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This Is Northern New South Wales

Vegemite on toast in Antibes

I don’t remember when it was that I started telling people that I was from Byron Bay. I think it might have been shortly after I left Australia to come and live in France, 2 and a-half years ago.

Wherever I travelled people would ask me where I was from, or they would run through the list; Are you American, South African, Italian, Israeli? Surprisingly, I very rarely get asked if I’m English, and occasionally people recognize that I’m Australian. Of course, as soon as they discover that I am Australian, they immediately ask if I am from Sydney, with an excited gleam in their eyes. I guess Sydney is like the New York of Australia. But when I tell them I am from Melbourne, only a few of them display any recognition, and it’s only the well travelled or those with relatives there that are ever interested.

When I started encountering other travellers, I started telling them I kind of lived between Melbourne and Byron Bay, and that always got a reaction, a good one, and I’ve had many a good conversation and made many friends because of this little white lie. Just for the record, I’m not from Byron Bay, but I do spend a lot of time there, and I have many friends there, and good memories. It’s my heart’s home.

Recently, I have been spending some time in Antibes, on the Cote d’Azur, in the south of France. Normally, I live in Paris, but I’ve been taking a little holiday from my holiday. Antibes reminds me very much of Byron Bay, the vibe is the same. Lots of travellers, and annual holidaymakers. A mix of nationalities, and ages, and lots of people who are just passing through. It’s a port town, so there are a lot of crewmembers that base themselves there for the summer, whilst working on the various super yachts. Which means lots of Australians and New Zealanders.

I was staying in a friend’s apartment that was without Wi-Fi, which for someone like me is an absolute disaster. I need to be connected to the Grid; it’s my contact with my world, my portal to my real life in Australia, my way of staying in touch with friends and family. And, it’s where my work is. So my first day in Antibes was all about finding a café or bar or some other place with Wi-Fi, which is how I stumbled upon Choopy’s café.

When I walked into Choopy’s I felt like I had walked through a portal and into a Byron Bay café. It’s all blond wood and pastel colours, and improvised decoration. The owners of the café are a young couple, and we felt kind of good to be supporting them in their new venture. And the coffee is excellent and they have soymilk to boot! But the real discovery came when I opened the menu and saw Vegemite toast there. I mean, who would have thought that in a tiny little town, in the south of France, one would find Vegemite toast on the menu? It’s always comforting. Whoever invented Vegemite toast should receive a knighthood.

My exclamation of joy brought the owner, Choopy, over to see if all was ça va. I told him I can’t believe he has Vegemite toast on the menu, and how wonderful it was to find it there, and we got to talking. He told me that he and his partner had spent a year travelling around Australia in a camper van, including a stint in Byron Bay, and that was the inspiration for their café. That made me kind of proud.

I wonder how many of you there in Byron met them when they were there. I wonder if perhaps I had seen them, or my friends. How many people in the place where my heart lives influenced this young couple to follow their dreams?

Byron Bay has always struck me as that sort of place. A place where you feel anything is possible, and people encourage you to follow your dreams, to break out of the mold of “what is expected of you” and to make your life into what you want it to be.

This young couple certainly reminded me of the role Byron Bay has played in my life, and the solace, healing and joy it brings me whenever I am there.If you find yourself in Antibes, look them up, and tell them you are from Byron Bay, you’ll make their day, as they make you an excellent coffee and some Vegemite toast.

Story and photo’s by our foreign correspondent – Lisa Clague