Former cop wary of Byron Bay booze fest
NEW Year's Eve revellers were jumping off the roof of what is now known as The Balcony in Byron Bay during what is often referred to as the "New Year's Eve riots" of 1993.
This NYE will be the 20th anniversary of that night, and two decades on the community is still grappling with how to safely manage an event that incites an increase in Byron's population by as many as 20,000 partygoers.
Acting as Station Controller for Byron Bay police in 1993 was Kevin Jones OAM who recalled the night the small surfing town made headlines.
"That was the first New Year's Eve that got out of hand," Mr Jones, now 73 and living in Maclean, said.
"A water main broke at the roundabout (near The Balcony, then called The Orient) and the water shooting out attracted a crowd.
"People started throwing punches but the main problem we had were people jumping from the roof into the crowd below who were catching them.
"Someone could have died.
"I don't know if I'd describe it as a riot but it was certainly an interesting couple of hours.
"My wife asked what had happened to me when I got home and she saw my police shirt covered in blood."
At the height of the NYE mayhem that year, 55 police officers were on duty and it took them until 4.15am to get the crowd back under control.
The incident spurred the community to develop safety plans to combat the growing number of people visiting Byron Bay, especially at New Year's Eve, Mr Jones said.
"The New Year's Eve Safety Committee was formed after that," he said.
The incident was also a catalyst for the push for year-round 24-hour policing in the town.
"In the decade I worked there we went from six officers in 1989 to around 40 in 1998," Mr Jones said.
"That shows you how much Byron Bay has grown. In the early '90s it was getting on its feet in a hurry.
"Byron Bay still attracts more people than it has the resources to cope with.
"Everyone is trying very hard, but the situation appears to still be deteriorating.
"Now, with highway improvements, access to Byron Bay is easier than ever before."
Mr Jones said the best results the police had had during his time in Byron Bay was using road blocks on New Year's Eve.
"I think road blocks worked very well," he said.
"You could control the alcohol going into the town.
"Alcohol is still a major problem."