THE Walkerville Foreshore Management Committee has decided to change its system for allocating sites at the peak times in the Walkerville Foreshore Camping Reserve.
And the regulars who’ve had dibs on the best of the park’s 160 sites for decades are livid.
They’re not only angry at possibly losing their prime spots in the caravan park, which they have enjoyed with generations of their families and friends, some for more than half a century. They’re also annoyed at the failure of the foreshore management committee to consult with them about the changes.
But they’re not about to take the likely loss of their treasured annual holiday community and family get-togethers lying down.
They’ve already collected hundreds of signatures calling on the committee of management to revert to the old system, and they plan to present the petition to the committee, to the council, to the department and also to the State Government.
Their petition prayer is as follows:
“We the undersigned are long-term regular campers at the Walkerville North Foreshore Reserve. We are petitioning for consideration of our rights to continue long term access to sites within the camping grounds that have been historically, regularly and continuously used by ourselves and our families over extended periods of time.”
Leading the push for the committee of management to change back to the old system of bookings are long-term summer holiday campers, Jim Billing and Alan Howell.
“They’ve basically blown up our community down here. That’s what it’s all about for us. Getting back together again each year with our family and friends and now that’s all gone,” said long-term regular Alan Howell.
“Instead of being able to book our site again, we’ll have to go online on May 1 and try to get the site we want but there’s no guarantee we’ll get this site or any site for that matter and it’s unlikely we’ll be with our extended family and other friends.
“We look forward to this all year. We come down here and we look after each other. If someone is going away for a few days, they don’t need to worry.”
Mr Howell said his father, Roy Howell, had been coming to the camping area since he was a kid and he recently celebrated his 89th birthday.
“We have five sites between five families. There’s my sister-in-law over there and her family, cousins, nieces, nephews. There’s four generations of us here this year. It’s the only time our whole family gets together and we’ve probably lost that now.”
Jim Billing, who has helped raise the petition to try and stop the change said he appreciated that the present system favoured those who rebooked their site year after year but said the community that had developed over the decades was worth preserving.
“People might say we’re selfish, but we love coming down here every year with our family.
“They get 10 per cent to 20 per cent turnover each year, so there’s plenty of new people coming in,” Mr Billing said.
“The main thing is that there has been no consultation. They’ve put up the fees substantially as well,” he said from a modest $32 per night to $45.
“They’ve said it’s in line with other parks and we accept that, but it would have been a simple courtesy for them to consult us about the change in booking.
Just sending us a letter to say it’s happening isn’t consultation.”
Other regulars threw their comments in, during a visit to the park by the Sentinel-Times last weekend, saying that because they were regulars, they’d often looked further afield for entertainment, playing golf at Meeniyan or Foster, going to the races and markets, local supermarkets or eating meals out at local venues.
“Newcomers won’t be doing that. They’ll just come with everything they need and be content to explore around here. The local business community and golf clubs etc will miss out.
“I don’t think they’ve looked too hard into the impact of this change.”
One of their supporters, Don Atkins, himself a former member of the foreshore management committee, says the present regime has form when it comes to treating the public shabbily.
He claimed their latest effort, to disrupt the campers, follows changes they’ve brought about at the Walkerville North and Walkerville South boat launching areas which he says are designed to reduce the number of fishermen accessing the area.
“They don’t want anyone to come down here,” Mr Atkins claimed.
But others have welcomed the opening up of the 160 sites at Walkerville to everyone, via an online booking service, as “a fair go for all”.
President of the Walkerville Foreshore Management Committee Bill Bray is aware of the concern expressed by a number of campers but he’s also heard from others who holiday in the park or would like to in the future that they are pleased the site bookings are being opened up.
“As a committee we are appointed by the Crown to manage the Walkerville Foreshore Camping Reserve in the best way possible and we made a decision to change from the old system of ringing up and booking sites to being able to go online and look at the sites available for what period of time and booking and paying for it in one transaction,” Mr Bray said.
“It’s the sort of system that many parks and accommodation places already have in place, and have done for years, and felt it was right to move with the times.
“It’s due to come into play on May 1 and people will be able to go on line then and book their sites.
“We’re aware that there have been people holidaying at some of these sites for many years and we acknowledge that they’ve got some concerns but there’s nothing to say that they’ll miss out on their choice of a site, we’ll just have to wait and see.
“We’ve also had some feedback that other people in the park are pleased we’re opening up the whole booking process. They said they’d like to get a crack at some of the sites that have been well held over the years but of course, there’s no guarantee they’ll get them anyway.
“We just feel it’s a fairer system all round and being an online system, it’s what people are expecting to see these days.”
Mr Bray said he was interested in the comments that camping park users had not been kept informed or consulted with before a decision was made.
“We’re appointed by the Crown to manage the reserve and we can’t be going back to people every time a decision needs to be made. The committee made the decision and we’re just getting on with it.
“We sent out a letter 12 months ago that we were looking at changing the booking system and invited people to contact us. And we made sure everyone was aware of it when they came in this year with detailed information on how it would work.
“We think it’s a fairer system giving the broader community a chance to holiday at Walkerville. We’ll look at it again later in the year and if it needs some tweaking for next year we’ll certainly look at that.”
Mr Bray said some people had indicated their intention to come along to the foreshore committee’s meeting on Thursday, January 24, at the Walkerville Hall, when in accordance with the committee’s policy, members of the community could ask questions and address the board for 30 minutes at the start of the meeting.
“We’d be pleased to hear some feedback but after that we’ve got to be getting on with the rest of our business.
“And as far as paradise being lost, Walkerville as a paradise is still going to be there for everyone to enjoy and will continue to be well into the future.”