We’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.
As 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.
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?
Online 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.
They 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.
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.
The 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.
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.