You wake up in the Northern Rivers of New South Wales, pull back the curtain and you know you could be nowhere else. You are in one of the lushest motherfuckin’ regions in the world. It is vast, verdant, completely laid back, big-hearted, and looking to redefine what a sustainable metropolis is, in the current geopolitical landscape of Australia.
Over a century ago, when sailors arrived to Cape Byron in desperate need of making a living they resorted to old, non-symbiotic ways of working (pillaging) the land and extracting its natural resources. Firstly, was the timber gathering, wood logging, shack and tent community, where a common practice would be for timber-cutters to shoot logs down the hills and drag them into the ships. Then, it was gold mining. Around the 1870s there were about 20 mining leases set up on Tallow Beach. However, the industry that remained for the longest was industrial production like dairy, whaling and cattle grazing.
From this, the region experienced the loss of the ‘Big Scrub’ – the largest subtropical lowland rainforest in eastern Australia due to intense clearance for agriculture. And, of course, another great loss was experienced as the traditional custodians of the land, ‘the Arakwal’ people moved away from their home, conforming to the new rules of the migrants.
These days, nevertheless, there’s a fever-dream quality to the Northern Rivers, particularly if you’re into the outdoors. In the ubiquitous white sand beaches, waves roll in perfect A frames when the winds are off-shore. Everyone, it seems, when not enjoying the natural beauty of the region is creating a vibrant landscape of entrepreneurship, many are deeply rooted in the concepts of sustainability and social enterprise. Organic produce, renewable energy and ecological restoration being the largest growing sustainable markets of the Northern Rivers.
An example of such establishments is Stone & Wood Brewery. From humble beginnings, the enterprise is deeply connected with the local community and dedicated to minimising their footprint through innovative design.
Enova is yet another epic initiative, being the first community-owned renewable energy retailer that invests fifty percent of its returns back into the local region.
Another legendary sustainable enterprise is Clean Coast Collective. An organisation combating plastic pollution in a very modern way. They create luxury lifestyle products that replace the cheap, single-use products that modern behaviour relies on. The profits from sales go towards clean up missions, which are trips dedicated to removing litter across the beautiful landscapes of Australia, including the Northern Rivers of New South Wales.
How did this happen? What was the catalyst for this stunning region, inspiring it to redefine itself from a destructive past towards a flourishing future?
Will this 'sustainability era' be just another passing stage or will it be a pivotal time for the region to establish itself as a world leader?
Unsure of the answers, we are left to sit, sip a craft brew and ponder.
Author: Erik Sumarkho