Hopping about from camp to camp is without a doubt the best thing about freecamping and it is the people you meet that you remember the most. I once thought that life travelling as a Grey Nomad would be full of like escapee’s or Grey Nomads just like us but this isn’t the case. It has amazed me, the diversity of the people on the road.
Saddest perhaps are the young single parents, single mums mostly with youngsters who are usually pre-school age and are commonly living out of a car. Most every freecamp near any sizable town will have at least one of these small families. Some I have found have chosen this life, though most seem to be struggling with it.
Of the Grey Nomads there a many and as many ideas on how to go about exploring Australia. Most are retired or semi-retired and travelling to somewhere going from A to B and mostly all have ‘visiting the kids’ or friends on the agenda. Freecampers are not seeking holidays in a caravan park so in free camping they are not denying the local caravan business trade, if anything they swell the numbers in caravan parks from time to time.
They simply want to visit someone or have a specific activity in mind and are on their way. They have a need to rest up overnight, or perhaps a night or two. They will go off shopping or exploring locally, will more often than not stop in at the local restaurant, pub or club for a meal and simply relax and explore… are you listening Coffs Harbour, Winton, Gladstone, Exmouth and other RV unfriendly towns?
Freecampers will go to a caravan park if they need electricity or water or perhaps needed to attend to some washing or charge the batteries, even a shower is good. Caravan parks are most used by holidaying families who are looking for entertainment for kids and are on holidays in the town or city to experience the place. Or people looking for long term accommodation due to work etc.
There are of course some Grey Nomads who travel from caravan park to caravan park but who can afford that full time without the occasional freecamping night? Camping free should always be an option available for the traveller to rest. It should be a right for it is within our Australian heritage, it has a time honoured history born of necessity. Forcing caravanners into parks is like trying to force water up hill … it will simply slip away from you and go its own way.
Then there is the dedicated Grey Nomad off on the adventure of a lifetime, be it for a year, two years or for a lifetime. There are a few of us who travel full time exploring local establishments and enjoying local produce and discovering Australia. We are there to experience Australia, and not all towns have caravan parks and not all caravan parks deserve our custom. Nor do we all want to stay in caravan parks anymore than everyone wants to drink only mocca. You can often find these Aussie adventurers walking through towns on the weekends even when so many of the shops are closed. They are instead admiring old architecture or collecting information at the information centres, those wonderful places where you can meet a local and have a yarn. They are discovering Australia in their own way, at their own pace.
The little town of Bulahdelah springs to mind when I think of friendly little towns. It is a glorious hiccup on Highway 1, which sits alongside the Myall River and is now bypassed by the main highway. You need to detour a short distance off the main motorway to drop into the friendly little town. It is only a spit away and the townspeople welcome the free campers as well as those who like to stay in caravan parks. They cater happily for both demographic and they are different demographics.
Staying at their free camp, which sits on the banks of the Myall River is supported by the local Lions club, it is a delightful pleasure. It is the local business men and women, those of the Lions clubs and Rotary and the like who understand what is the lifeblood of their communities. This little freecamp has no amenities to speak of aside from water. The loo is the public facility across the bridge but it is a little gem of a place none the less. Freecamps can be an attraction on their own and a boon for the local businesses and a lot of our struggling little towns are discovering this. There are after all more businesses in town, which require passing trade to survive than simply the local caravan park.
People assume that if you ban free camping then the caravanners will go to the caravan park. Not gunna happen! Freecamping is like stopping for coffee only you spend more usually, in both time and currency. Some people prefer their coffee in a thermos and will sit in a park and enjoy the experience for the experience itself. Others will go to a café to have their coffee with friends or family and most people will choose to do both at different times. Those who are in the café will spend their money there and those in the park with a thermos will drink their coffee, usually walk around the park and other places in the town.
These two types of visitors to a town are entirely different. The person in the café is not likely to go to the park to drink their coffee … and the person in the park with the thermos will not go to the café to drink theirs. When will councils understand this simple reality. If there is no park then the person with the thermos will not stop. They will move on to the next available park and wander around the town there.
The reality is that the caravanner knows where they are headed from camp to camp. When you pack up a camp and move on, you usually have a destination in mind and whether it is a freecamp, or a caravan park, you know what experience you want for the next camp. If a town doesn’t have a freecamp area then you are not going to stop there if you are planning on a freecamp. As a freecamper we do not choose to go to the local caravan park when there is no freecamp … we chose to go elsewhere if it is the freecamping experience we want. Yet a freecamp will attract us to a town and we will stay for a time if we can, and enjoy the town and what it has to offer.
There are those places, towns and cities which are not RV friendly and which are spoken about often amongst travellers, they become notorious for their ill treatment and lack of facilities for the free campers and travellers. More and more we are taking the hinterland roads around Coffs and it’s an unfortunate thing for the businesses of these towns and cities. Winton has so much to offer, but people move on, unable to stop for long and enjoy what the town has to offer because of a few RV Unfriendly and misguided concepts. If you are towing a van then they give you no other option than the caravan park. Which means the town is restricted only to the number of vans which can be accommodated and visitors must like and need caravan parks, motels and rented accommodations. Not all travellers are welcome in these towns and freecampers are choosing other destinations.
When will council learn that freecampers choose to be free campers because they enjoy the practice, the people and the country. Those who like caravan parks will go to caravan parks, and those who require the facilities caravan parks will offer, will use of them. Those who don’t require these facilities will not use them, it is a demographic choice.
You can’t make a sailor ride a bike just because you sell bikes.
Follow Jan’s journey throughout Australia on the ‘Oldies at Large’ page for past postings. Or visit the web page for ‘Oldies at Large Australia’ and check out the resource links available in the Library
For tales in print and e-book, see travel series from ‘Around the Campfire’.