The local Arakwal Aboriginal people’s name for the area is Cavvanbah, meaning “meeting place”.
The history of Europeans in Byron Bay began in 1770, when Captain James Cook found a safe anchorage and named Cape Byron after Captain John Byron, who circumnavigated the globe in 1764-66 and thus preceded Cook on the Pacific. In the 1880s, when Europeans settled more permanently, streets were named for other English writers and philosophers.
Byron Bay is part of the erosion caldera of an ancient shield volcano, the Tweed Volcano, which erupted 23 million years ago. The volcano formed as a result of the Indo-Australian Plate moving over the East Australia hotspot.
1770: Captain Cook sails past and names Cape Byron as a tribute to his fellow navigator, Vice-Admiral John Byron, grandfather of the famous poet. The area was called Cavvanba, meaning meeting place, by the local Arakawal and Minjangbal tribes.
1840s: The “Big Scrub”, a subtropical rainforest of 10,000 hectares, is cleared and its renowned cedars removed. Sugar cane, cattle and dairy farmers move in.
1885: The village of Cavvanba is established. Its name is changed to Byron Bay in 1894.
1895: The Norco dairy company starts operations enabled by the construction of cold storage for perishable goods.
1901: Cape Byron lighthouse opens, marking Australia’s most easterly point.
1930: Byron Bay becomes a busy port town. A meatworks starts operating, creating jobs and pollution.
1930s: The sand miners arrive, stripping beaches from Ballina to Brunswick Heads and leaving a legacy of erosion.
1954: Byron Bay Whaling Company takes its first whale, but the industry closes in 1962. During this time 1146 whales are processed producing 10,000 tonnes of oil.
1960s: Surfers discover Byron’s breaks.
1973: The Aquarius Festival is held in the town of Nimbin. Some who attended will stay in the district and establish communes in Mullumbimby and Main Arm.
(The Geographical Names Board of New South Wales, assigned the place name “Byron Bay” on 21st May, 1971.)