Freecamps, Reststops and Travellers in WA

WA regionsWe’re presently in Western Australia as most of my regular readers know. I have to admit to some trepidation as we approached the state a few months ago intending to freecamp and explore. In the years before we even got here we had heard of the predatory practices of some WA towns in regards to tourists and travellers and this certainly concerned us.

Visiting WA was not entirely an unknown, we have been here many times before. We have flown in, driven in and stayed for extended periods. I spent 3 months in Kalgoorlie and had a truly wonderful time and we have toured the SW corner on a number of occasions. We’ve explored Walpole, Albany (sorta) and many other places spending long hours in the beautiful tall forests and sandy beaches of the region. We couldn’t find anywhere to park in Esperance so we breezed through there as with many places.

This time around though the experience is different. Firstly we got well into the Kimberley’s, an area we have been saving for a time when we had heaps of time. I love the region and we will be back for sure… and soon. We dipped our toes into the Pilbara, a vast area below the Kimberley’s and this too is another region we will definitely be revisiting.

Presently we are exploring the Goldfields again and will be doing so for a few more months with forays into the South West. In all this time flapping around the regions of WA we have put to bed our ignorance of freecamping in this region and just how accommodating WA towns are or aren’t throughout this vast state.

fur kidsAs many of you know we travel with the fur kids, two of them. This restricts the places you can visit as National Parks don’t let you take fur kids into the parks. We can live with that because we hadn’t planned on spending a lot of time in the parks, we are on something of a reconnoitre this time around. In our next foray, being currently planned, we won’t have the fur kids with us. Next trip ‘around’ they will be staying back at the homesite with the Baby Boy (now in his 30’s) and we will be exploring  without their company, something I’m not actually looking forward too.

We love travelling with the fur kids and there are some huge advantages in having them around, security being the best of these. We have managed quite well and can report that a number of the wonderful locals in country towns on the east coast now will offer to babysit the fur kids while we go places and do things that the fur kids can’t do. I don’t mean dog kennels as this doesn’t work for us personally for a number of reasons. What I mean is locals have offered to dog-sit for a few hours while we are off doing what we want to do… this in exchange for a few dollars and it is a much appreciated service.

There are many small services and facilities that towns offer around the place which make these places RV friendly and there are many towns that seriously have no idea what RV friendly means. WA abounds in them and I think it has a lot to do with population and experience. WA has catered to FIFO visitors for a long time. Those ‘Fly in Fly Out’ workers and the FIFO tourist… they do this quiet well but they seriously have to rethink their approach to the many long term and self-sufficient Aussie travellers.

The Grey Nomad, or Aussie adventurer who is travelling the country; and yes… even the homeless or footloose such as the bushwacked members of society of no fixed address, are demographic forces in their own right. They are also taxpayers and members of the public and should be considered when it comes to public facilities. A town that caters only for the short-term holidaymaker can expect a downturn in business out of season. These places are definitely ‘tourist towns’, they are generally only looking to attract the higher end of the tourist market, which is also the seasonal end. This is commonly obvious by the still high tariffs they charge for ‘out of season’ accommodation and the lack of public facilities for the RVer’s, freecampers and general travellers.

A sign that many WA towns badly need

A sign that many WA towns badly need

So why then do they complain when their caravan parks empty out of season and why do they insist that if you, ‘meaning everyone’, visit their town with a van or RV… then you MUST stay in their often seasonally ‘overpriced’ caravan parks.

Many of the coastal towns in WA cater for the independent and self sufficient travellers particularly badly. They see them as FIFO visitors or the DIDO holidayer when they are anything but this. People who live for extended periods, or permanently in their travelling homes or caravans are a huge and growing demographic with plenty of time usually, and resources they carefully manage. They are largely retired or semi-retired Aussies and the young international traveller here on a working visa, often working at seasonal jobs or supporting the demand for workers in remote areas.

Just because a person manages and budgets their resources doesn’t mean they have few resources. It means that they budget to do the things they want and to allow for the things they need. If you have a self contained RV then you neither always want, nor need to stay in a caravan park. This demographic is commonly not on holiday… it is a lifestyle they have chosen. So why do restrictive towns expect them to choose the things a person on holiday would choose?

camp signOnline I often get involved in friendly exchanges of opinion and sometimes hostile stoushes over this issue. The problem is people mistake the Grey Nomad for a holidaymaker and expect us to act as such. Generally the person who turns hostile is associated in some way with caravan parks and wants to insist anyone owning a caravan or RV should use their caravan park regardless of the tariffs they charge… they think that this will bring in revenue for the park owner who more often than not associated with the local council. Their rationale is flawed however as freecampers will more often than not, just move on to the next free camp, or they will have plans to stop only for a short time rather than any extended stay when tariffs are high. Providing a free camp or rest stop for the traveller does not generally draw from the pool of those who plan a holiday at a caravan park. However freecamps do attract travellers to a town and consequently valued custom.

It is the local council who dictates local town regulations in regards to available local rest stops and to me this indicates a serious conflict of interest when it comes to a vote on any freecamps and reststops. The actions of these councillors and people in restricting or dispensing all together with local rest stops for travellers, also prevent the other businesses in their town from benefiting from the custom of the traveller who really only needs a 24-48 hour stopover. Or indeed any traveller who prefers not to use a holiday park for whatever reason.

Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 7.58.22 amThey argue that the backpacker fraternity, or the international traveller (lumping Grey Nomads in with these travellers) or anyone living out of a van leaves behind unsightly litter, or strings washing in public places and this is not desirable. Might I suggest they take that up with the backpacking fraternity… not the Aussie traveller or RVer.

As a traveller I am familiar with the antics of backpackers and some can be a grotty inconsiderate lot. They will nick the toilet paper and leave litter. When we come across these practices we are usually quite open about bad behaviour and endeavour to help them to understand what is common and accepted practice in Aus’. A few simply need some social manners and are ignorant of the etiquette concerning freecamping however when spoken too they commonly are quite apologetic and friendly.

RV friendly towns are those wonderful places such as Home Hill near Ayr and many others that offer welcome hospitality to the traveller. They are mostly on the East Coast of Aus’ and many of the little country towns inland. They do this particularly well, benefiting from their public facilities in enjoying the custom the long-term traveller brings to their towns. The Pilbara Regional Council seems to understand this as they do provide some great services in the inland region for the traveller in equipping some of their rest stops as well as and other public projects aimed at servicing the travelling public. It is a shame that so many of the towns in WA don’t follow through.

The towns of WA such as Broome, Exmouth and Esperance, to name just a few, are well behind the east coast in offering hospitality to travellers. They don’t cater for the bushwhacked or homeless either… in fact they are quite remiss in many area’s that are of a public service. It could be said that their interest are purely in the commercial concerns of a few, those benefiting from the holidaymakers who make their way to these towns in season. So they shouldn’t complain when the season of ‘making hay’ is over and most holidaying DIDO’s and FIDO’s leave town.

Swimming in Lake Argyle

We, as Grey Nomads who live full time in our vans do not always wish to stay in caravan parks. Personally it is not something I choose to do unless I am on a ‘holiday’. I prefer the bush. I prefer the wilderness places and the freedoms of our wonderful land. I prefer to hear the birds and the surf or the sounds and quiet of the countryside rather than the traffic, or the noise of others parked just a few feet from where I’ve rested my head. We prefer swimming in the surf, streams and lakes rather than contained pools which are built for the entertainment of the vegemiters and the convenience of holiday makers.

Corella Dam CloncurryThe things we look for in a town are information centres, grocery stores, dump sites, parking (a biggie) and we generally like to stay only a night or two in a town to discover what the countryside around offers. A 24-48 hour rest stop is all we need near a town and if there isn’t a reststop available we will plan just to pass through and do only what is absolutely necessary in the time we have. If a freecamp is shady or spacious, has a toilet and tank or water nearby then we consider it a good stop. If it has other facilities like a shower, a local pub close by for a meal out, shops to browse through and walking tracks… then it is excellent. But if it also has information boards, wifi (yes some do) and activities such as fishing, fire pits for happy hour and/or other entertainments then it is a gem. We will consider staying longer before we would head bushside again.

Every town in my opinion should have a free local rest area as they did in times past before these spaces were sold or leased out to commercial interests. I have many fond memories of the economic ‘Council caravan park or rest stop’ of yesteryear. Every town should have short-term facilities and services for the homeless and the free short term rest area’s often served these people… what has happened to the humanity and hospitality of so many of WA’s towns?

Some towns do welcome the travellers and do benefit hugely because of it. Others bitch about freecampers and wonder why their caravan parks are empty, insisting anyone with a caravan or RV should use their caravan park. I liken this to towns who would get rid of public parks where people can picnic and who would insist that you go to the local restaurant… and then wonder why people don’t stop in their towns.

I simply hope that one day, so many of these WA towns will find some humanity and hospitality and realise that there is more to life than a holiday period.

Travel well

Jan is a author and traveller. You can find her books at Amazon.com or discover more about the ancient land of Australia in the Dreaming Series of tales about the Kadaitcha Men of this ancient Lore and the Sprit Children.

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19 thoughts on “Freecamps, Reststops and Travellers in WA

  1. good comments all round . we need to start lobbying from the top, one of the biggest bugbears is that the caravan industry backs caravan parks first whilst manufacturing better equipped rv’s. caravan parks need to acknowledge that most of them are not up with the needs of freedom campers and are basically just too greedy. we are lobbying our local council to get a free camp in town for all you good people and suggest everyone do the same in their home towns. heads against the grindstone.

    • Great suggestion Sue and Jim, thanks for your comment. Most people don’t realise that it is the local council that holds the cards here and without them on board local rest area’s, free camps and even parking spaces to suit the caravaners or travellers simply will not happen. It is my experience also that many councillors have financial interests in their caravan parks… Conflict of interest seems to have no bearing unfortunately. Only the people of the town can change this until government, State or Federal, legislate for the provisions and safety of travellers. Any town worth the name should have at least a 24 hr rest stop.

    • True Warren, though I have heard that there is a push to rectify the lack of facilities for the traveler in the Esperance are. Luckily Albany region next door picks up the slack and the National Parks around there are simply stunning.

    • Thanks for your comment Wendy, it is very much appreciated. The life of the traveller is my own and we have a beautiful country to explore. It is a privilege we should appreciate and enjoy and to be understood where ever we roam is something that is priceless. Travel well 🙂

      • Thankya for your comment Marc, WA is a great place but it does lack the facilities to accommodate travellers as they are largely focused on holidaymakers. I put it down to a lack of population pressure and ignorance on the needs of the travelling public but hopefully it will change in time.

  2. Pingback: Freecamping – Sunset Side vs Sunrise Side | Jan Hawkins Author

  3. Great article!. I live on the south coast of WA and I have just bought my first RV and intend travelling north next winter, so the information you provide is gold for me. I cringe when I hear so many negative comments about my region and it’s attitude to free campers, and most of it is perfectly valid, I have been and will continue to lobby the two local shires where I live (Manjimup and Denmark).

    I have a farm just 11 ks from town with a great open space. Unfortunately I don’t live on site at the moment but if I did I would definitely welcome free campers, for a small donation to the overseas charity that I support.

    In this area there is certainly some ‘vigilante’ type activity by a local park owner, dubbing in ‘illegal’ campers to the shire in the hope that they will return to his very unfriendly/expensive site. This is deplorable and leaves all of us with a sour taste. We locals pride ourselves in welcoming tourists. It is the life blood of this community.

    The good news for travellers on the south coast near Denmark is that Ayre Saleen (a park on a farm near Kent River) has decided to allow RV space at a very reduced price.$5.50 pp. At least someone is forward thinking in this area! Lets hope that others follow suit.

    On another note I don’t understand why more shires here aren’t more forward thinking like some in the east. Grey nomads often travel with purpose and are more than happy to stay free of charge for a few days or more in return for offering their services as volunteers on community projects. These are often so hard for small communities to fund. Being one, I believe there is a wealth of experience and enthusiasm in this demographic and it is often a resource that is completely overlooked. Towns need to think more outside of the square, and although I hate the expression, it can be a win/win for everyone.

    Love your blog and I will follow it with enthusiasm. Thank you.

  4. Oh I so heartily agree with what you have said here Jan, interestingly last year we travelled the Kimberley region and found some very good free camp areas. Next year we plan to travel SA and SW of WA so am hoping there are a few free camp spots around that area. Camped at Cape Keraudren last year for $65 a week, what a great place. Have just bought a book called ‘Australia Free’ and still studying it.

    • Thanks for your support Marlene, there are some really great free camps in WA and Laurie’s comments have made me see that it is a question for many Eastsiders. I am considering a blog on comparing free camping on both sides as I am finding many people are looking for comparisons in understanding what they might find in travelling over to the sunset side. It is like comparing oranges to banana’s tho 🙂
      The Kimberleys are truly unique and we are returning to that area again as we plan our return lap.. I just adored the place and the wilderness. It was the towns that let us down :/ but then we can work around that. Travel well… I believe there have been some developments in the availability of free camps in SA, we too are looking forward to getting into that area a few months into the New Year… gunna play the golf links as we cross the Nullabor… looking forward to that.

  5. Whilst this is a slap in the face for many WA country towns, I have found through the Facebook Forum, that the same arguments and disputes are prevalent in the Eastern side of the country as well. Don’t be put off visiting us. It’s an amazing place, and certainly as you travel North, much of Jan’s criticism is diminished. The South West area of our state is the most populated, and the most attractive to visitors, and freecamp areas are few and far between …. having said that, there is always somewhere you can pull up for the night. We are slowly adding freecamp and low cost RV Friendly towns to our YouTube Channel. But just be aware, that as freecamp areas become better known, you may find yourself sharing in a situation similar to caravan park. Those Gravel pits and metal dumps really do look attractive at times 🙂

    • Hi Laurie, ‘slap in the face’ is a harsh term, however I do know how that feels when after driving for hours and arriving at a town that caters only for the narrow demographic of the cashed up holiday maker. There are two options… keep driving until you are well out of town (10-20klm) and find a safe roadside or off road park as there is no decent rest area provided for the weary traveller in such townships. Or pay out high tariffs for a holiday park which has facilities that you neither need nor seek-out for one night… being on a budget the 1st option is often the one we choose.
      The ‘sunrise side’ of the continent does cater for the traveller better than the ‘sunset side’ .. but then they are many times more populated. However on the ‘sunset side’ due to the vast distances between towns and the geography the west side is in more need of rest area’s. Some ‘sunrise side’ towns are RV hostile certainly, such as Coffs Harbour however there usually is a good reststop within 60klm… not so on the ‘sunset side’. Having said that… WA has some excellent restareas and economic caravan parks inland, both north and south. WA is an amazing place… agreed. Love the Kimberleys, the Gascoyne the Goldbelt and the southern coast.My favourite has to be De Greys… gorgeous freecamp.
      You mention a Youtube Channel but you don’t say who ‘We’ are? If you could provide a link it would help the readers. Haven’t stayed in a gravel pit for two decades or more… but I wouldn’t ‘nose up’ at it… I now do my research ahead and plan reststops and freecamps like so many of the thousands of Grey Nomads we meet at free camps and reststops… hence we don’t get to stop at many of the RV unfriendly towns. To visit… we need to be able to park somewhere and so many WA towns don’t provide reststops near their towns. Often we will stay in a caravan park for a night but the cost is generally prohibitive in WA RV hostile towns or coastal tourist traps… We would stay a week if the tariffs were set at a reasonable level out-of-season or their security deposits on pups weren’t so high. Living on a fixed income and/or being a Grey Nomad 24/7 requires a degree of management. Homelessness requires a degree of financial management as does commercial travel. So many RV unfriendly towns do not cater at all for these groups even though they have some of the highest need.
      I appreciate your time to comment though… go well

      • G’day Jan. I actually posted my comments on my Facebook page, and copied them here. I have shared your blog, and my comments were in reply to a comment that said that the writer was having second thoughts about visiting the West after reading your Blog.
        I am about promoting this country over “exotic” overseas destinations, and whilst I agree with much of what you have said,I feel that people should be encouraged to experience for themselves and make up their own mind. There are too many East Coasters who feel that the West is so far away, when it fact, it is they, who are so far away 🙂
        You haven’t said specifically what area you are talking about, but I assume that you are talking about the coastal and South West strip. If that is the case, try finding freecamp and low cost camping along almost the entire East Coast of Oz. And as for Off Season and On Season charging, that happens all around the coast in my experience.
        I too travel to a pension budget, and understand totally where you are coming from. I have a company that films our trips, and apart from our DVD collection, have nearly 100 clips on our afore mentioned YouTube site. I also have a Facebook page 4WDozDVD where we voice our opinions, and share opinions such as your own. The You Tube site is https://www.youtube.com/user/lauriekibblewhite?feature=mhee

        There is a CMCA page that lists free and low cost camping in Western Australia, that may also be of interest to your readers.
        http://www.cmca.net.au/services/rv-friendly/rv-friendly-towns?sid=280:western-australia-1

        Keep up the good work. believe me, we are all fighting for the same cause.

  6. Another cracker blog Jan, yes maybe as time rolls on more shires over the West Coast will adapt to change and allow the flow of travelling money, to all businesses , not just their Council owned caravan parks ect. Thanks for your cracker read, safe travels to you all and kindest regards always. Glenn …FCA…

    • Thankya Glenn… I have been amazed at how hostile many of the regulations in coastal towns are to free campers over here. Given that there are so many stunning places to camp in the countryside, particularly along the coast and national parks and given that the town regulations on free campers have forced many ‘Stations’ into developing facilities for campers by sheer demand… I can only hope that these towns will stop and rethink their lack of welcome. Travel well… luv your pics on your travels btw 🙂

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