When the Pacific Highway bypassed Bulahdelah last year, there were many predicting the quick demise of the tiny New South Wales town.
But they hadn’t counted on the resolve of the residents. Rather than allowing itself to be turned into a ghost town, Bulahdelah is now proud to call itself a grey nomad town.
Central to the survival strategy has been the transformation of a scrubby, lantana-filled patch of land into an attractive, riverfront, 72-hour, free camping spot with barbecue facilities and tables and chairs. Working on the theory that ‘if you build it, they will come’, a motivated ‘army’ of 50 or so volunteers, with the support of the Lions Club and the local council, refused to let their town die.
Now, on any given night, a dozen or more self-contained RVs will be stopped at Lions Park, and this ‘influx’ has been a lifesaver to local businesses.
“Bulahdelah might not be quite as busy as it was when the highway went through it, but it is still alive and thriving,” Myall Lakes member Stephen Bromhead told the GNT. “Grey nomads show their appreciation by shopping at the supermarket, getting a coffee at a cafe, or buying fuel… it is a win-win situation.”
Bulahdelah was fortunate in that the detour from the new highway is a short one, and that there were those with the vision to find a solution to a potentially disastrous set of circumstances.
As a former caravan park owner, as well as an RV owner and a truck driver, the president of the Bulahdelah Lions Club, Arthur Baker, was instrumental in getting the park up and running.
“When I drove at night I would see rest areas packed out with caravans and I thought ‘we just need a way to bring these people into the town’,” he said. “That’s how it started, but it took years of planning, meetings and hard work to make it happen.”
While visiting grey nomads are full of praise for the facilities at Bulahdelah, including a dump point at the showgrounds, and a pub, club, and chemist, Mr Baker says a minority still does the wrong thing. With the 18-month trial of the facility expiring soon and its operation to be ‘re-negotiated’, he says 10% of rule breakers risk spoiling it for the rest.
“We have major issues with grey water disposal, as well as people overstaying the 72-hour limit,” said Mr Baker. “Some nomads just can’t read!”
He insists the camping area will always be there and will always be free, but it may be policed more strictly in future and fines may be issued.
Mr Baker says the camping area has co co-existed successfully with the town’s van park. “Many travellers stay for a few nights at the free camp and then move into the van park for the shower or the laundry,” he said. “And, of course, there are many others who would never use a van park, anyway … better they stay here than by the side of the highway.”