It’s well known that Byron Bay should be known by no other name than Paradise, well in the eyes of most Melbournians anyway. Water that you can swim in all year round, sunshine in even the deepest weeks of winter, the ability to wear colour without standing out in a crowd and above all, great ice-cream. That last one may be just for me, but you all know you cannot go for a walk along the sweeping coast of Byron Bay without craving a delicious frozen snack. Byron is a treat for the senses, a town of escapism and escapists, wander nomads, yogis and all varieties of people who can walk the streets shoe-less even in the middle of summer when the pavement is melting and skin is glistening with sweat.
Byron is a place to be who you want to be. There will always be someone with a more radical haircut than you, more piercings, more tattoos. There will also be luxury holidaymakers more corporate, stiffer and arrogant than you. Byron welcomes everyone equally, without judgment or prejudice. It was for these reasons that I chose the seaside town as my mid-winter escape from the world. I was having a challenging year and knew I needed a break, before I started to spiral into stress-induced unhealthy habits again. So I booked flights, accommodation, packed my suitcase and flew to where the sun shines in August. Upon landing at Ballina Airport, I was dismayed to see a light mist of rain, and the ground staff at the airport wearing light jumpers. The bus ride from the airport to Byron Bay was further evidence that this area had been hit with some serious rain. We passed flooded football fields, overflowing curbside drains and rivers that bad bust their banks. I was filled with dread, should I have flown further north and spend my vacation on Carins? I was after all, in search of sunshine.
I have a favorite café in Byron Bay, where even with my food allergies I feel safe eating anything on the menu. It’s the Manna Haven café, and the breakfast waffles they serve are possibly my favorite food – period. So I made a beeline to Manna Haven for breakfast then to drop my bags at the airbnb studio I had booked. I was flustered, having flown out of Melbourne at 6am and annoyed that I had landed in floodplains. This was not a good start to my sunny seaside vacation. I showered, put on some colour (of course I left Melbourne wearing all black) and headed into town for my first was on that golden sand, sure that it would cheer me up.
I did not even make it to the end of the street before my mood lifted. The sun had come out and was warming my pale skin. It was bliss. The couples I passed on the footpath all smiled and said hi, the shopkeeper who was catching a few rays outside said g’day and commented on the lovely day it was turning out to be. He was right. As I continued into the township all my troubles melted away. I saw palm trees, backpackers and nomads playing guitar in the park, travellers enjoying a beer with lunch, children riding their bikes and stores filled with colour, textures and fabrics that you need to visit specific markets in Melbourne to find. There was a general vibe to the town that I was being infected with, it seeped in through my pores and shone out through my face in the form of a smile. It was happiness. Relaxed happiness.
I wandered the town and beach for hours in this trance-like state, soaking it all in. Eventually I headed back to my studio for a drink on the patio before the sunset. As I sat there, staring blankly at the pages of my book, I tried to pinpoint what it was that had made me so happy today. There were so many possibilities; the sunshine that I had not seen in months, walking on the beach and feeling connected to water again, the waffles I had for breakfast, the sense of adventure that I get from being at airports, the fact that I was not at work or the music and colour that I saw all around me. Was it all these? Or just one particular element that had made all the difference?
At this point in time I was just launching The Women Who, and spent a couple of hours each night contacting women and explaining the concept to see if they might be interested in participating. The evenings and nights in Byron were cold and rainy so I did not make much of the nightlife in Byron. Besides, I was there by myself, and taking a bath was much more appealing than hitting the town solo. I spent the next few days simply wandering around. I walked to the lighthouse everyday via a different route, strolled up and down the beach, sat in cafes and sipped fresh juice as I worked a little on The Women Who, caught up with emails to friends and on the world news that I had not had a chance to see of late. All very simple things, all made me extremely happy. I was forced to consider that maybe my life in Melbourne was not going as well as I thought it was. If the simple act of escaping my daily routine made me feel this much lighter, then what was it that was weighing me down back home?
On my last day in Byron, I wandered into a surf shop and got chatting with the very articulate man who was working there. He was from Adelaide originally. A primary school teacher who came to Byron Bay in the term break, and never left. Within days of arriving in Byron, he knew that his life back home was not making him happy. He quit his job and arranged to lease out his house and has never been happier. I was having a similar experience, although my reason for coming back to Melbourne was Anai, I was missing her like crazy. Besides Anai, I saw no solid reason as to why I had to return to Melbourne. I suddenly felt disconnected from my job, my routine and the town that I had always been proud to call home. I could see that the life I had created there, was not the one I was meant to be living.
My short trip to Byron Bay, with it’s welcoming people, relaxed vibe, connection to mother nature and sunshine, allowed me to take a step out of my real life, and look at it from an outsider’s point of view. The life I was leading in Byron was still a very productive one, I’m not really one to sit still, but it was a style of productivity that made me happy. I learnt more about what I want to do with my life in four days of relaxed sunshine, than I did in four years of University and four years of working in my field combined. Even though it rained in Byron, there was still sunshine at points of the day. Even though I was working, it was on my own projects and not under the direction of someone else. I had the ability to choose when and where I went, what I wore and how I spent my day. I had not felt this freedom in a long time.
I know now that my happiness is not tied to a job title or career progression, it is tied to my lifestyle. The amount of freedom I have directly correlates to how happy I am. Equally, the amount of sunshine and the access that I have to nature, allows me to feel a greater sense of freedom. This freedom also stimulates and inspires my productivity. Now, I work because I want to, not because I have to, and I have never been happier or more productive.
Thank you Byron Bay, you taught me to stop, relax and take stock of my life. I will be eternally grateful.