envelope-budgetPortraying ‘Freedom Campers’ as freeloaders is misleading. (‘Free camping on the rise?’, February 3).
It portrays ‘Freedom Campers’ as freeloaders, but nothing could be further from the truth, and I would like to dispel a few myths.
Bass Coast relies heavily on tourism; during the peak periods, caravan parks are full, and local businesses prosper. During the off-peak, however, some businesses struggle and it is imperative to encourage tourists.
I have been travelling this wide, brown land for 13 years, and I see myself very much as a Freedom Camper, but each year I still manage to spend
around $35,000.
I don’t know where it all goes, but there’s no doubt that it goes.
I rarely use caravan parks; their product, with boom gates, tiny sites, parking shoulder to shoulder like palings on a fence, no view, no pets, no large vehicles, no room at peak periods, no swimming after nine, book early, leave by 10 — it’s not for me.
I’d much rather spend that money buying a nice lunch and camp beside a billabong somewhere. There’s the rub: if I am not in your town, your town will not benefit from my custom, and there are thousands more like me.
Admittedly, some Freedom Campers (usually international backpackers) will stay overnight in highly visible areas — foreshores, and local parks. Others, the Grey Nomads, are much more ‘discreet’ or as your article implies, ‘cagey’ and are usually not seen by anybody and the statement that they ‘clog up access to the beach’ is a shameful exaggeration.
Their presence in less frequented areas, however, deters vandalism, littering, and other illicit activity while their trade provides a massive and needed boost to local businesses, particularly in the off-peak seasons.
The article also implied that in many parts of Australia, this source of income is embraced and nurtured, providing a huge boost to those towns that take the plunge. That’s very true, and St Marys, Duaringa, Home Hill, and Cooktown are just a few prime examples — they are reaping the benefits, while their narrow minded neighbours up the road are still hounding the so-called free-campers.
Here’s a tip: the ones that adopt it soonest, benefit most.
Wherever Freedom Camping is embraced, more visitors come, and the whole town benefits from increased trade: rates can be kept low, and services maintained. It’s called prosperity.
The Caravan Parks, of course, will object — they pay their fees and rates, so why shouldn’t local laws be enforced, and their income protected?
Part of the problem is that all new recreational vehicles (RV) are independent of town services to some degree, and that is a very good indicator of the goals of the owners.
The Campervan and Motorhome Club of Australia (CMCA) has carried out extensive, and independent, research into the habits of the Grey Nomads. Interestingly, a large percentage of them, do not want to use caravan parks at any price.
The RV industry is changing, and it is naive to simply dismiss such a potential source of income as ‘an ongoing problem’ without reference to the research, or further study.
If it is, indeed, a problem, it is similar in nature to the naughty restaurants who were prohibited from having their tables and chairs on the footpath.
The logistics, and cost, of policing illegal, over-night staying is almost prohibitive, and will only prevent the behaviour by alienating its adherents.
My advice to Bass Coast is to take a fresh look. Access the CMCA research, consult with other districts/councils who have seen the light and are already reaping considerable benefit, and stage a (low cost — not free) trial in an out of the way area.
Set some parameters, and enlist the help of local volunteers to monitor, and report any misbehaviour.
At the start of the trial, measure visitation, attendance, and trade figures, and again in (say) 12 months’ time.
Recreational vehicles (caravans and motorhomes) are becoming increasingly independent of town services.
That might be taken as an indicator of the hopes and aspirations of their owners, and as the research indicates: many would stay away, rather than be forced in to caravan parks. That goes for me too.
Geoff Phillips, Killarney.