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Byron Bay: a natural and human history

Byron Bay is a world renowned holiday spot for both domestic and international visitors. It is famous for its beautiful beaches, laid back life style, health & wellness, natural beauty and hippie culture. Byron Bay is located on the North Coast of NSW, in an area referred to as the Northern Rivers. It is 800km north of Sydney, 200km south of Brisbane and just one hours drive from the Gold Coast.

Byron and its hinterland have a long, rich, integrated, natural and human history, this is its story.

Natural history:

Cape Byron, Julian Rocks and Broken Head are comprised of metamorphic rocks which initially formed during the Devonian period (over 350 million years ago). About 200 million years ago Australia and our southern neighbours formed the great southern supercontinent -Gondwana. During most of this peri-od, Gondwana was covered in lush rainforests and the dinosaurs roamed the land and the sea. Eventually the dinosaurs became extinct, the mammals began to rise and Gondwana drifted apart. About 37 million years ago, Australia finally separated from our last Gondwanic sibling - Antarctica and we've been drifting north and slowly drying out ever since.

About 20 million years ago, this region drifted over a hotspot in the earth's mantle -a huge plume of magma found a weak-ness in the crust and a great shield volcano formed. The volcano was over 100km in diameter and about 2000m high. If you go to Cape Byron and look west you will see the great caldera (what remains of the volcano) the plug is known as Mount Warning (1,156 m). The other hills and mountains you see in the foreground and background are the rim of the caldera. If you go to Minyon Falls (110m) in Nightcap National Park you will be on the outer southern rim of the great caldera.

As a result of the volcano, the high rainfall (2000mm per year) and converging climatic zones we have a huge range of eco-systems around Byron which make this area a biodiversity hotspot. This means you can see; a range of rainforests, wet & dry sclerophyll forests, wetland, heath (wallum), dunes, grasslands, waterfalls, riparian systems, estuary and marine all with abundant wildlife in close vicinity to Byron Bay.

Human History:

The first people to live in this region were the Bundjalung people. It is said that three brothers, their mother and wives ar-rived near Evans Head in canoes about 20,000 years ago, they spread out and formed the 15 tribes of the Bundjalung nation. The tribe who live in Byron Bay are know as the Arakwal people. They called Cape Byron, Walgun (shoulder) and it plays a significant role in their culture. Mount Warning (Wollumbin -cloud catcher), remains a place of cultural significance to the Bundjalung people and is the site of particular ceremonies and initiation rites. The Bundjalung people observe cultural and traditional restrictions, forbidding the uninitiated from climbing the mountain and ask others not to climb the mountain.

In 1770 Captain Cook sailed by on the Endeavour. He named Cape Byron after Foul-weather Jack Byron, who had been captain of the HMS Dolphin when it circumnavigated the world in record time. Captain Cook also named Mount Warning, he described it as "a remarkable sharp peaked Mountain lying inland ".

1828 saw the next European explorer to the region - Henry Rous. He explored the rivers and coastline in his ship called the Rainbow. He noticed the 75,000ha subtropical rainforest which was called the Big Scrub. The Big Scrub contained many species but the most important to the European colonists was referred to as Red Gold (Red Cedar). Some of these trees were over 2000 years old. In the 1840's the cedar getters ar-rived to begin logging and clearing the land for farming. Soon townships such as: Byron Bay, Bangalow, Mullumbimby, Brunswick Heads, Lismore, Nimbin and Uki, formed. The rail-way & jettys were built to help move people around and to support the dairy, banana, sugar and logging industries.

In 1954 Byron Bay was hit by a huge storm which wiped out most of the jetty's and decimated the fishing fleet. A boat harbour was created at Brunswick Heads to protect the fishing fleet and whaling started in Byron Bay. The whaling ceased in 1962 because the numbers of whales had been decimated to such an extent whaling was no longer considered viable. Last year over 16,000 humpback whales cruised past Cape Byron.

Things started to change during the 1960's. First the surfers realised that Byron had some great waves, and were soon followed by the hippies, who set up the first commune (multiple occupancy) in Main Arm (near Mullumbimby) in 1969. In 1973 the Aquarius festival was held in Nimbin. After the festival hippies started buying up old farms and putting into practice their theories and beliefs of alternative thinking and sustainable living.

In 1979, the hippies realised that the 140 years logging of the forest had taken its toll and there was only 1% of the once magnificent 75,000ha big scrub rainforest left - it needed to be saved! They formed a blockade at Terainia Creek, they lobbied the government and gained public support. There were a series of court cases, and in 1982, the government agreed to stop the logging on the Nightcap Range and declared it a national park-Nightcap National Park. In 1986 parts of the Nightcap National Park and other areas in the great caldera were declared World Heritage listed as it was determined that parts of the rainforest were in fact remnants of the great Gondwana rainforests that once covered all of Australia.

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