Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Byron Bay

Byron Bay, the eastern most community in Australia, lies at the edge of a fertile volcanic plain created by an exploding Mt. Warning twenty million years ago. In the more recent past, the residents have worked overtime to create themselves as a tourist destination. And yet, the gossip is that Byron Bayites have a love hate relationship with those who arrive to celebrate the largest Australian Blues festival in spring and the Byron Bay Writers Festival in winter.

My own feelings about this town by the bay are mixed. In future, if others visitors meet with the same attitude that I encountered, it is unlikely that they will return.

My son, an artist from San Francisco, and his partner came to visit in Queensland just before Easter. Where did I take them to show off the eastern beaches of Australia? Yep, we hopped onto the Gold Coast Highway and drove south two hundred kilometres into New South Wales and Byron Bay. Booking them into the Beach Hotel in Byron was intended to be extra-ordinary gift.

In 2000 my first experience in Byron Bay had been punctuated by a hundred more or less lorikeets all screeching into the same gum tree by our motel, a medium priced accommodation where I later brought my daughter Sarah and her friends when they came to visit me in Oz.

Then, the joy of Byron was inherent in the lovely Beach Cafe, rustic, hidden by tall palms and low lying scrub from pristine white sands. Enjoying coffee on the patio surrounded by a rope fence upon which chortled an inquisitive Butcher Bird, who waited for a chance to steal my breakfast sausage, I laughed at the lorikeets determined to sit, not on the rope, but on the lip of our glasses to sip orange juice. Perky little buggers.

I wanted to take my son to that same breakfast spot on the beach. Only it no longer exists in that form. A modern structure has replaced the rustic, comfortable patio and coffee kiosk that had been so comfy eight years earlier.

Byron is changing as are my circumstances. The two level room at the Beach Hotel with a price tag of $400 a night was perfect for my son, his partner and me. The kids could share the queen-sized bed downstairs while I luxuriated in one of the twin beds on the upper level.

Another hundred lorikeet pairs flocked to the gum trees between our hotel room and the Pacific foreshore out screeching my tinnitus. There were no screens on the sliding glass doors looking out onto the Pacific Ocean and the Byron mosquitoes invaded and munched the two downstairs residents as they slept.

But, finally, the reason I may not go back to Byron Bay? In summer, spring and fall, New South Wales goes on Daylight Savings Time setting their clocks an hour ahead of those in Queensland whose residents sleep an hour later than their southern cousins.

When we crossed the border, we were supposed to change the clock to accommodate New South Wales. I forgot. Actually, I didn't forget. I didn't even think about the time differential.

Having spent the previous evening talking long into the night, we slept in til 9 a.m. When the telephone rang at what we thought was 9:30 in the morning, we were in the midst of our morning preparations. The voice on the other end of the phone declared. 'This is the desk. We have a full house tonight. Our household staff needs into your room.'

Confused I said, ' I thought check out time was 10 a.m.'

'It is now 10:30.'

'Oh, New South Wales is on day light savings time? I forgot. We were supposed to change our clocks when we crossed the border?'

'Most do. We need into the room as soon as possible. We are full tonight.'

I was chagrined to find that we had over stayed our $400 visit by half an hour and apologetic about our tardiness. 'My children are just stepping out of the shower. We will return the room key in half an hour.'

'Check out time is 10 a.m.,' came the curt response.

The voice on the other end was derisive and superior, anything but friendly.

The kids finished packing. The joy of watching them swim in the pool the afternoon before, of watching them discover their first bearded dragon and their surprise in the greenery was overwhelmed by one desk clerk's curt cold response.

All the extraordinary beauty and ambiance of Byron Bay including the residents' attempt to keep music and art at the forefront suddenly meant nothing.

As we stopped at the desk fifteen minutes after our 'wake up' call, we were once again admonished.

I once again apologized. My explanation was met by a sniggering, 'Queensland ought to get with the program.'

And so, our trip to the lighthouse, the ocean centric headland, the long look north and east to our home in North America was to some extent coloured grey instead of brilliant blue/green. The phallic symbol of the lighthouse took on a brand new symbolism of Australian rudeness, so unlike most of the people whom I have met down under in my eight
years of living here.

As my guests walked down the steps to the rocky scrub at the bottom of the headland, the westerly breeze brushing our hair back over our shoulders cleared my head and swept away the admonitions of the morning, but not sufficiently that I will ever return just for the joy of it. There are other headlands in eastern Australia. It's time to investigate a few of them.