SURF IS UP: Lester Brien saw Byron through some of its most colourful days.
SURF IS UP: Lester Brien saw Byron through some of its most colourful days. Veda Dante

Surfer lawyer’s last wave

SURFER and lawyer Lester Brien, one of Byron Bay’s more infamous identities, died aged 71, at his home last weekend.

Part of the influx of great surfers who moved to Byron Bay in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Mr Brien was a finalist in the Australian surfing titles in 1968, according to the Century of Surf COS Facebook page.

Shortly after moving to Byron Bay, Mr Brien became the lawyer of choice for pot- smoking surfers caught by police. There were plenty.

“I was well known around then because I had all these drug cases,” he said in an interview.

“If there was a drug case in the Northern Rivers I was the one acting, and that was simply because I was a surfer and I was known, and it was surfers getting busted for marijuana.”

After ruffling a few feathers in police and legal circles, in 1977 Mr Brien was summoned before the Woodward Royal Commission into the NSW drug trade.

When he refused to hand over his client files to the commission, Mr Brien was jailed for six months for contempt.

Behind bars Mr Brien was treated like royalty by the other prisoners, according to COS, because he was seen as being “staunch”.

“I was fortunate, I suppose, in that I went in in the best possible circumstances,” he said.

“That is, I went in, from the crim population’s point of view, for failing to give someone up, almost unheard of among solicitors.”

While in jail, Mr Brien began to write a semi-fiction novel about some of his experiences, called the Byron Connection.

The Byron Connection was published in 1979, and sold 25,000 copies.

Mr Brien was disbarred as a lawyer due to his actions, so he ran several businesses in Byron Bay including Dinti’s Bar in the 1970s.

Then Mr Brien ran Surfaris, Australia’s first learn-to-surf tours, conducting surfing and camping adventures between Sydney and Byron Bay with his son Garth.

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