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Image 1 for Working class surf town - to Hollywood A-list hang – to burn-out? Opinion piece by Angela Mollard

Beautiful Byron Bay. Photo: Michael Assim - @bigspazzo

Image 2 for Working class surf town - to Hollywood A-list hang – to burn-out? Opinion piece by Angela Mollard

Chris Hemsworth and Matt Damon at a Bluesfest at Byron Bay. Pic: @bluesfestbyronbay

Image 3 for Working class surf town - to Hollywood A-list hang – to burn-out? Opinion piece by Angela Mollard

Zac Efron has been living in Byron Bay for months. Picture: Instagram

Image 4 for Working class surf town - to Hollywood A-list hang – to burn-out? Opinion piece by Angela Mollard

Loved to death? Photo: Michael Assim - @bigspazzo

Working class surf town - to Hollywood A-list hang – to burn-out? Opinion piece by Angela Mollard

14 September 20

What’s the collective noun for a group of actors who rock up at a coastal town and ruin it for everybody else?

Something like a murder of crows or a hack of smokers or a nucleus of physicists or, a recently overheard addition to the lexicon, an unhappiness of husbands.

“A threat of thespians” might work but it doesn’t capture the true scale of annoyance, and while a “blight of B-listers” might be to blame for the clichefication of somewhere like the Greek island of Mykonos, here it’s A-listers who are ruining the joint.

So let’s be done with it and just call the Hollywood heavyweights descending on Byron Bay for what they are: a pain in the arse.

First it was Matt Damon flitting in to catch up with his mate Chris Hemsworth (excused from any criticism because of his commitment to canteen duty, cute birthday cake construction and, presumably, a sizeable tax contribution).

Then Nicole Kidman descended with her entourage to start filming Nine Perfect Strangers, fittingly set at a health resort.

And now Zac Efron has made Byron Bay his base after falling in love with the beaches, lifestyle and, er, a hot young waitress, who conveniently shares the name Vanessa with his long-term love Vanessa Hudgens.

For anyone under 30 this has caused peak excitement which is why the price of flights to Ballina have skyrocketed and every shed with anything remotely constituting a roof has been booked out on Airbnb through til next March.

It’s amazing what people will pay in the hope of sipping a turmeric latte next to a bloke with niceish blue eyes and a fanbase built on such offerings as High School Musical, 17 Again and Baywatch.

To be fair Efron and his ilk are not solely to blame for turning the nation’s most beloved coastal destination into a crapped out, traffic-congested, overpriced, under-vaccinated, virtue-signalling caricature of itself. We’d done a pretty good job of that ourselves.

But throw in a couple of paparazzi shots of the actor holding hands with his new squeeze and suddenly every girl is packing her G-string bikini, booking a fake tan and Instagramming the hell out of her acai bowl/linen playsuit/fairy floss-hued sunset.

Most concerning is that our borders will eventually open and the influx of irony-free Americans will arrive en masse and jump on to the #ByronBay hashtag (2.7 million and climbing) where this week the woeful contributions included such wisdom as: “Let’s root for each other and watch each other grow.”

Byron Bay used to be the acme of boho-inspired fun. Visiting two decades ago, we nabbed a beach house at Belongil for a few hundred dollars, strolled into Byron for $9 lentil burgers and had our tarot cards read by an amusing if improbable fortune teller.

“You’ll have a son with brown eyes,” she told me. I had two daughters with blue.

It was the sort of sleepy, surfy, sun-dappled hollow with just the right amount of grit and grubbiness to ensure it didn’t take itself too seriously. The weekend markets were brilliant and I nabbed some gorgeous bowls that, years after, brought a touch of holiday to home.

Each visit since has been a disappointment. Precious days are wasted on finding a car park, a seat in a cafe, a spot in the surf break or a vegan soy wax candle without a hint of cloying caramel.

A pair of floral polyester knickers in the desirable Spell & the Gypsy Collective cost $51; the matching bralette another $59.

Even the super talented artist Jai Vasicek has been doing different iterations of the same girl’s face for several years now, like some modern mass-produced Mona Lisa.

Venturing outside the main hub is equally problematic. On my last visit the speed limits changed so many times between the beach and the charming nearby Newrybar that I was stung with a speeding ticket.

And when my daughters stopped to pat a dog on the beach at Brunswick Heads, its owner – a tanned man in his 30s – told me he no longer needed to work.

“How have you managed that?” I asked.

“I manifested this life for myself,” he replied. “Anyone can do it.”

No, they bloody can’t, I told him. Not without a trust fund or a drug dealing hustle or an organic bone broth business on the side. He didn’t laugh. Nor did he pick up his dog’s poo.

You have to feel sorry for the locals who have been priced out of town and the indigenous communities who have long since disappeared.

Homelessness is rising, working-class families have evaporated and Byron last year overtook Sydney as the most expensive place in the nation to live, with a median house price of $987,500.

Efron’s attempts to buy a bolthole will only inflate that figure.

Still, as a friend living in an idyll further down the coast points out, at least all these celebrities and wellness merchants and influencers are all in one place and so won’t ruin anyone else’s paradise. I wouldn’t bet on it.

Byron is burnt out; the hunt is on for a new nirvana.





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