Toes in the Byron Bay sand

Byron Bay beach

Ben Sanders, Medical Observer

This column is delivered to you from a Byron Bay beach, where I’m relaxing after attending the inaugural Boomerang Aboriginal music festival.

I point this out as a status symbol: I am hip enough to hang in Byron, cool enough to have almost met Archie Roach (I lined up for coffee with his roadie) and, in summary, have a more balanced and interesting life than you.

This is my ‘Year in Provence’ moment, where the writer chooses the best possible time and place to randomly reflect how extraordinary their life is, tempered only by hardships like lavender allergies or, in my case, long coffee lines. But did I tell you how even that almost resulted in me chilling with Archie?

In writing parlance this is a selective memoir, although medical readers are more familiar with the term ‘publication bias’. The negative findings never make it to print.

Picture a beach-going music lover whose legs are salty and whose ears are still ringing from the Boomerang festival. Aptly, I just want to come back again.

Not for me the drudgery of your patients with their sniffles, haemorrhoids and incurable—let’s face it, indefinable—fibromyalgia. That mess is so routine, so last year. (Or, technically, so the day before yesterday, because I took Friday off in order to relax even more comprehensively.)

Oops sorry; I just had to bury my toes deeper into the sand to stop them entangling with a young hippie—I could tell by the floral pattern on her bikini. Frangipani, by the look, although I’ll confirm that for you in a moment: my cocktail umbrella keeps getting in the way.

Byron Bay’s shores are full of skinny people: just like an American beach movie and just the opposite of an American beach. Everyone here is into healthy vegetables, healthy supplements and cigarettes.

Lots of smoking, not all of it tobacco. You can get a lymphatic massage, liver cleansing detox and grass-based juice (recommended by all the local cows) then top off the treatment with a grass-based cigarette. Seems you can never be too thin or too carcinogenic.

Despite my tobaccoless demeanour, I think I’m blending with the younger crowd. For all they know, I could well have a yin-yang tattoo under my sunsmart sleeves, and 45 is the new 25, or could be if I was allowed to Instagram my selfies instead of typing this all out for you.

Hey, I have just seen the other half of the flower—definitely frangipani.

I know you’ve got to get back to work, so best of luck with that while I go and suggest to Archie that what his new album lacks is a 45-year-old triangle player.

First published in Medical Observer, October 2013. Reprinted by the author with permission.

About Dr Justin Coleman

Justin is a GP in Brisbane and Director of Education for GPs in the NT. He edits a medical journal and two medical textbooks, and is a medical writer and educator. Further details at
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1 Response to Toes in the Byron Bay sand

  1. Great column Justin, thank you!. It got me a-thinking about using places as status symbols / envy-elicitors.

    I’ve spent most of my life living in places where other people holiday. I was born and bred on the Gold Coast, moved to Noosa as a GP registrar and have lived in the Byron Bay region for the past 22 months. If ever challenged, I would hastily defend my choice as being all about lifestyle and not a jot about status, but would also have to admit that I do like to rub it in now and then, and achieve this by using gloat-worthy geographical descriptions.

    Take my home in “Noosa” for example. Technically, I did live in the Noosa Shire for ten years (although the shire has been since been amalgamated) but the little country town in which I resided for much of that time, Pomona, was forty five minutes and a world away from the luxury and prestige of Noosa Heads. While its location could be accurately described as a small inland town 37km north of Nambour (Clive Palmer’s new heartland) and 37km south of Gympie (where Clive Palmer is thought to be far too left-wing), describing it instead as “an idyllic town in the Noosa Hinterland” conjures up a more enviable picture.

    Likewise, my current home: Ballina. “Just south of Byron Bay” (31km) sounds more enticing than “east of Lismore”. Mind you, as soon as I mention that I live only a couple of hundred metres from a picturesque beach, and not much further from the magnificent Shaw’s Bay and the mouth of the gorgeous Richmond River, I don’t have to do much selling!

    You made an interesting point about the girth of the typical Byron beach goer, or rather conspicuous lack thereof. The North Coast of NSW (as defined by Medicare Local boundaries) came in the top 10 “slimmest” regions in recently released figures (1), and the area around Bryon Bay (which includes hinterland towns such as Mullumbimby, Nimbin and Bangalow) would have no doubt helped to decrease the North Coast’s collective average BMI considerably. Mind you, it also helped to decrease the region’s childhood immunisation rates. We came in the top 10 for the slimmest (aka lowest) childhood immunisation rates (by Medicare Local region) too. (2) Interestingly, several of the Medicare Local catchments in the bottom 10 for childhood immunisation rates, were also in the bottom 10 for obesity rates, including Eastern Sydney and the Sunshine Coast. Probably not a chicken and egg conundrum, more a likelihood that conscientious objectors to immunisation have similar conscientious objections to eating egg McMuffins for breakfast and KFC for lunch.

    Time for me to go for a stroll on my near-Byron beach before I prepare my chicken-and-egg-free Byron-style dinner.

    To finish, I will just point out that I’m not the only one to use Byron’s name in vain. Even Ballina airport calls itself Ballina-Byron, proclaiming itself as “the gateway to beautiful Byron Bay”. But be warned, there is a long, albeit scenic, driveway. The taxi fare from the “gateway” to your hotel in Byron may cost you more than your airfare from Sydney!




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