Freecamping is really about Community and I have long held the opinion that any and all towns worthy of their name should have a rest area, or freecamp, freely available to travellers, as they once historically did in Australia. The history of the evolution of the provision of camps for the traveller goes right back to the very first days of the colony when Governor Phillip set up camp on the shores of Botany Bay… then found a better spot and moved to Sydney Cove. Free camping is not only about the travelling community, but also about the communities the travellers move into. Even Governor Phillip recognised this in his endeavour to build a relationship with the locals. But it is something that today has been lost to the demons of commerce.
As the colony evolved and spread slowly throughout the land, the travellers traditionally camped on the edge of town, the place from where the community evolved and fed from. This camp would later find itself in the middle of town quite quickly such as Southbank in Brisbane, and so many other of the old travellers camps originally of our early fast developing towns and cities. It was a place for the traveller to rest up, a place to spell the bullocks and horses and disgorge the trade of the nation. A place for the traveller to, at first, acquaint themselves with the town or district. It was a place for those transitory people to find help and a footing in the community, as well as others in transit or those who were coming and going. On the whole these travellers and people were welcomed and catered for. It was the early bustle of the community on the move up, the coalface in the development of any settlement.
As time moved on and travel became less about transport and commerce and more about holidays, travelling and exploring, many towns evolved their camps into the ‘Council Caravan Park’. Many towns also retained, or relocated the ‘travellers Rest area’ back once more at the town skirts and many simply lost these places to commerce completely. Some even evolved to become the towns Show Grounds and recreation areas, preserved for the local events mostly, but also catering to travellers as some do today. Places where the circus’s of yesteryear came to town… and then commerce moved in.
In most recent decades many of the hospitable, free or low cost camps have evolved into highly tariffed Holiday Parks in many area’s, catering for the holidaymaker exclusively or as places for temporary/permanent accommodation where towns have failed to grow into full communities which manage to cater for their more permanent residents. Travellers now find themselves seeking and needing a return back to something, which caters once more to the traveller and those on the wallaby. Those who merely wish only to rest-up, stock-up and move on to further explore this vast country. We don’t all want, nor need a holiday park and for the traveller these places are not at all what we are looking for.
Some towns still cater for the traveller though, and some places do this particularly well, usually where a blend has been achieved between the social and economic needs of the locals and those of the traveller seeking a freecamp to hole up for a while. Towns largely use their rest area’s and freecamps in many different ways depending on the community spirit and the energy of the locals.
In some towns, such as Broome in WA, Airlie in the Whitsundays Qld or Byron and Coffs Harbour in NSW and a few other notoriously hard-line commercial holiday towns, having turned their travellers camps into fully commercial ventures or caravan parks that are usually privately run and/or managed by Councillor’s, now cater only to Holidaymakers, preferably those cashed-up. Here the traveller has been ignored or forgotten in the hope that they will suddenly turn into Holidaymakers. And sometimes they do, but it’s a resentful and uneasy transition that keeps more travellers away, than it attracts.
Yet there is the flip side of this coin. There are towns, which openly encourage and enjoy the arrival of the traveller and this is generally where the whole community benefits from the custom of thousands upon thousands of travellers, grey nomads and international adventurers arriving throughout the year. These travellers are attracted by the hospitable nature of the nearby towns, the activity of local events and the good, welcoming reputation many of these towns have developed.
We recently enjoyed such a camp, and we truly had a delightful experience. In Coopernook State Forest near Taree in NSW there is a much loved freecamp and reserve, which has a history that is not only hospitable but one which is celebrated by many of the small towns around the area. Quite unexpectedly we chanced upon the promise of a local event at the reserve, one organized to raise funds to preserve the heritage and history of the sole logging hut remaining at the camp, one destined to become a local museum.
You see this reserve has served its community well since the very first days of its development. Coopernook Forestry Reserve, was born in the early days of the logging industry where men would leave their homes and come to work within the forest during the week, delicately and with skill, selectively felling the great trees of the forest. The logging camp had a number of small camp cottages, now gone, but as the men ventured into the forest they would take the time to preserve those magnificent leghorn ferns and bush orchids, stripping them carefully from the trees they felled and planting them high into a magnificent tree behind the Foreman’s cottage. That tree is still there today and it is carefully tended by the caretakers and locals. It is a tree much loved along with various reserve fruit trees and the odd pumpkin vine. It is a tree which holds within its branches the history in the endeavour of the men who tended the forests a lifetime ago.
There are other trees of history scattered around the reserve but the most notable are the avenue of pines planted by the returned servicemen who were sent into the reserve and forest, to recover from their service after the war. Mostly local men, they recouped within the arms of the forest and the proud avenue stands tall, testimony to their own struggle to bring their minds back from the war.
Under these trees, deep in the forest on this weekend, the community had organized a fund raising event to preserve the last of the forest cottages. From all around the locals had gathered to picnic and play along with the travellers and freecampers, the entertainment being organized by the wonderful volunteers from the Mid North Coast Country Music Club and CALF History Group. It was a fun event open and free to all. An event with a stage to entice those to sing along, and sing they did…. It was wonderful to be part of the celebration of life and freedom.
There were sausages, steak and onion on bread available for a moderate cost, along with drinks, coffee, tea and other snacks. Raffles were sold and drawn on the half hour, the prize being of donated gifts. I was so desirous of the prize in the large basket of homemade jams, pickles and delights that I had invested way more than I really should have and it went to a good home… unfortunately not mine.
The entertainments were really a lot of fun and the day a roaring success for the community. Below is a recording of some of the more memorable characters for you to enjoy, fed from Youtube. This is a prime example of how much a community can benefit from providing a reserve, freecamp or rest area, quite aside from the many other benefits travellers bring to any community. It isn’t always about the caravan park or holidays. In fact from any communities point of view… it isn’t about the caravan park at all. We really need to change the focus of the free camping agenda, as promoted by commercial interests, and recognize just what community is all about, wether it be the community of travellers and grey nomads, or the communities they visit or pass through.
It’s really all about people and community.
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Jan is an author and writer, who write’s about her travel experiences as she and The Man tour the vast continent. From the blue oceans to the red deserts you can read all the many varied experiences of traveling across this land.
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