‘When it gets to this extent, you’re just being used’

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Urunga camping
Line-up of vans along Urunga's foreshores area. PIC: Bruce Miller/Courier-Sun

The number of grey nomads and other travellers camping along the riverfront in the New South Wales town of Urunga has started to be seen as a problem … and a crackdown is imminent.

While camping there has long been prohibited, the authorities tended to turn a blind eye when it was just one or two vehicle parking up for a night or two,

However the Bellingen Courier-Sun reports that residents of the mid north coast community who enjoy walking, picnicking, fishing, swimming, sailing or paddling around the foreshores area have become increasingly annoyed by an explosion in the number of motorhomes, campervans and caravans taking up residence.

The number of vehicles camping fluctuates: the Courier-Sun counted 12 on Wednesday afternoon and 25 on Friday morning but one informant said she’s seen as many as 54.

“When we first came a few years ago, there would be a few vans parked in one corner,” local resident Bruce Miller told the newspaper. “It’s gradually increased and over the last few months it’s just exploded.”

He thinks that word has got around on social media that it’s a nice spot by the river where no one hassles you to move along.

“People are always looking for natural, free camp sites and I think the finger’s been pointed here, because it’s such a great area,” he said; “There’s ones that have been there for months, quite a lot of them have been there for several weeks.”

The Courier-Sun reports that locals have complained about recreational vehicles blocking access to boat launch areas and picnic tables, hoses set up to run grey water on the ground and towards the river, rubbish bins overflowing and the sole toilet block being rendered unusable.

Urunga resident Don McKenzie said he’s been walking around the foreshores area for the last 25 years and makes a point of talking to the campers.

“Most of them are good people,” he said. “I’ve always advocated that we should have a designated site for these grey nomads, with a decent amenities block and an honesty box for donations.”

Bellingen Shire Council said it has advocated strongly to Crown Lands regarding the extent of free camping in this area as it does not have jurisdiction. It has been now reported that Crown Lands will be installing ‘No Camping’ signs early next week. However, some think enforcing compliance will be the issue.

“Signs have been put up at various times and taken down by people,” Bruce Miller told the Courier-Sun.  “I think the feeling was when there were a few vans there and people were respectful that we were happy to share our good fortune, but when it gets to this extent, you’re just being used.”

Bellingen Shire says that over the next six months, it will be discussing the management of camping across the shire, including the option of establishing more  camping areas.

  • Have you camped at Urunga? Do you think it has become too popular for its own good? Comment below.
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17 Responses to ‘When it gets to this extent, you’re just being used’

  1. Totally understand the predicament. I would be happy to see the area restricted to self contained vehicles only with a time limit of 72 or 96 hours with a donation requested. If grey nomads can stop in a welcoming town for several days they will (generally) buy fuel, groceries and buy some meals from the local businesses. That system works beautifully in Bulahdelah. I’d not like to see the Ballina or Byron Bay ‘attitude’ enforced in Urunga as that only tells the travellers to keep driving and these days the regional towns need every customer they can get.

  2. Be wary that no camping signs often make a traveller feel unwelcome and will bypass the area.
    A few 72 HR signs is a better option. It’s surprising how many people will comply as they “think” it will be enforced.

  3. Let me tell you something. Grey Nomads do not buy groceries, fuel etc. in small towns. Reason – too expensive. They will hunt out a major supermarket, fill up at larger cheaper service stations. Remember the Grey Nomad mantra – if it ain’t free, it’s no good.

    • Quite incorrect
      There are many many small towns and regions that would not survive if it were not for grey nomads or visitors of any description.
      It is actually the opposite where there is the nomad there is were the dollars are spent.
      Another term is rolling economy.

      • Thank you Ando. I have difficulty with the blanket assumption that Grey Nomads do not patronise the towns which welcome them. Of course you’ll always get a ‘Harry’ but generally most Nomads reciprocate good will. We always spend money in a town where we stay. IGA’s and cafes/bakeries especially. I’m a firm believer in giving money to any town where the caravan parks are NOT dictating policy. We certainly do not patronise caravan parks because their greed does not help a town as much as a bunch of happy Grey Nomads

        • Peta – So caravan parks don’t employ staff (locals), spend money in town at local businesses, pay rates to the Shire Council etc. etc. That’s right, they just take money & send it (what overseas).

    • Harry has not got a clue as every town I’ve been to welcome us with open arms.

    • I will tell you how we travel, we don’t boycott any town but if a town doesn’t want us that’s fine we will just stay somewhere else, its simple economics if your customer doesn’t enter your store you wont sell anything and if you think grey nomads don’t buy anything in stores they enter your very mistaken

  4. We have always stayed at the boat ramp near the railway bridge. Arrive late and leave early. Never any more than 2 vehicles there. I do support Don McKenzie’s proposal for a designated donation camp. It will bring more money into the town.

  5. Harry let me tell you something. Most Grey nomads do exactly what you say they don’t….stay in small communities buy food fuel even just a coffee and cake at the local cafe. There’s nothing like a small butcher to pickup some local meat to enjoy on your trip. Over the past years we have heard so many small communities say that without the travelers they would be in dire straits.

    • After reading what you say, does that mean those people who stay in caravan parks & pay those ” people” their $30-$40 p.n., don’t buy their fuel, groceries, coffee & cake, pub meals and so on in those towns. If they do, then I would have thought that they are actually spending more in that town than the free campers. I have to agree a little with Harry.

      • Of course people who pay for a caravan park and spend money in the town are spending more money in that town than free campers. But some people have limited budgets that dictates if they stay in a caravan park they can’t spend money elsewhere in the town. Should people with large budgets be the only people allowed to become grey nomads.

  6. If we camp in or near a small town free we always patronise IGA and the bakery and the local fuel outlet without fail. Harry needs to be in some of these places to witness this!

  7. that’s great Joe but at $40 a night I can rent a house in Adelaide with 500sq metres of land, separate shower and toilet, kitchen, 3 bedrooms, roomy lounge and dining room. a patch of dirt just doesn’t make sense. I like to think I am smarter with my money, if you think closing this camp will force the grey nomads into your caravan parks shows you know nothing about travellers

  8. Money wasted in caravan parks cant be wasted at the IGA or the bakery

  9. A night of free camping is a tank of fuel for the next day of travel.

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