Byron Bay, 770 kilometres north of Sydney, has the distinction of being Australia’s easternmost town
There are many aspects of this small coastal community that make it one of the most attractive destinations in New South Wales.
Geographically, the bay is part of the Tweed Volcano caldera that erupted 23 million years ago, leaving a southern seaward projection, Cape Byron, that is the most easterly point on the Australian mainland. The Cape marks the notional division between the winds, currents and climate of temperate New South Wales and the sub-tropics to the north. As a result, the region enjoys a balmy climate that nurtures a verdant coastal plain and sub-tropical rainforest along the edge of the Great Dividing Range, part of the World Heritage-listed Gondwana Rainforests of Australia.
For thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans, a clearing in the western lee of the Cape was a corroboree site for the local Arakwal and Minjangbal Aboriginal people. They called it ‘Cavvanba’ (meeting place), where they came together to exchange stories, trade ornaments and tools, arrange marriages and engage in ceremonies that celebrated the abundance of game and seafood in this lush environment.
During his voyage up the east coast, Captain James Cook found safe anchorage in the bay and, on 15 May 1770, recorded in his journal the sighting of native peoples and smoke near a “tolerable high point of land”. He named this promontory Cape Byron as a tribute to his fellow navigator, Vice-Admiral John Byron, grandfather of the famous poet. The Arakwal people call it ‘Walgun’.
Soundings of the bay adjacent to the cape were made in 1828 by Captain Henry Rous and some years later an inn was established on its shores for cedar-getters journeying overland from the Brunswick River to Bulloona (later known as Ballina), 35km further south. During the 1840s, these tough timber men moved into the hinterland west of the cape and began the region’s first industry by plundering the ‘red gold’ in its rainforests. Without rivers they developed a new technique for moving logs to the ocean for shipment; timber that was felled on the hills was slid down gullies and small valleys, dubbed ‘shoots’, to be dragged to waiting ships. Several of these locations – Possum Shoot, Coopers Shoot and Skinners Shoot – are still evident today.