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This Is Northern New South Wales

James MacMillan

The Byron Bay Surf Festival is coming up in October, so we thought a chat with the events creative orchestrator James ‘Jimmy’ McMillan was in order to find out out about the man, the surfer, the artist, Byron Bay, and the new lines to be drawn with the upcoming BBSF.

Interview by Johnny Abegg.

Ok, for interview purposes we will call you Jimmy. How long have you lived in the Byron Shire for?
I’ve been in Byron Shire since 2005. So it’s going on about 6 years. The first 3 weeks I stayed out at the Pocket on Mick Water’s little farm. One day I was in town there at Mullumbimby scouting the notice board at Santos food and I came across this small piece of ripped paper that led me to a studio cottage high up on Mt Jerusalem behind Mullumbimby. 1 week later I moved up onto the mountain, which was pretty ironic because at the time I was actually looking for something right on the beach. But the moment I rolled around the bend on that little goat track up there, and the forest opened up to the cozy timber studio I knew where I was meant to be. No neighbors, forest all around and views to Cape Byron. The French lady that owned the property agreed to waive the first 8 weeks rent in return for me restoring the place. So I went about gathering used timber from here and there and built a loft to sleep in, finished the deck, put a roof over the shower and planted some veggies. To this day it’s the furthest I’ve ever lived from the ocean but by far the best.

Why Byron Bay and what keeps you here?
Three situations led me to being in Byron. The first was legendary filmmaker Dick Hoole. It was 1996 and I had to give up my carpentry trade due to a lower back injury sustained while competing on the Quiksilver surf/snow tour in the USA. I was working at a surf shop in Cronulla repairing surfboards and snowboards. Dick would be in the store once a month selling his classic surf films and every single time he saw me he’d say, ‘Byron’s where it’s at young Jimmy…the quality country lifestyle.’ It was like he was trying to sell Byron to me and save a young mans life.

Anyway 5 years later, in 2001, as I embarked on my Blue Yonder journey and creating the book about it, I arrived in Byron Shire where I camped out overnight on 7 mile beach in my red Landrover. Next morning I headed further north along the sand and up the old dirt road at the end where I ran into George Greenough. After spending a few days with George on his property with the hinterland sunsets and wild ocean down below, I was trippin’ on the absolute natural beauty of the place. For want of better words I was sold. Or maybe I should say souled.

Following those 5 days north, some months later I was in Hawaii on the North Shore where I woke one morning to a pounding swell. It wasn’t huge but Waimea Bay was breaking and it was the only place that I knew of that would be surfable. Surprisingly it wasn’t too crowded so out I paddled on my 7’6″ that Simon Anderson had shaped me. In the lineup it was all locals bar one other whitey, Dan Van. He too was on a 7’6″, while most others were on 9’2″ or bigger. We were pretty under-gunned but after the locals had called us into a few waves we succeeded on a couple of late drops to make the channel. We were 2 stoked Aussies. Dan had a surf business back in Byron and he offered me a job right there in the lineup. Three years later after my book, Blue Yonder, was published I made the move north, and am never going back. Hoole was right about the quality of life.

You’re a man of many talents; tell us a bit about your surfing and that creative mind of yours?
My surfing and my art are the two things that feel like a natural extension of me, and my approach to both are pretty similar. The only certain thing I know about going surfing is that I will catch a wave. I don’t know what shape the wave will be or what the wave will do; I only know that I will ride upon it. For me that’s the best part about surfing, riding upon the wave. The maneuvers are a bonus that guys like Tom Blake, George Greenough and Simon Anderson have gifted to us through their surfing and subsequent design theories and inventions. When I paint it’s really similar. I have a personal style and preferred color palette but I never know exactly what I’m gonna create on the canvas, only that I will put some color down, and then I follow the adventure from there. The major difference with creating on a wave and creating on canvas is that my painting is right there staring back at me forever, while with my surfing the waves and turns get washed upon the shore and back into the fabric of the earth.

Is your Art an expression of a deeper you?
Yeah… but it’s an unconscious act. I’ve been painting seriously for about 15 years, and before that when I was a teenager I used to make collages out of old punk rock clippings, random photos and little odd bits of junk I’d pick up from garage sales. When I lived in the studio up on Mt Jerusalem I was painting full-on and what evolved from that is the current collection of paintings that I continue to produce today.

The Byron Bay Surf Festival looks like a treat, tell us more and what’s going to make it different from the norm?
The most obvious thing that will differentiate the Byron Bay Surf Festival from others is the wholesome focus on the creative culture within surfing, including live music, filmmaking, original art, photography, and the shaping and riding of handmade surfboards. These things are the core seeds of the festival and then all else sprouts and stems from there. The festival in its current form, is not exactly as I had originally visioned it, but it’s really close. And I don’t mean a bigger festival I just mean that there are some minor details in the whole organism that I can’t quite get to that could give the Festival a bit more purpose and depth of experience. 2011 is a really good start and it’s the first one so I’m pretty happy with what Vanessa, Mikey and I have created so far.

You can find out more about Jimmy here, and about BBSF here.

NOTE: Coinciding with the Inaugural Byron Bay Surf Festival, Retrospect Galleries are exploring surf culture in a fine art context and are currently seeking two artists/photographers for the October show, ‘Surf Culture Now’. To be along side some of our favourite artists and special guests, now is your chance! On how to submit your work, click on the link below. Applications close August 19th.