My brother Paul had an accident recently. He was walking into a post office and fell on a slippery floor. It happened so quickly that he fell straight onto his left knee shattering it as he hit the ground. It set him back as you would expect and I thought it a good idea to go and visit him whist he was recovering and adjusting the metal pins in his knee. Getting to him though I used up all of my carbon credits for about one hundred lifetimes I think! This is because he lives on the most easterly point of Australia in a place called Byron Bay so there were a lot of flying hours in planes to get to him. Byron Bay is a couple of hours drive from Brisbane, which in Australian terms means that it is practically next door. Living in Sydney up until about seven years ago, Paul then had a holiday in Byron. He never left. Byron is that sort of place.
Starting its life over one hundred years ago, Byron Bay was a whaling town. In the 1970’s it developed a reputation of being a destination for people who were needing to “tune in and drop out” of the hustle and bustle of western life. A steady procession of VW campervans later and the area became a microclimate for alternative living. Although there are traditional style houses that blend into the countryside there are also a good number of people opting to live a feral lifestyle in the bush (woodland). There is no electricity in the bush and the huts that are built usually only have three walls, the other is left open to the elements. This is luxury compared to some of the lesser structures that are just large tents. In the town and surrounding area a whole network of spiritual and holistic centres have set up which include crystal healing, reiki massage and eco products as well as plenty of surfing shops. Over the years the town has resisted the pressure to become a high rise holiday mecca like the Gold Coast just up the road. Locals have maintained that the area benfits by low rise properties that blend into the abundance of tropical rainforests that cover the hills. Byron also managed to fend off the big multinationals until very recently too. Small independent retailers thrived there but recently there has been a wave of large multi-nationals which is upsetting the balance of things a bit. Like in Inishowen, the house prices are on the increase and loads of estate agents have moved in.
I couldn’t sit around sunbathing all day though and an advert caught my eye in the local paper to help in some coastal planting of native Bankia and Whattle trees on the sand dunes. The group were called Green and Clean and although they got the words the wrong way around in their name, I thought I would spend the day constructively. It turns out that a vast stretch of the coastline is being swamped by the invasive Bitou weed, which was planted on the coast twenty years ago to stop erosion. In their wisdom, the council decided to use Bitou, which is a native South African plant to do the job. Strangely enough the coastal areas in South Africa are also suffering from an invasive weed that was given to them from Australia. Throughout the day I found out a lot about the area’s environmental issues and in a lot of respects it mirrors our situation here in Inishowen. They have the property developers trying to create high rise blots on the landscape, the coastline is eroding, franchises are moving in to standardise living, infrastructures such as roads and water are under funded and there is more asbestos about than you could ever hope to bury in an illegal landfill site.
I started to put our own environmental issues into perspective when I was talking to the Green and Clean group. Holidays are a perfect vehicle for putting your life into perspective after all. When I worked in a distribution company in the eighties, I went without a lunch break for seven years as there were always problems to sort out and I thought it was just up to me to put them right. Eventually I realised that I performed more effectively if I left the desk for an hour and funnily enough, most problems had resolved themselves, by the time I had returned. This is how it felt when I went away. Before I left Inishowen to go on my holidays I was getting stressed out by the dumping on Lisfannan beach and other environmental issues, but when I came back, I was pleased to hear that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had been sorting out the mess on the beach and are also keeping an eye on the recycling bins that welcome visitors before they have chance to walk into the tourist information centre. All this and I didn’t have to do a thing! So in the New Year I would like to acknowledge all the people in Inishowen who tirelessly work behind the scenes on environmental improvements around the area. I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions but I feel that I am now in a better frame of mind to look at the positives that we have in Inishowen. My brother is on the mend. I am relaxed…. Long may it last!