Byron Bay now in the grip of hard drugs crisis
BYRON BAY is Australia's playground to the stars.
A beachside enclave for the super-rich and uber-famous that was in the headlines almost daily during the holiday period for hosting celebrities like Miley Cyrus, Margot Robbie, the Hemsworth brothers, Nicole Kidman and even Princess Mary.
But scratch just a little beneath its star-studded surface and worried locals will tell you "The Bay" is changing drastically - and not for the better.
The hippie vibe of the surfers' paradise, which used to boast the state's highest rates of use and possession of cannabis, is being rapidly transformed into something much darker thanks to a growing dependence on the deadly, addictive drug methamphetamine.
And it's having devastating consequences.
A spate of bizarre violent crimes over the Christmas period has put police and the seaside community on edge.
It has also meant tourism and business authorities can no longer keep their heads in the sand about how the meth epidemic that has swamped major cities like Sydney has finally entrenched itself in NSW's most exclusive holiday destination.
On Christmas night, a 23-year-old Canadian backpacker ran naked down a Byron Bay main street off his face on ice.
He launched himself into the windscreen of a police vehicle - shattering it on impact - before he started headbutting a window.
Police fired a taser at the man, but his adrenaline was racing so much that it had no effect. The backpacker - who pleaded guilty to two counts of assaulting police, resisting arrest and destroying property - was eventually subdued by a group of officers and his friends.
A 15-year-old Byron Bay boy was also arrested after running down the street naked abusing passers by.
And in another incident a man was found, again naked, on the veranda of a family's home.
In one case it took eight people to subdue one man, sparking fears a lethally strong batch of ice, or even the horrific "zombie drug" flakka, was being sold in the town.
"They're the incidents that were reported to police. I have no doubt there would be more," Tweed-Byron Police duty officer chief inspector Luke Arthurs said.
Insp Arthurs said police conduct continual drug dog operations and raids to flush out local suppliers.
"One girl that we searched in a drug operations a couple of months ago had ice, cocaine and cannabis on her.
"Prohibited drugs are everywhere ... it's a never-ending job for police."
The drug culture in town is changing so dramatically The Daily Telegraph this week witnessed a man openly smoking synthetic drugs at a child's playground as holidaying families walked by.
He even bragged it was like "acid in a bag".
Another man, who asked to only be quoted as Jack, said that a "point" of ice in Byron Bay sold for as little as $50.
It's half the price he pays in Melbourne - and he says twice as strong.
"A week ago I was up for four nights," he said.
"It's that strong here ... the way it pumps me up, I'll take on the whole army."
Jack said ice was normally sold "out in the suburbs".
"There's dealers, you make a phone call, it's as easy as that," he boasted.
Fellow user Gene Head says he buys the deadly drug as soon as he gets paid every fortnight.
"I just started (ice) six to eight months ago," he said.
"They get some pretty good stuff up here."
Mr Head, who sleeps under a piece of fly screen on Byron Bay's main beach, has resigned himself to the fact that he may never be clean.
He is the face of Byron's visible but untreated ice crisis, where hardcore addicts blend into the holiday mecca's famous culture of partying and psychedelic drugs.
Backpackers and well-heeled families wander past him without a glance and he seems to bother nobody.
But other addicts are committing violent crimes in high-tourist season.
One 39-year-old user faced Byron Bay Local Court on Thursday over allegations he kicked a man in the head during an early-morning robbery on January 7.
After his court appearance the man told The Telegraph he had used ice on and off for his entire adult life.
Local community activist and resident of 20 years Sue Arnold said Byron was "being absolutely destroyed" by ice.
She said it came as the tourist industry was growing uncontrollably through music events like Splendour in the Grass and Falls Festival.
"As a veteran of the hippie culture, we used to think having a joint was fun," she said. "I have never seen the kind of incidents caused (now) by ice, being caused by cannabis.
"The community's being pushed out and the Hollywood stars are moving in.
"So the wealthy can have their playground and the kids can have their drugs."
Ms Arnold said the tourism industry had become "too greedy".
"They're killing the goose that laid the golden egg."
Recovering ice addict Sarah Stardust said the drug was "rampant" and "putrid".
"It's an epidemic," the 37-year-old said. "(Users) are aggressive, violent, unapproachable.
"I mean, some of these people haven't slept for 10 days. That's where the violence, the stabbings, the crap is coming from. When has the northern rivers ever been violent? We're hippies."