‘Port Hedland made errors in the boom, but give us another chance!’

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Grey nomads camping in Port Hedland
Port Hedland mayor Camilo Blanco (above left) loves to go camping.

When the Pilbara town of Port Hedland announced recently that it was to offer free overflow camping at its racecourse, it is fair to say that the initiative received a mixed response.

While some grey nomads hailed the move as a step in the right direction, others were disappointed that the overflow camping was only available when other camping areas were at 75% capacity. And many, many, many more still harboured resentment from what they perceived to be the distinctly chilly welcome offered them back when the mining boom was in full swing.

Caravanners and motorhomers recalled being asked for ‘extortionate’ camping fees at a time when the grey dollar was not as needed or valued as it is now … and many vowed they would never return.

However, in response to the stinging criticism, Port Hedland’s mayor Camilo Blanco has appealed for grey nomads to forgive the mistakes of the past, and to give Port Hedland another chance.

“I totally understand the dismay caused over the boom years,” he said. “It was quite common that there were just no sites at all to stay in, or the price was completely outrageous.”

As the owner of an automotive business in Port Hedland, the mayor says he saw first-hand how people who were having trouble with their vehicles then had the added stress of having to deal with accommodation issues.

“On many occasions people would stay with me until their car was mobile again, and we have many friends around Australia because of that,” he said. “The never ending goal now is to ensure we don’t drop the ball on tourism again.”

And he urged grey nomads not to hold previous bad experiences against the people of the town.

“Most people that have lived in Hedland all their lives felt the same way as it affected our lives in much the same way,” he said. “Prices in all areas of life went to extraordinarily high levels … rents were averaging $2,000-$3,000 a week and we could not get anyone to work within the small business sector as everyone was chancing the mining industry big paying jobs.”

And he says that, while things have now shifted to the other extreme, these shifts are not controllable by local government or the people that call Hedland home.

“We are also at the mercy of these economic forces and victims of the rollercoaster in  world supply and demand when it comes to Australia’s raw natural resources,” he said.

Councillor Blanco says that, as a keen ‘nomad’ himself, he understands the problems associated with caravanning. He and his wife, Sam, travelled around Australia in their Kedron caravan in 2009 and they now have a Kimberley Karavan for their off-road adventures.

“I cannot speak for previous councils but times have changed and we are encouraging travellers to stay in Hedland,” he said. “The amenities are very basic but, as we secure funding, we will improve the Hedland experience that will focus around industrial tourism.”






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