By GARY CHIGWIDDEN
The Byron Bay that Eric Wright left behind when he died aged 86 last week was a lot different to the one he knew as a boy growing up in the town.
But for all its dramatic changes over the years which saw the Bay move from a small country town to an international tourist destination, the Eric I knew never lost his passion and love for the town, or its history.
If anyone could have comfortably worn the mantle, 'Mr Byron Bay', it was him.
Visiting his house in Cooper Street, which I did many times, was a bit like stepping back in Byron Bay time.
He had a vast collection of Byron Bay memorabilia and thousands of historical photographs of Byron Bay people and places and photographs he had taken himself.
Eric's knowledge of events in the Bay through the years and its people was vast.
And he was always more than willing to share that knowledge with anyone who cared to ask.
There were many times I went to Eric for information about the town, or to borrow a photograph to illustrate a story.
For several years, he wrote a Byron Bay history column for the Byron News which became a valuable record for anyone interested in the town's past.
He also provided valuable assistance to Maurice Ryan for his book Time and Tide, A History of Byron Bay, published in 1984.
Born in Kyogle on August 6, 1918, Eric, with his father and mother, Reg and Maud, moved to Coopers Shoot in 1920 and then to a five acre block at Byron Bay.
He started at Byron Bay Public School in 1925 and later to Mullumbimby District Rural School, leaving school just after turning 14 and starting work at Norco butter factory, now the site of the Byron Bay Services Club.
Eric clocked up 50 years at Norco, the only employee to do so, retiring on Christmas Eve 1982.
During the second world war, he joined the RAAF and served in Darwin, New Guinea, the Philippines and the China coast, returning to Australia in 1946.
He married his wife Nella in 1948 and they moved into the house in Cooper Street across the paddock from his parents house.
Cancer claimed Nella in 1984.
Before the war Eric had joined the Byron Bay Surf Club and was made a life member in 1983.
He also played hockey for the Byron Bay B Grade side from 1947 to 1952.
His other interests included growing orchids and lapidary, the many rock samples in his house evidence of this.
A staunch member of the RSL, Eric also was a foundation director of the Byron Bay Services Club, foundation president of the Byron Bay Historical Society and a long-time member of the Masonic group, Lodge Cavanbah.
Up until a couple of years ago, Eric was a familiar site around town and he could still be seen regularly walking along Bangalow Road into town.
Battling illness, he moved into the Ballina Ex-Servicemen's Home a couple of years ago.
Eric's contribution to Byron Bay was marked several years ago when a lookout at Paterson Hill in Paterson Street overlooking the Bay and land saved from development, was named after him.
It was a proud day for Eric and an honour well deserved.
He is survived by his daughter Robyn Faulks, son David and their children.
Eric's funeral was held at the Byron Bay Uniting Church last Friday and he was buried at Byron Bay Cemetery.
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