Byron Bay’s original inhabitants are the Arakwal people, who are part of the Bundjalung group. The Arakwal called this meeting place ‘Cavvanbah’, which was the name of the settlement until 1894 when it became Byron Bay.
Captain Cook originally named Cape Byron after Admiral Byron, not after his nephew the poet Lord Byron. However, the poetic idea took hold and many of Byron’s streets are named after famous poets.
For all its sophistication now, Byron Bay was a working class port town for much of its life. A dairy cooperative formed in 1895, supplemented by a piggery. Between 1913 and 1920 Byron’s meatworks operated near the sea shore at Belongil. From the 1930s a sand mining company extracted minerals from the beaches and from the 1950s Byron Bay Whaling Co. started capturing and killing whales until it closed in 1962.
Byron’s own shift to a holiday destination started when it was discovered by surfers in the 1960s and then by settlers coming from the cities – especially the wave of new age settlers that came to the north coast region for the 1973 Aquarius Festival. Since then it has been found by new generations of Australians and is has earned its place in international backpacking destinations.
Over the past 30 years Byron has become a place of holidays, pleasure, healing, nature and alternative lifestyles. It’s now home to many seachangers - people from Sydney, Melbourne and other cities who telecommute, start new businesses or take an active retirement.
The traditional owners – the Bundjalung people of Byron Bay – now take an active role in the management of Arakwal National Park and other areas of Crown land returned to them under an Indigenous Land Use Agreement covering 245 hectares of Crown land in and around Byron Bay.