On December 31, 1999, an estimated 30,000 people packed into the Byron Bay CBD and beachfront to welcome in the start of the new millennium.
Last Thursday night, a crowd estimated at about half that number welcomed in the new year in the town.
Like the difference in the number of revellers, the style of the latest celebrations bore no resemblance to those of 1999 which were the result of more than 12 months work by the Last Night First Light committee.
A massive and very colourful street parade followed by a fireworks display topped a day of activities which included a parade along the beach by a Hare Krishna wagon followed by hundreds of people.
The celebrations 10 years ago cost $300,000, with the State Government weighing in with $120,000.
Given the number of people, it was an extraordinarily successful, peaceful and happy night, a stark contrast to the booze-fuelled excesses of the mid-1990s which led to angry residents’ meetings and to the formation of the New Year’s Eve Safety Committee and the development of a policy to make future celebrations low-key.
It’s a policy that has worked extremely well in the intervening years with the costs involved slashed dramatically.
Gone are the major roadblocks set up on either side of the town, gone are the locals’ stickers which got you through the road blocks, gone is the traffic tangle caused by the temporary mini-bypass across the rail tracks at the southern end of the railway platform and gone is the fear of ‘what’s it going to be like this year?’
The major physical mess created in those ‘bad old days’ and the damage caused by national headlines to Byron Bay’s reputation as a community-friendly holiday destination are well in the past now. But it doesn’t mean there should be any relaxation in New Year’s Eve strategies.
There were a lot of young people in the streets last Thursday night, but there were also a lot of family groups who enjoyed the beachfront carnival and the performance of the Samba Blisstas.
If people want more on New Year’s Eve, they can always go somewhere else.
Low-key is the way to go. Let’s keep it that way.
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