How a former nightclub owner turned an old Byron banana plantation into a booming business

Spurred on by the pandemic and the working-from-home culture, a growing number of young families and Millennials are choosing quality of life and immersion in nature over career advancement and partying.

Certainly this was the case for former Bondi-based hospitality mogul, James Hudson.

“I have a vivid memory one night in my nightclub thinking to myself: ‘there has to be more than this’,” Mr Hudson told

“I had a nightclub, a couple of bars, and a restaurant, all in Bondi…everything was going well. But I was getting older and had a kid on the way and I just had this moment of realisation that I needed to make a change.”

Former nightclub owner James Hudson turned an old Byron banana plantation into a booming business. Picture: Supplied

And that change was the Byron Shire. After making the move to Australia in 2004 from his native UK, he soon discovered the charms of the famed beachside holiday hotspot.

Blessed with jaw-dropping scenery, 300-plus days of sunshine annually, and more beaches than you can shake a stick at, it’s unsurprising that the region lures some two million visitors annually and is one of the country’s most sought after place to live.

“We were going there on holidays quite a lot,” he said. “And, like everyone, it really captured my heart. So, I  thought, well, if I was going to move somewhere, then that would be the place.

“Then, when I was thinking about what I’d do work-wise, I thought — as it’s such a popular tourist destination — that an amazing accommodation option would be a no-brainer, so that sparked my idea. It was still in my familiar world of hospitality, but just not with the craziness or late nights that I was doing in Bondi at the time.”

Beginning his search in 2015, Mr Hudson began to fly up to the area regularly and spent more than two years searching for a suitable property.

“I just took ages!” he recalled. “I mean, even back then the property market was really hot. I also had to make sure that everything stacked up and that it would work on a commercial level.”

In 2017, Mr Hudson finally found what he was looking for, but it was far from a clear cut decision.

James Hudson is the founder of boutique Byron resort Blackbird. Picture: Supplied

“The first time I looked at the acreage I turned around to the agent and said ‘forget it!’”, he said. “You needed a serious four wheel drive just to get up there and you couldn’t see anything.  It was just very off putting, which is probably why it was on the market for more than five years!”

“But time went by and, getting more frustrated at the lack of affordable and suitable properties, I went to look at it again and then crunched numbers and figured out where it was geographically and topography wise and then did all the calculations about what I’d have to do to clear the invasive species and to sort of strip it back to ground zero and then decided to put in a low offer — an offer I wasn’t expecting them to accept! But, they did and I was like: ‘okay, well, here we go!’”

Clearing and transforming the former banana plantation into boutique accommodation was fraught with red tape. Picture: Supplied

Read more: Five tree-changers reveal what it’s really like to move to the country.

A former banana plantation positioned high up in the hills of the Nightcap National Park —  one of Australia’s largest subtropical rainforests — above the sleepy hinterland town of Mullumbimby, the lush acreage boasts spectacular views eastwards to Cape Byron and the Pacific Ocean and Mount Chincogan in the distance.

“I think the plan to have a home and business on the same location just makes sense when you have a large acreage,” explained the British-born entrepreneur. “It’s kind of part of that tree change dream, whether you are farming, or offering accommodation, it just makes sense.

“In my case, the biggest hurdles were the local council because of a couple of neighbours with pitchforks! But it was really just the bureaucratic nature of it all and, considering that I was doing something so small and so ecologically respectful, it felt hugely disproportionate.

“It was like I was trying to build a massive shopping centre in an eco zone!”

The property has spectacular views of Cape Byron and Mount Chincogan in the distance. Picture: Supplied

Red tape and petty council bureaucracy aside, Mr Hudson persevered and his vision for an an intimate, eco-luxe oasis, gradually began to take shape.

“It hasn’t been easy — in fact, it has been really hard. Maybe it has been a lesson for me from the universe in tenacity, or in terms of something that has pushed me beyond my limits to to get to where I am now. There were many times when there were road blocks that tempted me to give up, but I just forced myself to keep going.”

Self-contained villas overlook a magnesium infinity pool. Picture: Supplied

Happily, he did and the result is Blackbird Byron. Opening its doors in 2018 the boutique retreat comprises a trio of self-contained villas and a central dining pavilion set next to a communal infinity magnesium mineral infinity pool with magnificent views to the gleaming Pacific Ocean beyond.

While Mr Hudson has made a successful tree change with both a happy home and thriving business, he admits that it has taken time to adjust to life away for the big smoke.

“The fantasy of Byron is one thing, the reality is another!” he conceded. “It would be great if it was all ‘peace and love, hippie values and acceptance’, but there is an enormous population of naysayers here and people who have very strong opinions and aren’t willing to budge on their point of view. It’s very extreme.

“However, the biggest pro to a tree change is being in control of your future and making the decisions and choices to grow and to build things, whether it’s physically building things or, building relationships, or a veggie garden!”

The pool area is a showstopper. Picture: Supplied

With a large acreage comes large responsibilities and, seven years after purchasing what is now Blackbird, he’s embarking on another stage in the development of his property.

“I’m building a new home for me and my kids,” he said. We’ve been living in a 58-square-metre flat for the last five years and all sort of sleeping in the same room while everything’s been going on. So, it’s something pretty basic, but it will be our home.”

While the appeal of a life away from the city on a sprawling acreage seems can’t be denied, is it really all bucolic bliss? And, if he knew what he knows now, would he do it all over again?

“Yeah, I think so,” he said. “I reflect on all of the ups and downs, the heartache, and tears and laughter, and then I’ll be alone in the pool area and taking in the view and I’ll pinch myself that it’s mine.


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“Whether this will be my ‘forever home’, I’m not sure. I think I’ll come back to that when the kids have flown the nest, and then I’ll think about I think about what direction I want to take my life in at that point.

“I might be entertained by a very attractive offer — everything has a price! — and I’ve always got new projects in the pipeline but, for now, this is it.”