Personal story

Byron Shire LDAT

Byron Shire LDAT volunteers

Byron Bay is a major tourism destination with more than 2.3 million visitors annually. The region is particularly popular with young people, including for Schoolies celebrations and music festivals.

NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research identified Byron as being well above the NSW state average in most drug and alcohol related crime in 2017. The high transitional traffic times, like holidays and festivals, see a consistent spike for issues related to alcohol and other drugs (AOD) use.

Nicqui Yazdi, LDAT representative and Team Leader at Byron Underage Drinking and Drug Initiative (BUDDI), loves her local area but recognises the unique challenges they face in reducing harms from AOD. Being a small community, they are isolated in terms of police and health services and contend with large numbers of tourists and party-goers.

“We are the number one tourist destination in Australia in regard to the ratio of tourists to residents, and that has created a massive problem for us. At any given time, the ratio is 80 tourists to one resident,” she said.

Byron Shire LDAT volunteers photo 2

Volunteer capital

Luckily, Byron has some fantastic strengths to help them tackle the challenges. The Northern Rivers area of NSW has the largest number of volunteers per capita in Australia, not just working in their local communities but also actively involved in volunteering overseas.

“Particularly in Byron Shire, there’d be so many initiatives that just would not happen without those volunteers. It’s only through them that we have food programs for our homeless people,” Nicqui said.

“We see volunteers in this area as the real backbone of our community. They are generous and giving unpaid workers, whose time is more valuable than money can count.”

Local solutions

Byron Underage Drinking and Drug Initiative (BUDDI) is a Community Drug Action Team, formed under NSW Health Community Drug Strategies Program and auspiced by Byron Youth Service. The Byron Shire LDAT is made up of a number of partner organisations including BUDDI, Byron Bay Chamber of Commerce, Byron Shire Council, NSW Police, Byron Bay Police and Tweed/Byron Local Area Command.

These partners have a track record of working together over the past 15 years on strategies and initiatives to promote wellbeing and reduce the impact of AOD during high traffic times in the region. The LDAT’s Community Action Plan provides a roadmap to focus these efforts allowing police, the local Liquor Accord and NSW Tourism to work closely to provide safer environments for visitors and locals. The LDAT’s primary focus is a volunteering project, a large part of which involves training volunteers. They run face-to-face training for these volunteers throughout the year, in preparation for festival and party seasons.

The largest annual action for the team is to manage the Byron Schoolies Safety Response and the Schoolies Hub. It’s an 18-day, 24-hour-long response involving 100 local volunteers trained by the LDAT, and 250 visiting volunteers who are predominantly part of Red Frogs, a youth support program. The Red Frogs 24-hour Schoolies hotline is run out of the LDAT’s Schoolies Hub.

“For our volunteers, it’s really important to have them properly trained. We are constantly seeking funding throughout the year to enable us to train up to 100 people a year in things like First Aid, youth mental health, AOD festival teams training and AOD crisis training,” said Nicqui.

“For our volunteers, it’s really important to have them properly trained. We are constantly seeking funding throughout the year to enable us to train up to 100 people a year in things like First Aid, youth mental health, AOD festival teams training and AOD crisis training,” said Nicqui.

Education is key

BUDDI’s new initiative for this year is managing pop up youth ‘chill out zones’ at festivals, as many underage patrons attend festivals without a parent or guardian present.

The chill out zones provide a place to relax and target young people with games and quizzes to help educate them about AOD issues. Alcohol and Drug Foundation resources and pamphlets are available and BUDDI has created a suite of posters with harm reduction messaging, which are designed to look like band posters.

Interventions like these are important for visitors and locals alike. Because of the high number of backpackers and festival-goers in the region, young people growing up in Byron are often faced with unrealistic images of partying tourists.

“[We want to] get to the places where young people are at the highest risk [of harms from] AOD. We’re hoping we can give them education that will stop them getting into trouble with the law,” Nicqui added.

Anyone interested in volunteering with the Byron Shire LDAT can visit BUDDI’s page on the Common Ground Byron Bay website.