Netflix Chronicles Byron Bay’s ‘Sizzling Instagrammers.’ Will Paradise Survive?

BYRON BAY, Australia – The moral problems of life as an Instagram influencer in the famed and idyllic town of Byron Bay will not be lost on Ruby Tuesday Matthews.

Ms. Matthews, 27, sells more than vegan moisturizers, probiotic powders, and conflict-free diamonds to her 228,000 followers. She also sells an enviable lifestyle against the backdrop of the crystal clear bays and umbrellas of her hometown, Australia.

It’s part of the imagery that helped transform Byron Bay – for better or worse – from a sleepy beach town that attracts surfers and hippies to a world-renowned destination for wealthy and digitally savvy people.

“I have moments when I think, ‘Am I taking advantage of this city that I live in?” Ms. Matthews said recently while sitting on the farm, a sprawling agrotourism company that embodies the city’s wellness ethos. “But at the same time it’s my job. It brings food to the table for my children. “

Tensions between using and protecting the reputation of Byron Bay, which revel in this age of entrepreneurial social media, exploded last month when Netflix announced plans for a reality show called “Byron Baes” which will “follow hot Instagramers who lead their best lives “.

Local residents said the show was a dry misrepresentation of the city and urged Netflix to cancel the project. A woman launched a petition campaign that collected more than 9,000 signatures and organized a “paddle-out” during the uprising – a surfer memorial usually reserved to commemorate deaths.

Several store owners, many of whom have extensive Instagram exposure, have denied permits Netflix to record on their premises. A number of influencers targeted by the show also said they had decided not to attend.

Among them was Ms. Mathews, who went through the initial filming and interviewing process but later said goodbye. “Byron’s not kidding,” Ms. Matthews said, wearing the stonewashed jeans and chunky ice-blue knit she’d advertised on Instagram that morning. “They’re basically branding our city.”

The backlash has raised questions about who is entitled to control and take advantage of the cult of Byron Bay, a place known today for its slow and ephemeral lifestyle where the bohemian into a unified jungalow aesthetic of tassel shades, woven lanterns and Linen was transformed into clothing and exotic plants.

Some argued that the reality show would focus on a number of influencers whose picture-perfect presence on Instagram does not represent the “real” Byron Bay. In doing so, the show would expose the city to unwanted outsiders.

“What right do you have to take advantage of, Brand, Byron?” said Tess Hall, a filmmaker who moved to Byron Bay in 2015 and organized the petition and paddled out. She added that she feared the show would attract “the wrong guy” to the area and share the city’s secret beach spots with the rest of the world.

“We’re not Venice Beach,” she said. “It’s a different mood.”

Others said they feared that a mere portrayal of Byron Bay as a flat party town would make this come true.

“Personally, I don’t mind influencers,” said Ben Gordon, who runs the Byron Bay General Store, a “mostly vegetable” and often instagramed brunch spot that was originally involved in the show before retiring it.

“It’s about getting a city completely wrong,” added Gordon, who has more than 80,000 Instagram followers between his personal and store feeds. “My biggest fear is that the show will fulfill itself.”

For some, however, the rebound against the reality series smells of elitism and hypocrisy and is ultimately pointless and even counterproductive as the protests and the resulting media coverage have cleared the public.

“It’s absurd and ridiculous to think that people can control how Byron is represented or not,” said Michael Murray, a buyer who has lived in the area for more than three decades. “It no longer belongs to a certain clique.”

Netflix has rejected the criticism, saying it will produce a show that is “authentic and honest”.

Que Minh Luu, the content director of Netflix Australia and New Zealand, said in a statement emailed, “Our goal is to lift the curtain on influencer culture to reveal the motivation, desire and pain behind this very human one Need to understand, to be loved. ”

Before the city was ever adorned with its first heart emojis, before the boom of the 1970s and 1980s, or the earlier influx of surfers and those looking for an alternative lifestyle, Byron Bay was a quiet whaling town on the east coast of Australia, 100 miles away south of Brisbane.

Wategos Beach – where homes can sell for more than $ 17 million – was a steep hill with only a few families, including the Wategos, a South Sea island family who grew bananas and later ran a beach kiosk selling thick shakes and hamburgers were sold.

“It was heaven,” said Susie Beckers, 60, a descendant of the family who sat by the water and watched a local surfing competition where her grandson played in the sand. “Nobody really wanted to live here,” she added of the beachfront properties, “because it was so far away.”

The kiosk has since been converted into a luxury restaurant and hotel, Raes on Wategos, where a night in a penthouse suite can cost more than $ 2,500.

The median home price in Byron Bay is $ 1.8 million. This makes it the most expensive place in Australia and almost as expensive as the Hollywood Hills in California. Chris Hemsworth and Zac Efron moved to town.

Byron Bay’s rapid growth is a threat to the values ​​it values, some residents say.

The city, said Mandy Nolan, a local writer, has become a case study of what happens when a culture of localism is marketed on a global scale. “Our values ​​of sustainability have fueled an unsustainable market,” she said. “Byron has become a victim of its own brand.”

The inequality in the city is strong. Immigrant workers, teachers and nurses have been driven out of town or, worse, into homelessness. The city, with a permanent population of less than 10,000, has the highest homelessness in the country after Sydney. This is evident from a recent government street census.

Along the coast, some people sleep in tented shantytowns in the sand dunes and bushes, while others – many of them in stable employment – switch between short-term accommodations, friends’ couches, and their cars.

John Stephenson, a 67-year-old massage therapist, lived on his station wagon for several years. “It’s embarrassing,” he said as he collected items from a storage unit before moving to temporary accommodation. “I don’t look like a bum, but I feel like one.”

In other parts of the city, however, the illusion remains intact.

On a mild evening at Cape Byron Lighthouse, a man in a feathered fedora, bolo tie, and neck-to-ankle denim photographed two of his children picking flowers. He was so excited about capturing the moment that he didn’t notice that his third child, who was sitting behind him, was in danger of falling down the hill.

A woman with a yoga mat over her shoulder called out to him. The woman, Lucia Wang, had just moved to Byron Bay the night before. She came for the city’s beauty and healing properties, she said.

“The first thing you have to do is just go to the ocean and go for a swim,” she said. “Everything will be fine.”

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