Is offering limited free camping within a town the answer to controlling illegal caravanning and keeping tourists’ dollars in town, or is it a hazard to the industry and encouraging disrespect?
While in the top end of Australia and along the backpacker trail of North Queensland, locals and councils struggle with caravans and campers in public spaces, in South Australia councils are actually considering limited time free camping in order to maintain tourists in their town.
The Wattle Range Council in South Australia has begun an initiative to allow overnight or a few day camping in selected town area along the Limestone Coast. The Mayor Peter Gandolfi believes that moving illegal campers on or fines deters them from staying in the town and spending money.
But local caravan park owners such as Mark Dommenz of the Millicent Lakeside Caravan Park oppose the proposal. "It will affect our business because a lot of these people just come in overnight and don't spend any money in town as well.”
In addition he claims they free load off of fee paying campers’ amenities. “I know we've had a lot of trouble with free campers at the swimming lake here, because we're right near it and people always try to sneak down and use our toilets and showers."
Mr Dommenz is also questioning how the council will police the number of nights that people stay.
Meanwhile in Darwin and along the Cairns coast some residents complain that illegal campers disrupt normal life, washing their clothes in buckets and hanging them out to dry in public parks.
“This activity destroys the amenity of our public open spaces, creates littering issues, undermines the accommodation industry and is not tolerated by the local residents,” Darwin`s Lord Mayor Katrina Fong Lim told the NT News.
Understanding Illegal Campers
On Fraser Coast both the `Grey Nomads` and backpackers via for affordable positions and inevitably some can`t afford the $50 plus. Backpacker David Caldwell, 24, told the Fraser Island Chronicle, "When you go camping, you like to do it on the cheap because you've invested in all the camping gear."
Other problems included not enough spaces in peak season forcing caravans and campers to park in public places overnight. Caravanning, after all, is supposed to be the freedom to go when and where you want, not about preplanning sites months in advance.
Problems with Enforcing the Law
More than 60 fines for illegal camping were dealt by council workers in a two-week blitz across Cairns in late March 2014, but many of these fines will go unpaid. Darwin City Council has found only 30% of fines against backpackers sleeping in vans are paid.
Jimmy Gesrochas, 23, from French Basque Country, explained to the Cairns Post that backpackers risk a $220 fine for camping illegally because they know once they have return to their home country, the fine can`t be chased. One fine per week paid will work out cheaper than seven nights in a caravan park in many cases any way.
Forums discussing the illegal camping in The Cairns Post online have some readers suggesting using revenue from the fines to develop an area with facilities close to town to host backpackers. But other insist illegal campers make the town look messy and show no respect for law.
The Wattle Range Council is taking comments on the issue until April 30.