History of Byron Bay

The original inhabitants and custodians of what is now Byron Bay and the Northern Rivers of New South Wales, are the Arakwal people of the Bunjalung language group. They called Byron Bay ‘Cavvanbah,’ a meeting place for swapping stories and trade. The name suits Byron Bay well today and there is still a Cavvanbah Street, a leafy haven between Shirley Street and the beach.

In 1770 Captain Cook anchored here and named the point where the Byron Lighthouse now stands, Cape Byron, after British circumnavigator, John Byron, the grandfather of the poet, Lord Byron. Many years later when the town was settled, streets were named after other English poets, writers and philosophers.

The first industry in the area was logging and the local names of Coopers Shoot, Skinners Shoot and Possum Shoot were places where loggers would ‘shoot’ the cedar logs downhill to be loaded onto ships. A jetty was built out into Byron Bay in 1886 and with the railway connecting Byron to Lismore in 1894 the town was well established. The dairy industry flourished with butter exports, then abattoirs, whaling and sand mining industries came and went and by the 1960s, Byron was a small fishing town.

With the advent of surfing, Byron Bay’s best assets were discovered – the natural surf breaks at Wategos Beach, The Pass and Cosy Corner. In 1973 the Aquarius Festival (Australia’s Woodstock), was held in nearby Nimbin and those seeking an alternative lifestyle flocked to the new Rainbow Region. Between the surfers, back packers, and those looking for a change from city life, Byron Bay became one of Australia’s most popular holiday destinations.