Traditional owners reject Netflix ‘donation’ offer over Byron Baes

The corporation representing Byron Bay’s traditional owners has rejected an offer of a donation from Netflix, as the streamer continues to battle with local opposition to its controversial reality TV series Byron Baes.

On Thursday, The Arakwal Corporation, representing the Bundjalung people of Byron Bay, issued a short statement following a meeting of its board of directors in which it refuted suggestions that Netflix or its production company Eureka had consulted with the traditional owners of the region prior to commencing work on the docusoap about social media influencers in the area.

Byron Bay locals want the Netflix show Byron Baes to be shut down.

The statement issued by Arakwal general manager Sharon Sloane said the directors “do not accept a donation from Eureka Productions or Netflix”, that they “are not in agreement with the nature of the series”, and that they support the wider Byron community in opposing the production.

Byron Baes has attracted stiff opposition since Netflix announced the eight-part series as its first locally commissioned reality show on April 8. A Get Up petition started by local filmmaker Tess Hall has attracted almost 10,000 signatures, a number marginally higher than the population of the town itself and about one-third of the population of the entire Byron Shire. Numerous businesses have refused to grant permission for the crew to film on their premises, and a number of locals reportedly dropped out of the cast over concerns that the program Eureka is making was not the one they had been pitched.

More broadly, concerns have been raised on a number of grounds, including: that the production has not followed best practice guidelines by failing to consult with traditional owners (though Netflix points out that Screen Australia protocols dictate this is necessary only when Indigenous people, practices or sacred sites might be filmed); that the show would present an unrealistic picture of a community struggling with a number of serious social issues, including addiction, unemployment and homelessness; and that the attention generated by a program made for Netflix’s 200 million subscribers worldwide would add immeasurably to the pressures on the town’s already stretched infrastructure and fragile environment.

Netflix has confirmed that a donation was offered to Arakwal. A source close to the company added that the sum was not large, and that the company often made such offers to communities or organisations where it filmed, though generally does not like to draw attention to the fact.

On April 22, Byron Shire Council passed a motion noting the significant economic threats posed by the production and “the possible reputational and social damage” it might inflict upon the local community, and vowing to write to Eureka and Netflix “stating its disapproval and opposition to the filming of Byron Baes in the Byron Shire”.

The resolution also noted that “had Council the power to refuse to grant filming approvals on land, infrastructure or road reserves under its control or ownership it would have done so”.

Despite a high turnover of cast members necessitating the show drafting people from as far afield as the Gold Coast and Brisbane as locals, the production has continued.

Though there is little prospect of Netflix cancelling the show, Tess Hall remains hopeful that a name change might yet happen. “They could call it The Influencers, or Insta Baes or whatever, just so long as they don’t name the town,” she said. “That way it’s less likely to draw the sort of people who just want to be Instagram famous here.”

For Sharon Sloane, the hope is that the furore might even produce some good. “There are many movies and TV shows filming in this area that don’t follow the protocols,” she said. “Maybe this will make them realise there’s a better way to behave.”

As a result of the Byron Baes controversy, discussions are now underway between screen and local government agencies in NSW to ensure that Indigenous Land Use agreements such as the one in place in Byron are taken into consideration in all filming applications in the future.

“This is about protecting the lands, the water, the significant sites,” Sloane said. “The biggest thing is for people to have cultural respect.”

Email the author at [email protected], or follow him on Facebook at karlquinnjournalist and on Twitter @karlkwin

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