Is Yamba going to be the new Byron Bay?
WHEN I think of Yamba, it is of diehard surfies, brawny fisherman and reclusive coastal dwellers. I think of my grandparents' old weatherboard house and how sometimes at night, when the swells are good, I could smell the salty sea vapour drift through my room. There has always been a soothing predictability here. I've always liked the fact I could leave and come back and things would be, for the most part, the same.
But there's something you need to know about Yamba, the town is longer a secret. For the first time in a long time Yamba is changing, and like many locals, I am equally anxious and ambivalent about its future.
For a while now, there's been talk about Yamba becoming "the next Byron Bay".
As our small population of 7000 has been increasing at a steady rate of 5 per cent these past few years, it's the threat of invasion - not births and migration - that's cause for concern.
I can't deny I like Byron Bay. Outside the maelstrom of summer holidays, Byron can be a lot of fun. There are cool bars and cafes and places to shop. And although tinged with a mark of superficiality, it is a place that celebrates and fosters diversity in the arts, small business, and people.
Yamba has been doing more of this. In the past few years, new stores and eateries down Main St and Coldstream have injected well-needed jobs, money, and life back into the town. They've made Yamba cooler and more accessible to young people.
Yet, Byron Bay is a place that's undeniably different to the one it was 30 years ago. You walk around its crowded landscape and forget that it was once very much like Yamba. Some part of you enjoys the chaos while the rest of you is terrified that it'll move down south too.
People here aren't worried about being put on the tourist map. What they're worried about is the possibility that Yamba will be opened up to the kind of development that's left Byron Bay permanently disfigured.
Yamba is developing, and change is always scary. But, we shouldn't resign ourselves to doomsday finality. With protected national parks and beaches, Yamba has so far been shielded from the rampant growth that's gripped Byron Bay. Importantly, it's a small town whose people are intent on preservation rather than expansion. There's a cultural heritage grounded in surfing and community here, and the locals are fiercely protective of it. Byron Bay will not come to Yamba for the simple fact that people won't allow it.
The attraction of Yamba lies in its small-town community, good surf, and beaches that empty by five at night. It's a place brimming with stuff to help you forget slick city living and everything else.
Although development is an inevitable probability, it's community which will ultimately have the final say.
So, while I too worry about the future of this place, I'm placing my faith in "Yamba Time" and people to stop the clock.
Claudia Talon is a Melbourne University student living with family at Yamba over summer.