Freecamping – An Australian Historical Right

Screen Shot 2013-10-27 at 9.21.33 amThe history of freecamping in Australia begins back to the very first days of the young colony. When Governor Phillip chose a spot to set up camp on what was Aboriginal land, he gave birth to the nations first Freecamp. The Legality of his Freecamp is still being debated in some quarters but the argument has been lost in time and the nations history. However his right to freecamp was never revoked… until most recently by some municipal Councils.

On the 7th of February 1788 when the then ‘New Holland’ or the eastern coastline of Aus. from the 38oS 145o E to the tip of Cape York with an unspecified western border was then annexed to England with the formal establishment of the Colony. The new land claim was called “New South Wales.” This also didn’t include Tasmania/Van Diemen’s Land at the time which was then the recognized claim of the Netherlands, or Holland.

It was on the 7th Feb. that the formal proclamation of the Colony and Arthur Phillips Governorship was announced, not the 26th Jan. as commonly and erroneously taught in our schools. Check out a past post that deals with the omissions and crap taught in education. The history of Australia is often misrepresented by authorities who should be representing Aus. not England.

France was the recognized claimant to the land west of the English claim or Western Australia as it is now known, a little know fact in our history. They were later to surrender their claim as were the Dutch who maps were commonly used by mariners of the day.

squattocracyAustralian history as it is represented to Australians is actually more British or English history than our own. So when you wish to look into the historical growth of a social factor in Australia, you need to look beyond what we are told is our history. A sad fact, no less in what is the present day account of history in Aus. This is why as Australians we should ignore what we are told by the authorities in regards to our national history and look to our own “peoples” experience, or our family history to come anywhere close to the truth.

In uncovering the history of Freecamping, I looked to what was a peoples practice and this is an account of what I found.

Governor Phillip didn’t ask permission of the Aboriginal nations or the Cadi people of New Albion (Sydney Town) as he then named it, he didn’t enquire of the authorities, or then owners of the land as to whether he could camp where he had others pitch his tent. Though he did try to make friends with them and failed dismally. They considered him a poor camping companion I don’t doubt. His camp was loud, noisy and the leaders were unable to control the kids, despite the strange new weapons he had his soldiers or warriors use.

I don’t blame the landowners and fellow campers for moving out of the way of such inconsiderate freecampers as they were and largely leaving them to themselves. I have done the very same thing on more than one occasion though admittedly the red-necks I have encountered generally don’t have guns etc .

The Aboriginal tribes who could then lay claim to what we now know as Australia were a diverse group of people very closely attached to Country, theirs. They were not a nation of people but hundreds of language groups, or nations, which shared a continent and archipelago in a myriad of intricate relationships.

I dare say that the idea of a treaty, such as was undertaken in Kiwi Land never entered the heads of the Governors. For a treaty, you needed a King or the such and while the Aboriginal nations had Elders and leaders, Kings were not amongst them until the colonists began to give some leaders that title along with a brass neck plate which the tribes people generally liked.

boat peopleThe Aboriginal mobs were a very collective group of egalitarian Lore and a complex civilization although they then never saw themselves as a nation collectively. Perhaps they were the worlds first truly communist ideology that actually worked, as harsh as it is judged in time. To quote Lieutenant Cook, who wrote in his journal on 23 August 1770: “these people may truly be said to be in the pure state of nature, and may appear to some to be the most wretched upon the earth; but in reality they are far happier than … we Europeans”.

It was no doubt a surprise to the landowners when the freecampers of the First Fleet, became the campers from hell and refused to move on. To make matters worse, after several days they abused the Cadi peoples hospitality in allowing them to camp and adding insult to injury laid claim to the land on the fateful day of the 7th Feb. Thus began the proud tradition of squatting, that which was to become a prerogative of future Australians in the often violent land grab of coming decades.

At this juncture, the Cadi people became the Freecampers, and the budding penal settlement of New Albion or Sydney Town as we later knew it, under the auspice of the Crown of England, became the landowners and it has largely remained that way ever since.

Lucky DevilsThe Harbour mobs, to their credit, mostly ignored them and went on about their business in the hope that they would just up and leave. They didn’t slaughter the newcomers and had no idea what these campers from hell were on about and no doubt cared even less. The concept of someone actually claiming their “Country” never entered their heads until much, much later.

What was the turning point for the colony of Australia no doubt was the arrival of death and disease. Two years down the track the harbour mobs were truly decimated by disease so the freecamping/squatting claims of the young colony became a mute point. There is no doubt that the disease which decimated the Aboriginal population was introduced malady as they had no immunities to these diseases.

The world of Europe and Asia, which was largely a cesspool of disease and death had truly found the legendary great southern continent of Terra Australis and this was the legacy the hapless traders, colonists, felons and seafarers bought with them. Some anarchists have suggested that the diseases were deliberately introduced, which I find rather funny, as tragic as the consequences were. If the authorities of the day were going to import anything… it was going to be food. The young colony was starving at the time.

So Freecamping is effectively the foundation of our nation. It is about time the authorities recognized this indisputable fact and accommodated free campers. It is an Australian custom, an Australian national right exercised in the first instance of our very national history and should be recognized for what it is. If freecampers are wrong… then so were the very foundation stones of our nation.


Jan is an Australian author of Australian Aboriginal Fiction and Travelogues. You can find our more about her books on her web page.

For more posts on Australian History check out the page “Australia an Ancient Land” and for postings on Freecamping check out “Oldies at Large”

7 thoughts on “Freecamping – An Australian Historical Right

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  6. I absolutely love the fact that my ancestors lived with the Original peoples of this land, i also love our families stories of their travels on the East Coast of Australia. Then to meet an indigenous fellow in Taree NSW, at a Indigenous Art Centre a few years ago and me speaking to this fellow about my families stories of living with many Mobs along the East Coast of NSW, and also telling him about my Great Grandfather Fredrick William (Fardie) Pymble, of Pymble Sydney Australia building Clinker Boats for his indigenous friends in return for mustering his cattle out of Bobbin Head Kur-ring-gai National Park, The biggest joy i got was to be told there is registered Rock Carvings in a small cave at Waratah Bay Kur-ring-gai National Park of Fardie’s Clinker Boats….us kids from Berowra used to camp in a wave cave near the rock carvings with my uncle as mentor for us kids age 11. We did not have any idea of the carvings of his boats that were near by. Waratah Bay was known by all us kids at Berowra as Windybanks Bay, as old Mr Windybanks had a shop on the banks of Waratah Bay for all those freecamping in Boats along the back waters of the Hawksbury River and Cowan Creek from Turramurra…..A proud feeling i share of Free Camping Australia…Glenn.

    • These memories are gems Glenn, thank you for sharing. Such memories are what makes Australian cultural heritage as rich as it is, this is our history and it is the best of it.

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