tourist bed tax would work too, if the State Government would allow it. They did it for the Sydney Olympics.

In the context of development, how do you see Byron Shire in 20 years time?
We are still operating under a 25 year state regional plan that started about 6 years ago. That plan sees neighbouring Shires ear-marked for growth, whereas Byron is not. We will still develop, I just hope sustainably… for example, where people aren’t so reliant on cars. I am optimistic that in 20 years time the Shire will be better than it is now more vegetated, cleaner rivers better transport and clean air.  However the newish NSW Liberal/National coalition could threaten the rural/village mosaic. We will need conviction councillors who are prepared to speak up for environmental protection, enhancement, and sustainable development.

Finishing up with some lighter questions… what’s your favourite local eating place?
Lulu’s (Mullum) for healthy and hearty food… The Poinciana (also Mullum) for ambience and the Top Shop and The Balcony for Byron ambience.

Do you have a favourite shop?
I’m a real fan of the markets. I go to the Mullum Farmers’ Market often. I like Santos and Edens Landing in Mullum for organic foods.

What’s your locals’ tip for tourists?
Oh, you must do the walk from the Pass to the Lighthouse via Little Wategos and stop in at either The Pass or Lighthouse Cafés… and Broken Head track from the caravan park is sensational for coastal views.

Cape Byron arial imageThis gorgeous arial image of the lighthouse (that has been graffitied by Prue – apologies Craig) is courtesy of Fotografx Photography, contact Craig Ching 02 6680 7977 fotografx@iprimus.com.au Top: The sensational views from the Broken Headwalking track

What’s your favourite thing to do in the Byron area?
I love walking in the hinterland bush and on the beach and having coffee with friends… and my music gigs… pretty simple really!

Simple huh? Well I should think so… with such a long list of achievements, I would be exhausted and seeking simplicity too had I achieved so much! Thanks again Peter for your time, it was incredibly generous, inspiring, somewhat overwhelming and a complete pleasure to meet you.

Nicoletta Revis – Republic of You

Written by Prue; Edited by Mick; Pics taken by Melinda and edited by Prue

“It’s about defining who you are… and whoever you are is ok!  I try to run this moral thread through the whole business… encouraging people to accept who they are.”– Nicoletta Revis

We first had contact with Nicoletta via email, however, one sunny day at the Top Shop we noticed a young woman sitting on the lawn, coffee in one hand, smart phone in the other and little black pooch loyally by her side. The latter caught Prue’s eye, whilst the phone chatter caught Melinda’s ear who quickly assessed the young woman was actually working – she was doing the social media marketing for a business. Naturally interested in all things social media, we patted the pooch and got chatting to its owner, only to discover she was in fact the Nicoletta who had previously emailed us. What a surprise.

Nicoletta and her very cute pooch Darby (Doo)

Two weeks later we reconvened to discover much about this young, social media savvy, vibrant, infectiously enthusiastic, business woman. Continue reading

Very Byron? Very Mullum!

Words by Melinda –  Image by Prue

Well as everyone knows in Byron… it’s obligatory to read  The Echo classifieds each week. Why? Well we just do! It’s the place to find out who’s in town to offer some new fandangle healing help, who’s just left (in the heavenly fashion) for greener pastures, who’s offering a good deal in rental (sadly this is rare these days), and who’s offering a job that is marginally more interesting  than the usual retail, hospitality and bookkeeping options! So it was with great delight to find this ad in the ‘positions vacant’ section for a Market Parking Manager at the Mullumbimby Farmers Markets. The thing is… I’m just not sure why they need someone to have knowledge of recycling, composting and worm farms whilst directing traffic???? But hey… it is Mullm after all.

Very Boho Very Byron

Words and iPhoto by Melinda

This is Tzivonit… ‘Ziv’ for short which means ‘bright light’ in Hebrew . Born in Melbourne, Ziv has been here since she was one year old. When asked ‘what do you love about Byron? ‘ … she says “everything” . Ziv has left Byron twice to try the delights of foreign shores in London and Canada but says she always comes back. Now having met the ‘love of her life’ here who says he never wants to leave, it seems Ziv is a Byron keeper. I spied Ziv walking down Jonson Street eating her Red Ginger yum cha and just loved her look. Wearing a retro cut off dress (literally) that her friend gave her, complete with gold sash cord for a belt and the blue lace headband is from Bohotopia; but the sweet moonstone around her neck she picked up in London. She certainly appeared as a bright light in my world of people watching on a Friday afternoon in Byron.

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Conversation with Alan Atkins – Surfing Master

“I will always remember Alan standing in a freezing cold Tamworth phone booth at 6am, in his ugg boots, ringing his mates in Victoria to find out what the surf was doing so he could ring in the report to the radio station by 6.30am” – Glenys (Alan’s wife)

Words by Prue with the help of Michael & Melinda. Pics, unless specified also by Prue

Negotiating our way down the steep driveway we were greeted by a cheery, shaved-headed, healthy and incredibly fit looking man whose age was indeterminable. With a warm hearty handshake we were welcomed inside to meet wife Glenice, and poodles, Louie and Lucy. After taking in the sweeping views over Tallows Beach, Alan handed Prue a ‘brief bio’… eh hem… since when is five pages considered brief? Scanning the ‘brief bio’, a particular word repeatedly appeared – surfing-director, surfing-administrator, surfing-world championships, and did we mention surfing? OMG. This man has done everything in the world of surfing except be a professional surfer. Surfing was not a profession back in the early days but that didn’t stop Alan from immersing himself in his passion.

Having grown up in Preston (Melbourne), which is nowhere near any beach, his parents bought a holiday house in coastal Lorne (2hrs south west of Melbourne on the Great Ocean Road) where from age 8 he spent most of his weekends and school holidays … clearly, surfing. Growing up with the likes of Wayne Lynch and Gail Couper, pro surfing hadn’t really started and Alan continued with his studies graduating with a Diploma of Business Studies at Preston Institute. After 4 years as an auditor with TAA and heading down the coast to surf at the weekends, he and Glenice married and moved to Anglesea, near Geelong.

What work did you do after moving to Anglesea?
Well before we left Melbourne I had completed a diploma of teaching, so I taught for a bit at Corio Tech in Geelong. After about 4 years I resigned and started bricklaying with a mate of mine in Anglesea.

Did you have enough energy to surf after bricklaying all day?
It actually turned out to be quite good for me. I’d had a few surfing injuries but the movement required for bricklaying seemed to help. But that wound up after about 18 months because my mate left to go travelling.

So, what did you do then?
Well, I’d always been involved with surfing as a competitor (from about the age of 15) which resulted in being on committees and involved in clubs and things… usually in administration… so another mate asked whether I’d be interested in opening up an office for the Surfing Association in Torquay… because there was no organisation for surfing at that time. So I did that and we ran the Bells Easter Surf Tournament, among many other things.


Alan in action at Bells

That tournament has been going for as long as I remember. Did you start it?
No, I didn’t start it but we ran it and I was the tournament director for about 4 years. My job then was to somehow turn the association into a business so that they could afford to keep me on. One of the things I did was develop a program for coaching accreditation. I began writing and formulating a coaching manual and then we introduced surf awareness in schools and slowly bits and pieces of revenue came in… I also wrote articles and did surf reports… and the association was able to keep running. I use to do the surf report for EON FM one of the first FM radio stations in Melbourne. I did that everyday for about 10 years.

Glenys adds. “It was really funny… we use to come up here every school holidays and we’d drive straight through from Anglesea… I will always remember Alan standing in a freezing cold Tamworth phone booth at 6am, in his ugg boots, ringing his mates in Victoria to find out what the surf was doing so he could ring in the report to the radio station by 6.30am.”

Have you ever seen such a chokkas trophy cabinet! Notice Alan has been kind enough to offer a third of the cabinet to family memorabilia. Your generosity is too much Alan!

Laughing, Alan continues…
Yeah I use to get up just on daybreak every morning to check the weather and the swell and ring in to the station the reports of all the local breaks… once you knew one, you could work out the rest.

I never worked for anybody else after that… I was always creating new things to keep the association sustainable.

What a perfect background for your move to Byron. When one moves here one has to be pretty creative with how they’re going to generate an income and you were already doing that. So when did you first come up here?
We came here for our honeymoon back in ’71, then the next time was ’82, and from there we use to come up here twice a year for about 15 years. But we actually relocated here in ’97.

And were you still working for the Surfing Association?
Yeah. I was working 2 days for the Victorian office and 3 days for the national office which was still based in Torquay at that stage. Later the national office was moved out of Victoria to Burleigh Heads, so I moved to Byron and drove each day up to Burleigh.

We eventually secured a national office and established a high performance centre in the Casuarina development. We had about 15 staff working with us then, all trained for the various programs. We would design the programs, get the sponsorship and set them up, then hand them to the States to run. So we had quite a big operation there for awhile. The high performance centre has just recently received a 2 million dollar grant to build a state of the art facility dedicated to scientific research of surfing.

Looking at your bio we see you have done everything in surfing administration from carrying the drinks bottles to Secretary General of the International Surfing Association. It’s a formidable list compiled over 48 years: Administrator of the Year (it seems like every year), Surfing Halls of Fame, Life Membership awards, and the list goes on and on and on… to your recent retirement as Vice President of the International Surfing Association and current consultancy role as technical director at various international events. I’m exhausted… aren’t you?

Laughing he says… yes, well Glenice and I have retired. I’m nearly 60 and haven’t retired before so we’ve got to work out how we’re going to do it.

Bringing it back to Byron… after all that’s what the blog is meant to be about…what was it like back in ’97?
Well there were fewer traffic jams!

We bought a unit off the plan in Sunrise, and when it was completed we moved up here into that. We kept the house in Anglesea while we decided if we were gong to stay or not… but once we were here we never looked back.

In ’97 we paid $95k for a block up the hill in Byron Hills and built on that. It’s a great area to live and now with the skate park and oval down near the lake there are lots of people using the facilities and a real sense of community. And now with Shaz and Baz on Beech Drive there is an even greater sense of community. Aren’t they amazing…those two?

We found Byron a really welcoming community. Like the kids were really welcomed at the school (Byron High)… one was in year 10 and the other year 11 when we moved and the kids at the school totally took them in.

Glenys adds… “The kids at the school I taught at in Victoria were super competitive and cliquey. It just wasn’t like that here.”

What about the surfing community… what’s special about surfing in Byron?
Sitting on your board in the water around the Cape in the early hours is pretty serene… and when the dolphins swim by, you do get a really good sense of wellbeing… the surrounding hills in the distance… the colours of the environment are beautiful… especially at sunset… the purples and blues… the colours of the setting are really rich.

Glenys adds… my first experience at The Pass was pretty special. There is something really different about that break… it is so serene. There is something about it that keeps drawing you back. I felt like I was meant to be here. I haven’t experienced anything like it, in any other place, ever before.


It would be outright wrong to omit the mandatory surfing shots! Pics courtesy of Alan.

You have clearly answered our next question… what are the joys of living here? But is there anything else you would like to add?
The moderate climate here. After living in Victoria the climate here is definitely a joy. Like when it rains, it’s not cold and when you get out of the surf, you can still feel your toes!

Glenys adds… Even when we first moved here you could always get what you wanted in town. For a small town it had great restaurants and a great range of shops. The thing that’s a small problem now is no Retravision. Now we have to go to Ballina for anything electrical. I really liked the diversity of what you could get here. I also love the Arts and Industrial Estate. You get great stuff there and the markets… particularly the Bangalow market. We love going up there. It’s got that village atmosphere the Byron market lacks… and great Turkish coffee.

What are the challenges of living here?
(Long pause) I’m trying to think what they are!

Clearly work hasn’t been an issue for you guys.
No. I think Tourism is one of the biggest challenges…like the resultant traffic problems. Its’ a real problem for communities like this. The town gets forgotten. The State Government and the powers that be seem to overlook the town’s infrastructure. And it really eats at me that the cost of infrastructure falls onto the ratepayers. But it’s probably the same in many towns that attract tourists. The effect of tourism on the people who live here. I’ve got no problem with tourism because that’s what supports the town, but the ratepayers need to be looked after as well.

A few of Alan’s other favourite things!

Ed’s note: It’s taken a couple of months to get this interview posted due to Christmas, New Year and life in general, but I would like to add… during our interview with Alan way back in November, I commented that he was inspiring me to get back in the water. It has been a couple of decades since I have been out in the surf on my body board and I am pleased to report, I have done it! But there are no prizes for guessing who I saw out there! Thanks Alan… for the inspiration and it was a hoot bumping into you in your environment.

And now for the Byron questions…

Fave café or restaurant?
The Beach Hotel. We used to have breakfast there but now we have a coffee machine we don’t go to cafes anymore.

What’s your favourite thing to do in Byron?
To go surfing around the Cape.

Is there any one person in the area that has inspired or influenced you?
That’s a hard one. I use to see old Ron Ware when we first came up here and he was out surfing amongst the crew. There was a really nice atmosphere right up until he died. I had a lot of time for Ron.

What would we find you doing on a typical Saturday morning?
Coffee, then surf and step class at the Byron Gym, followed by yoga.

Whats your fave blog or website?
Coastal Watch. We don’t really use the internet for entertainment. It’s a tool for us.

What’s your fave shop in Byron?
Mitre 10 for Alan and for Glenys…Garden of Eden Nursery.

What’s your local’s tip to a visitor?
Pack a lunch for the trip in! (much laughter). But seriously…enjoy the place…cos there’s not many like it left in the world.