Winter of Our Discontent

July 4th, 2023

We don’t have much to complain about here with our Byron Bay winters. I like nothing more than sitting in the sun with a morning cuppa. But it is not all sunny clear blue skies over paradise. Are there dark clouds gathering to spoil all the fun?

During Covid, we had a division over whether to ‘Vax or No Vax’. Then we came together after the flood – well done! Then we started the debate on whether to accept more development to ease the housing crisis. This conversation is still in process, but the “build more” protagonists are getting more traction than the Just Say No contingent. Now we are having a new division between those affected by this economic downturn and those who can float above it.

Twin Economies

Byron has always prided itself on being egalitarian and classless. It used to be common for café tables to be a mix of millionaires rubbing shoulders with unemployed surf bums. It is still uncool to react like a pleb if one of our resident celebrities walks in. Byron has been gentrifying at a steady pace over the decades, but this recent surge of the moneyed class is testing our idea of egalitarianism.

I can’t remember a time when there has been such a proliferation of empty shop fronts in Byron CBD with FOR LEASE signs in the window. The owners of these commercial premises are also crying poor because of excessive land tax bills. Holiday Letting proprietors are saying their numbers are way down. Looks like this battle over Airbnb was resolved by market forces – for now at least!

But generally, the community is split between those that are doing it tough: renters, high mortgage holders, retailers, and restauranteurs, and those who are coasting: retirees, the wealthy, and the securely employed with unencumbered properties. Good luck to you all.

Homeless Capital

Byron Shire now officially has the largest percentage of homeless people in the state. Many long-term locals have been forced into homelessness due to rising rents and a lack of affordable housing. But we also have many drop-ins. This is similar to many coastal towns on the west coast of the USA.

Portland Oregon for example introduced a Turn No One Away policy to assist the homeless. Portland is often referred to as the “Woke” capital of the States and their good intentions ended up being problematic. They recently reverted to closing many of their campsites (legal and informal) as they were unable to fulfill their commitment. Byron Council is about to do the same in Brunswick Heads. Affluent areas like ours may end up looking more like the Third World where glaring signs of inequality are pronounced.

The Market

This two-tiered economy is also visible in the property market. The top end is quite strong with wealthy buyers still purchasing quality, well-located properties. Entry level is still buoyant just because the need to find somewhere, anywhere to live is energising first-home buyers. But the middle of the sandwich is lagging badly, with many properties spending many months seeking a buyer.

We will probably not see any more major price reductions. Most recent purchasers here were cash buyers and not perturbed by the recent rate rises. Therefore, we will not see many forced, mortgagee sales. But those vendors with properties long listed will probably have to meet the market as this downturn still has a long way to go – at least for the rest of this year and well into 2024.

Reasons To Be Cheerful (Part 1)

VUCA is an acronym that stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity — qualities that make a situation or condition difficult to analyse. It was first coined by the military in the aftermath of the collapse of the Cold War. It then entered the lexicon of the business consulting sector and is now creeping into common language: “There is crazy shit out there, man. Totally VUCA!”

Being adaptive and resilient is the key to surviving and thriving in times of VUCA. It is also more positive than imagining apocalyptic end-times or heading west as a survivalist. The human spirit often rallies and unites in stressful times and calls on our better angels.

Reasons to be Cheerful (Part 2)

In times of stress and uncertainty, it helps to consider the universe and deep time. Our daily problems and anxieties look like small potatoes in relation to the number of constellations and galaxies and the insignificance of our tenure here on Earth.

I recently came across this quote from a remembered conversation between Christopher Hitchens and Astronomer Royal (deceased), Professor Joseph Rotblat.

Most educated people are aware we are the outcome of nearly four billion years of Darwinian selection, but many think that humans are somehow the culmination. Our sun however is less than halfway through its lifespan. It will not be humans who watch the sun’s demise another 6 billion years from now. Any creatures that then exist will be as different from us as we are from bacteria and amoebae.

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