Renewable honey and a bat cave – off the beaten track in Tyagarah

It was when I was working off a fine at the Mullumbimby Community Garden that I first heard about Byron Eco Park, a property in Byron Shire that possessed standing stones and other curious structures, and which sounded like a place that would be a good subject for the blog.

After a little Googling, and making contact, I was en route to Tyagarah with a friend. This district is usually no more than somewhere you drive through when going down the highway between Byron Bay and Mullumbimby. Sometimes in your upper field of vision you glimpse skydivers slowly descending towards the ground. Tyagarah is home to an airfield and a number of businesses, most of which seem to involve doing something potentially risky in the air. In addition to skydiving, other options include microlights, gyrocopters, gliding, and ballooning.

It is a fairly hot, largely cloudless day. Our destination lies along the unsealed Old Brunswick Road, where if you continue to the end, you reach the Byron Gliding Club. Instead, we stop close by at The Honey Factory, a tenant of the Eco Park, when it appears on the right. Dr. Greg Wilding turns up in a ute, and shows us around.

The 75-hectare property is owned by Dieter Horstmann, a migrant from Germany and an environmental pioneer. Greg has the position of manager, a role that arose organically from his involvement on-site with stone-carved sculpture. One of Greg’s biggest passions is renewable energy, which is also Byron Eco Park’s main focus. There are plans for a ten-megawatt solar farm to be connected in 2019.

This ties in with the activities of the group Zero Emissions Byron, and its plans to make the whole shire renewable by 2025. Its zero-emission goals extend to land, energy, waste, mobility, and housing, with a core priority being to tackle climate change. Greg sees an energy self-sufficient Byron Bay as requiring a hundred megawatts of solar power. The Honey Factory is already plugging into these ambitious sustainability goals.

The factory is a processing plant for jellybush, an Australian honey similar to New Zealand’s manuka. While some hives are on the property, most are in the Limpinwood area, away to the north in the Tweed hinterland. Outside the factory building is a large sculpture made from the roots of a large camphor laurel tree, lying upright as if felled by a strong wind. This award-winning work, which is known as Monumental Environmental Artwork, was created by the Australian environmental artist John Dahlsen, and used to be located at Apex Park on the Byron Bay foreshore. A council decision was later made to relocate it, and it was purchased by Dieter. As it was originally sourced from Dieter’s property, it has now come back home.

An area alongside the factory is home to one or two further sculptures, and Greg has plans to turn it into a sculpture park some time in 2018.

Inside the door is an open-plan area, and a shop that is nearly ready to open to the public. At first glance, the unique aspects of the premises are hard to spot. Like the rest of the Eco Park, the factory runs entirely on solar and battery. The roof has thirty kilowatt-hours of solar, in the form of 112 thin-film solar panels. Excess generation is stored in forty kilowatts of storage batteries. These are an Aquion salt water model (the first unit of this type imported into Australia), and an Ecoult lead-acid unit. This solar-plus-storage energy is the sole source of power used to process thirty to forty tonnes of honey annually.

For some years, the Byron New Energy group met here, and one of their notices is still on the wall. Much of their efforts went into working on the Joe Cell free energy motor.

Greg is even more enthusiastic about the prospect of hydrogen-powered vehicles. Stored in a reinforced tank, hydrogen is burned in specially designed fuel cells. This is a type of energy storage similar to the batteries used in electric cars.

Unless you are an inventor such as Stan Meyer or Andrija Puharich, and find a way to run a car on water, then another type of hydrogen production technique is needed. The Eco Park is looking at hydrogen from renewables, also known as ‘green hydrogen.’ At present, hydrogen is generally manufactured in an industrial, energy-intensive, process using natural gas that may be sourced from fracking.

The Eco Park currently has an electric car, and plans to buy fuel cell vehicles when more come on the market. One major advantage of fuel cell technology is the speed of filling, which is as little as three minutes, compared to a minimum of thirty minutes for electric vehicles.

The other focus of interest on the property is some distance away, and to get there involves a little travel. Some of the route involves areas of mowed grass, but most is on dirt tracks. The track crosses a wooden bridge over a creek. We pass a group of hives. Later, one or two basalt crystal standing stones line the track. Greg mentions that these were erected by Dieter using a thirty-tonne excavator. The route climbs a small but steep hill, with the diesel car going up at a snail’s pace. It eventually conks out, fortunately just uphill of a side turning that can be reversed into for turning around and retracing our route.

This secluded spot, which was obviously chosen because of the panoramic view, is home to the cave and the castle, both of which were painstakingly constructed by Dieter on three different levels. On the grass on front is a group of about fifteen lichen-encrusted standing stones, giving an impression of great antiquity. All were found on the property and relocated to their present position. One is a Celtic-looking stone cross, with a circular iron reinforcement holding the horizontal pieces in place.

 

Another structure is a scaled-down celtic dolmen, a horizontal stone resting on top of two upright stones at one end and one upright at the other end. These are often thought by archaeologists to indicate tombs. Typically associated with the Celtic world of Ireland, Wales, Cornwall and Brittany, the world’s largest concentration of dolmen structures is surprisingly found on the Korean peninsula.

The cave access is a pair of hinged wooden doors flanked by sculpted dragons.

Greg unlocks it, and we go inside. Immediately, we are enveloped in dark and gloom. A pair of rows of concrete-coated basalt columns run down the centre. There is a sofa that unexpectedly tilts forwards when you sit on it. Fittingly, there are is also a microbat flying around. Greg points out a location in the corner, on the roof, where the bats normally live. The quirky décor has Aboriginal and medieval influences, among others.

A short circuitous route uphill to the castle above takes us through a dolmen-style gateway that features a friendly gargoyle-like face grinning at passers-by.

Inside, the castle windows are shaped in the form of a pair of silhouetted heads facing one another.

Below is the ominous-sounding dungeon, but we omit it from the itinerary. Up some stairs is the lookout, a circular area surrounded by a thick wall.

Straight ahead, trees extend as far as the ocean beyond, where there only vessels visible are a tanker and a yacht with a large black sail. Byron Bay and Julian Rocks are to the south-east, while Mount Chincogan and Wollumbin make up the skyline to the north. The view stretches out along the coast, perhaps as far as the Kingscliff area.

A slim darker strip of trees directly before the start of the ocean marks the Tyagarah Nature Reserve. Much of the lighter green area between here and the property boundary is a thirty-hectare reserve belonging to the Eco Park that is home to such species as the potoroo and the Wallum froglet.

The overall feel of the place is similar to an eccentric English folly, with some Hundertwasser and Damanhur influences, but unique in its own special way. At present, unfortunately there is no facility for public access.

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