Junk Explained: Why Is Byron Bay Beefing With Netflix?
From petitions to "paddle out" protests, here's a rundown of why 'Byron Baes' has been slammed by the Byron community.
Earlier this month, Netflix announced that they were working on a new reality show based in Byron Bay, aptly called Byron Baes.
Similar to other Aussie attempts at reality shows like The Shire and The Real Housewives of Sydney, Byron Baes plans to follow over a dozen influencers living their best lives in Byron over an eight-episode season.
While Netflix has yet to announce who any of the influencers in question are, they did share that the ‘Baes’ aren’t going to be real celebrities like Chris Hemsworth and Zac Efron. Instead, it’s more about the “celebrity-adjacent-adjacent”.
View this post on Instagram
Promotional material for the program also noted that Byron Baes is meant to serve as a “love letter to Byron Bay” and that the docu-soap series plans to follow the “hot Instagrammers living their best lives, being their best selves, creating the best
drama content” with a “#nofilter guarantee”.
But while the idea of a totally original Australia-based reality show may sound exciting and intriguing for some, the residents of Byron Bay are furious at Netflix over the concept.
So, Why Are Byron Bay Residents Mad At Netflix?
Earlier this week, a number of disgruntled Byron Bay locals took their boogie boards out to sea in a “Protest Paddle-Out” asking for Netflix to cancel the production of Byron Baes.
But the very strange form of protest has actually come after weeks of Byron residents expressing their concern with Netflix deciding to use the region as a backdrop for the company’s latest reality show.
A number of business owners in the Byron area have recently spoken out against the show, and have denied the filming requests made by Eureka Productions, the company working with Netflix on the upcoming series.
Byron Bay residents are staging a “protest paddle-out” against “docu-soap” Byron Baes. pic.twitter.com/l4mpRFRsLD
— Eden Gillespie (@edengillespie) April 19, 2021
Ben Gordon, owner of popular Byron location The General Store, took to the Byron Bay Community Board Facebook page to express his concerns over a “multinational company… trying to exploit the town’s name when the community doesn’t want it.”
“We are not being unreasonable in objecting. They will try to convince you with words like ‘huge exposure’ and ‘free marketing’ but I believe it will do much more damage to your business than good,” Gordon wrote. “If you care about the future of this town and don’t want this show to go ahead, it’s simple… don’t let them film in your venue.”
“It will limit their content drastically and also will continue to send the message that Byron does not want to be portrayed to the world in this way.”
Similarly, Dan Readman, owner of Bayleaf Cafe, also denied filming requests at his business citing that he and his wife were following what the community wanted.
“We are a community-orientated business. We know the community doesn’t want it and we don’t want it,” Readman told The Feed. “COVID just exploded this place. We’ve probably had five years, 10 years, maybe growth in one year. There’s a lot of pressure on the community here.”
“200 million people visit Netflix Global. We have enough spotlight, we don’t think this kind of spotlight is going to do good things for the community.”
Along with The General Store and Bayleaf Cafe, popular hotspots like Byron Bay Cafe, Rae’s, Spell, Arnhem Clothing, and Zulu and Zephyr have all also allegedly rejected location requests which will make filming much trickier for the crew.
View this post on Instagram
But it’s not just business owners who are ready to boycott Byron Baes. Over 8,500 residents from Byron Bay and its surrounding areas have signed a petition calling for “all relevant statutory authorities” to refuse filming permits in an attempt to boycott Byron Baes.
“No permit = no location filming. No location filming featuring our exploited paradise = no series,” the petition opens. “We want the local government areas and state-based authorities to prioritise community concern about the impact of the series.”
The campaign created by local resident Tess Hall notes that the community of Byron, Ballina, Tweed, and Lismore Shires are already experiencing serious challenges as a result of the rise of celebrity and influencer culture in the area — and that’s without Byron Baes even airing yet.
“Rather than using our region as a reality show punch line, we want our Local, State and Federal government representatives and relevant regulatory authorities to focus on supporting our community to address systemic issues of housing affordability, coastal erosion, increasing unemployment, traffic management challenges, low high school completion rates and high levels of gendered and domestic violence.”
Byron Shire Mayor Simon Richardson agreed that Byron Baes is “offensive” to the community as the area is currently under “real stress” — something that the show likely won’t touch on as it focuses on influencers over the real people in the area.
“We’ve almost got a Truman Show-type portrayal of who we are where everything is quite idyllic and superficial, where out the back it’s an empty parking lot,” Mayor Richardson told the ABC.
“We’ve got a community that is in real stress, we’ve got a community that has real-life issues dealing with housing, work, affordability.”
Greens candidate and Byron local Mandy Nolan also highlighted the issue of Netflix choosing to produce a reality show focusing on “influencers” instead of addressing the homelessness crisis affecting the Byron Bay.
“The show stars beautiful women ‘influencers’. Sadly it won’t tell the story of the many homeless due to the unaffordability and desirability of a region that really doesn’t need another hashtag — after all homeless people have no influence,” Mandy Nolan wrote in a Facebook post. “And it’s hard to be beautiful when you don’t have a bed or a bathroom!”
But despite these criticisms, council members don’t actually have much control over stopping production due to the NSW Filming Protocol that states request for filming must be granted by council “unless there are exceptional circumstances” at play.
These special circumstances can include “the presence of an item of Aboriginal significance, or because it is a critical habitat for a threatened species.”
But Are These Criticisms Even Valid?
For months now, Byron Bay has been dubbed “the new Hollywood” thanks to an influx of A-list celebrities seeking escape from the pandemic ravaged United States, and the general hustle and bustle of LA life.
In 2014, Chris Hemsworth relocated his family to Byron for a better work-life balance, and Zac Efron silently did the same in 2020 along with Aussie heartthrob, Jacob Elordi.
But with the Australian government also offering a $400 million Location Incentive to boost foreign expenditure and create more jobs for locals, a lot of Hollywood production moved Down Under meaning even more celebrities followed suit.
What this all means is Byron Bay, which was once a calm, beachy, and relaxed town, has now become busy and overpopulated. For example, when Nicole Kidman, Keith Urban, Melissa McCarthy, Luke Evans, Bobby Cannavale and Rose Byrne decided to relocate to Byron to film Nine Perfect Strangers, there were a number of complaints about filming causing major traffic in the once peaceful town.
Naturally, this influx of A-listers helped turn Byron Bay into one of the most desirable holiday spots for Australians who have been unable to leave the country due to border closures. And with this rise of keen travellers, the homelessness crisis within the Byron area has worsened, too.
But celebrities aren’t entirely to blame. Byron Bay has the second-highest number of rough sleepers in NSW, just behind inner-city Sydney — and numbers have only gotten worse in recent years.
According to the 2019 Byron Shire Council homelessness Street Count, there was an 18 percent increase in people sleeping rough than the previous year — mostly within the Byron Bay, Brunswick Heads, and Mullumbimby areas. But this doesn’t even take into account those who have been forced into sleeping in their cars and camping around Byron as a result of unaffordable rent and the rise of holiday letting.
As Byron Bay has become a trendy “tourist town” over the last few years, rent in the area has jumped a staggering 26.4 percent in the last 12 months alone, according to Domain’s quarterly Rent Report. But that’s if locals can even find a place to rent, with many homeowners in the area converting their rentals into Airbnb properties or short-term holiday homes.
And if locals can’t afford to rent what is available, they definitely aren’t able to buy property in the town they grew up in — especially when, in just five years, the median price of a home has increased from $950,000 to around $2.3 million.
Therefore, the international focus a show like Byron Baes could bring on the small town may make the housing crisis even worse. With over 200 million Netflix subscribers around the world, Byron Bay may become a location tourists may want to visit meaning more accommodation needs to be available potentially further displacing locals in the area.
Beyond the homelessness crisis, Byron Bay is also currently suffering devastating coastal erosion that’s leading to the destruction of Australia’s famous Main Beach. Plus the influx of tourists has also led to inconvenient levels of traffic congestion for local residents.
What Does Netflix Have To Say About The Backlash?
Ultimately criticism of the show has come down to Netflix’s decision to focus on the supposed glamorous lives of the influencers living in Byron Bay while ignoring the serious issues that are plaguing the very same area.
A lot of anger towards the show has also come from Netflix allegedly not having consulted with local community members about the project before announcing it to the public.
Arakwal Bumberbin Bundjalung Traditional Owner Delta Kay told The Sydney Morning Herald that no one reached out to the Indigenous community during the planning stages either.
“No one from the production has contacted me or any local mob here, the traditional owners. Personally, as a traditional owner here I would like to see Byron Baes stopped,” Kay said. “They really need to have a think about this and come in and talk to us locals before they even think about doing this production.”
In a statement provided to Junkee, Que Minh Luu, Netflix’s Director of Content for Australia and New Zealand, explained that the show aims to “build a connection between the people we meet in the show, and ourselves as the audience.”
Luu also went on to explain that Byron Bay was chosen because of the “unique attributes” of the area, and that the goal of the show is to “lift the curtain on influencer culture to understand the motivation, the desire, and the pain behind this very human need to be loved”.
“The reason behind choosing Byron Bay as a location was driven by the area’s unique attributes as a melting pot of entrepreneurialism, lifestyle and health practices, and the sometimes uneasy coming together of the traditional ‘old Byron’ and the alternative ‘new’, all of which we’ll address in the series,” Luu said.
While Netflix hasn’t publicly addressed the criticism around the alleged lack of consultation and the growing community concern, there are reports that the show plans to ramp up these conversations prior to filming. The Sydney Morning Hearld also reports that relevant state and government representatives were actually consulted during the planning stages despite what some community members are saying.
Plus with filming happening on local soil, as was the plan with the $400 million government incentive for the screen industry, it’s likely that employment will rise by Netflix hiring local production staff, and through local vendors providing travel, food and accommodation for those involved in Byron Baes.
With filming scheduled to start in May, only time will tell whether Byron Bay or Byron Baes will come out on top in this battle.
Michelle Rennex is a senior writer at Junkee. She tweets at @michellerennex.