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Posted: Whenever I read about Byron Bay and firespinning, I read the name "Arts Factory Backpackers Lodge". It seems to have become a synonym. Whenever I read about: "Any spinners out there in Byron Bay?" I read: "go to the Arts Factory Backpackers Lodge (AFL)"
Dunno much about the Arts Factory Lodge of today (which is why I'm asking for your kind and valued input), hence by visiting their homepage I feel repulsed.
Repulsed because the Arts Factory has undergone significant changes from 1996 till 2000 which I found incredibly sad and disenchanting, to the extent of outrageous. It still may display and have some of the spirit and magic that has been built in by countless artists and gifted people - I would love to hear about your personal impression.
Maybe it is because I saw these changes happen drastically within 4 years.
I remember the times when I was taking off in Sydney, driving all the way to BB in one go, when I approached and saw the lighthouses' beam welcoming me back...
Few years I came to the Arts Factory Lodge and for me it went from a loving community project - when I first visited in '95 - to a greedy ca$h cow in 2000 and nowhere back.
It started as the brainchild of Nissen (till his brother Sein Lowry took over as it's pimp) and it's been a Piggery converted into a Veg restaurant... nice one, but why was it never told to the general audience, that the Restaurant back then has been run by the Hare Krishna (serving the most expensive Krishna Food on the planet)?
"Work for food/ accomodation", "add value" (as in artwork) started out as an opportunity for backpackers travelling on low budget and ended in the opportunity of the Arts Factory to acquire cheap staff.
Personally I worked in the Didj-Pit, teaching how to make and play until I found out about the profit margin. "Make your own Didj" - a three day workshop, would have cost you $150 or you could opt for "make three/ get the fourth for free" (each of them sold for 2-500$). Local Aboriginees came to sell the wood (still green and wet = freshly cut trees and as such in no ways near "traditional") for $10 each log. I learned that they tried to sabotage the Didj-Pit by selling them logs heavily infected with worms.
Well, what's wrong with 1400% profit margin you may ask.... not much, if only they would have kept the tools in a state that would not made it physically dangerous for ppl to make them and if not it would be a highly unfair trade on the expense of the Eucalyptus forests and the backs of the Aboriginal community.
I'm looking at the pictures and recognize the double decker bus, the restaurant and all the sleeping facilities. Most of them (back then) had been built by backpackers and artists as to contribute to the lodge. It seems that for the last few years they 'upped' their range... I remember the grumbling amongst the Arts Factory staff, when Sein had Surf Shacks added (way in the back and hidden from the Hippies, and back then only frequented by rich Japanese tourists).
It seems that "the Baron" is still part of it (as the "redface talent show MC")... "remember, if you can't be here now, get there later"... and I don't doubt that the AFL still holds magic... I just wonder whether Sein still sells it as a "community/happy hippie place" or as what it really is: a "golden backpacker award winning tourist cash cow".
Don't get me wrong, I'm in no way opposing ppl earning money. I'm just raising my eyebrow if ppl sell something under the guise it is really not. This - to me - is cheating... which is okay too, because it makes us learn valuable lessons... So maybe I just get something off my chest that's been sitting there for (sheesh) 8 years...
*looks for his walking stick*
Just as a sidenote: Byron Bay has been a mere cattle town, before the Hippies came down from Nimbin to take a plunge in the ocean after their Rainbow Gathering. Since then BB converted into a tourist town (and meanwhile a Gold Coast extension). What most people don't know (and care about) is that Byron Bay had been a historical Aboriginal meeting ground and if you'd ask the local natives they will tell you that the magic of Byron turns around if you're "overstaying"...
My personal advice: visit the AFL, but don't stay there. You'll find better places where the energy is less creepy.