June 30, 2022

By goat!

Do you associate Byron Bay with goats? Not goat milk on your açai bowl or in your green smoothie (though that’s cool too) but actual goats! I’ve got two stories for you…

The first is related to Captain Cook’s voyage to what would be later called Australia, which sailed past Cape Byron on 15 May 1770.

On board the Endeavour, the 30 metre long, 366 ton full-sailed ship, was a goat. Just the one. Daisy was a passenger who was valued for the milk she provided to officers and those who became ill.

According to the local history book, Time and Tide Again, across her life, Daisy circumnavigated the globe twice both on the Endeavour and another ship.

On her return to London, Daisy was gifted a silver collar by Joseph Banks, the Endeavour’s botanist, engraved with a Latin couplet composed in her honour by Dr Samuel Johnson. She then lived out her best goat life as the pet of Cook’s children.

Much later, Byron would be known for its goats again. The second story focusses firmly on Cape Byron, which was the steep home to a herd of goats for many decades.

Two stories of the origin of these fluffy-chinned residents seem to be more urban legend than truth – that they were put there to provide food for any potential future shipwrecked sailors or for the lighthouse keepers.

Both stories are appealing but lacking in logic. Yet the truth remains unclear.

The authors of Time and Tide Again conclude that the true story is one of goats escaping the yards at a pub called the Pier Hotel in the early 1900s and that no-one minded enough to go to the effort of scaling the rocky and dangerous cliffs to round them up.

However, the ABC reported in an online story in 2013 that the arrival of the nimble four-legged creatures was a light-house keeper, who advertised for two nanny goats, around a similar date.

Whichever of these is true, there is no doubt that generations of billies and nannies came and went, at times causing significant trouble to those trying to live in the lighthouse residences (yep, they ate washing from the line) and those seeking to regenerate Cape Byron (anyone who knows goats will understand how determined they can be to eat a lush new seedling).

That was until 2006 when most of the goats were taken away by National Parks. Then, a year or so after, one lone goat reappeared (Daisy the goat from the Endeavour would have been able to relate to the experience of being a lone goat).

Whether she was a survivor of the original herd or reintroduced by someone who missed the goats’ presence on the headland, Wategoat (named after the nearby Wategos beach) evaded capture and seemingly died a natural death in 2013.

Her horn is on display in the Cape Byron Lighthouse’s Maritime Museum (open 10am-4pm daily).

So, if you see a goat-related name pop up around a Byron business or organisation – like the Lone Goat Gallery next door to the Byron Bay Library that was founded soon after Wategoat’s death  – you’ll now understand why.

Vivienne Pearson is a freelance writer whose writing lives at viviennepearson.com

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