We’ve been kicking around the dust in Western Australia now for some months having a simply glorious time. We’ve also been getting involved in stoushes over freecamping vs caravan parks. Why? I do not know as they are as far removed from each other as anything could be but many people do not see this. I have heard and read more than one comment on the comparisons between the eastern and western states when it come to free camps and rest area’s.
The most surprising thing is that many Western Australians really do not appreciate or understand the vast differences in this lifestyle and living in the provision of rest area’s and freecamps between the two opposite coastlines. Western Aus’s position is closely reminiscent of what you can find and experience in the northern hemisphere when it comes to travellers and it is moving closer to this outlook unfortunately, in contradiction to what can be viewed as truly an Australian sense of hospitality. While on the east coast, travelling though WA is something of a mystery associated with advice on predatory holiday town practices, few free camps and rest stops and unknown geography where sand rules, green forests are scattered and the land is much flatter.
In the US, as an example of a dearth of services for the traveller, freecamping largely no longer exists. Commerce rules and it is one of the more distasteful realities of the United States. Even the provision of rest area’s for travellers largely no longer exists… in fact public toilets are quite few and far between. I made the comment on a blog about our adventures in the NW of the US, available also in a cheap little ebook on travelling round The Rockies. I mentioned how I had of necessity, learnt to pee behind a tree in the US. As while they provide some excellent info’ boards on history and geology on the side of the roads and at bays, there were few public toilets. At least your companions had something to read while you found a convenient tree.
There are of course vast differences in population between sunset-side and sunrise-side of Aus’… huge differences! There are also more settlements or towns sunrise-side and more services for the traveller. This is understandable to some degree and can be seen in the map that numbers of reststops and freecamps on both sides of the continent at this great little on-line site… For a better look at this interactive map follow the link and check out the numbers in the little camp boxes. There can be no argument here.
Sunrise side caters for travellers to a much larger degree than sunset side, or WA does and this is likely due to population density … they don’t commonly count travellers to the region or town much when they consider many public services which is really odd as the services are often for the traveller as well as the resident.
I have free camped up and down the east coastline and inland for much of my life and my family has a long, long history in this. I am more than familiar with well equipped rest area’s and freecamps there than anywhere else and those less equipped which are often as popular. When it comes to comparing the west coast and inland and the east coast and inland in freecamps, there simply is no comparison. It is like comparing oranges and banana’s.
Western Australia has some magnificent wilderness, and some simply gorgeous and well appointed freecamps and some that aren’t at all serviced in any way but are still simply georgeous. However they do not have the number of freecamps needed for this vast state, nor certainly any within reach of many of their towns to provide any convenient service to the traveller. They promote instead remote freecamping … and you can freecamp or freely rest from traveling under current legislation outside the town boundaries.
Whereas on the east coast many towns have learnt the value of the freecamper and traveller, they appreciate the custom and increased prosperity they bring to their towns even to the point where the local pub will offer freecamping within reach of their door. A boon for everyone … a win, win. These towns will go out of their way to attract the travelling public and the freecamper and in many cases it has been their salvation.
On the west coast it seems that the caravan park proprietor has a lot of say in towns. Unfortunately what they say and legislate about in regards to the traveller usually has a negative impact on other businesses, something they don’t like to mention.
The like of which can be seen in recent legislation passed in Cobar NSW by the council. An extraordinary piece of ‘bogan’ legislation that clearly favours the local caravan park and their cash line over all other business in town. This came up on the ‘Facebook site for Freecamping Australia.
This obviously occurs on both coastlines but common sense is prevailing on the eastern side more quickly under the pressure of a growing travelling demographic of what is commonly termed ‘the grey nomad’ and the seasonal pressure of young international tourists on the move as can be seen with the recent changes at Byron Bay in regards to freecampers. These groups or demographics do not always seek the services and facilities of caravan parks and this is not going to change. If the west coast wants to attract these travellers then they are seriously going to have to do something with the attitudes of many towns, particularly those few along the vast coastline. ‘Suck it up and pay the camp site fees’ is irrelevant to many travellers who view these places as short term and pricey holiday camps, better to be avoided.
Years ago you could expect to camp-up just outside of any town to rest, or conduct business if needed. It was an expectation that was not questioned, even to the point where councils would set aside an area just for this purpose. The Southbank in Brisbane was such a place or the now beautiful Queens Park in Ipswich to name just a few. The greater metropolis of Sydney had the same at La Peruse or Botany Bay, Como, Bankstown and many others. They were free camp area’s for travellers and in many cases they went on to become council caravan parks where you and even holidayers could stay for a small tariff which serviced the few facilities. Many were sold on to become commercial enterprise and they developed into many of the town caravan parks you see today.
However now people have got greedy and these high tariffed caravan and holiday park enterprises are now agitating to exclude the free camper, the independent business traveller and the people who require a reststop overnight. Those people and that public camp which often bought about the very existence of the same caravan park. Vicious circle that one.
What is never mentioned though is that firstly the caravan park is not the only business in town. Some travellers do not always require nor need a holiday park, nor many of the facilities they provide.
La Perouse in Sydney, and the old Botany Bay camps, and their history, is of particular interest to me because here you can find many comparisons between the demographics of Western Australian population, particularly in the northern reaches of the state and that of the transitory population or traveller.
Personally I have an interest in the social pressures of such a mix of cultures and socio-economic groups, ie the country or bush cultures wanting to merge with that of a city. My Great Grandparents were very involved in philanthropic work and providing for the unemployed in these camps during the years of the depression. The provision of freecamps near town in Western Australia has a philanthropic side to it that is often overlooked or ignored by the employed and prosperous. The history of La Perouse talks of the ‘depression shanty towns’ of Sydney and they were not largely slums as many would suggest. People would suggest this, of town freecamps too … and they would be equally mistaken.
The point is that in history these free camps ultimately led to prosperity for the town and the people. Perhaps this is the lesson we should draw from history and not surprisingly it is the exact opposite of what many Western Australian towns are legislating for, as mentioned in my recent post on Freecamps, Reststops and Travellers in WA.
So if you are one of the many Easteners who are considering venturing over to the sunset side for a stint, don’t expect to find many RV friendly towns. They are largely designed for the holiday maker, short term, cashed up and FIFO. However the National Parks and reserves are brilliant and wilderness camping exceptional along the coast and deep into the Kimberley … I would recommend a forbie though. Inland they are kinder to the RV traveller and Grey Nomad and the prettiest little town I ever did see has to be Cue … deep down the miners trail in the Pilbara. In the SW corner there are more opportunities for the travelling grey nomad, more akin to the sunrise side and it is also a truly beautiful and unique region.
Take the opportunity to enquire at the vast stations of the northern regions (ring in from a town), some cater for the visiting traveller while others show the hospitality that Australia is renown for. Also don’t forget the accommodation provisions provided for with the miners rights in licencing that allows you to camp up on crown land. You can pick up a cheap toy metal detector (they actually work on gunshot, by far my biggest find) for around $60-$80 from a number of electronic shops and although you wont find much gold with them… the exercise will do you good but know the rules if you don’t want to get shot! These little units are great for beaches too and finding the odd curiosity. You can get a WA miners licence – lifelong – at many government outlets.
Travel well … we do.
Jan is a traveller and a author. You can find her books at Amazon.com.