Grey nomads who ‘steal’ water from the small regional communities they pass through have been slammed as ‘selfish’ … and it seems the practice is pretty widespread.
Streaky Bay RSL committee member, Tracy Hackett, says the South Australian town is delighted that so many caravanners have been passing through recently … but is shocked that ‘many are stealing water at the local RSL hall’.
She says that that although the water tanks have security lock taps, travellers are using their own security keys.
“We have physically seen people pulled up at the taps behind the RSL with their caravans, filling up their tanks,” Ms Hackett said. “People have told me it has happened at the church, school and even on private property … police have been notified of this problem and in the future will deal with offenders accordingly.”
The Chief Executive Officer of Streaky Bay council, Damian Carter, said the local authority was aware of the issue.
“Like many regional communities, water security is important to us and at Streaky Bay we have limited potable water options, so the community is heavily reliant on tank water,” he said. “Hence, when someone does take water from a private property it can hurt, especially during the drier summer months.”
Mr Carter said that, although he was aware of an increase in social media posts encouraging individuals to take tap keys on their travels, it wasn’t fair to blame grey nomads in particular.
“It is our experience that you can’t generalise and it’s a variety of individuals,” he said. “We here at Streaky Bay welcome the grey nomads and are continuing to invest in facilities to assist in making their stay as comfortable as possible.”
Those facilities include offering travellers water at the ‘nominal charge’ of $1 for 20 litres at the Lions Park.
However, it appears that some travellers ‘resent’ the idea of paying anything at all for water.
Grey nomad John Westwood said he recently stopped at country town for coffee near a toilet block.
“A rather large motorhome pulled up next to the toilet block and the chap proceeded to pull his rollout hose across the footpath and into the men’s, obviously connect to tap,” said John. “He and his good lady then proceeded across the road to the coffee shop!”
After seeing a procession of pedestrians having to step over the hose, John – an ex-plumber – decided to take action.
“I walked in the toilet to see the motorhomer’s you-beaut multi-tap key sitting in the vandal-proof tap that is only meant for the cleaner,” he said. “I took offence to this act of theft, so I turned off the tap, undid his connection and disposed of his tap key outside in the bin!”
While many rural communities seem to be in a near constant battle with water shortages, they are also keenly aware of the benefits that grey nomads bring … and are generally eager to help them.
The Outback Communities Authority currently has eight water stations that are located in Marla, Oodnadatta, Kingoonya, Marree, Innamincka, Pimba, Beltana and Yunta.
“These water stations were set up so there is water security within the remote areas where there isn’t access to mains water,” said the organisation’s Business Support Officer, Chloe Tucker.
Water from these stations costs $4 per 20 litres.
Ms Tucker says most travellers are happy to have access to good quality water but there are some that ‘aren’t as happy to be paying for the water’.
“We often hear from local community members that have seen or found traces of people taking water from other community sources such as community buildings with external taps or from their rainwater tanks, or from hand basins within public toilets,” Ms Tucker said. “While the majority of caravanners and motorhomers do the right thing, a small percentage still feel it is their right, or that they have ‘paid their taxes’, so believe they are entitled to take water from Outback communities.”
She said water remained a precious resource in these regions.
“The water should be treated as a privilege and not a right,” said Ms Tucker. “The right thing to do is pay for it and not steal it or prey upon the good will of the locals to provide it at no cost.”
Many local councils now offer water for sale at a nominal cost. The city of Karratha in WA, for example, says it has recently installed a new water machine at Walgu Park where travellers can access water for $1 per 50 litres.
And further up the WA coast in Exmouth, the Shire has installed two fill-up stations where water costs five cents per litre.
“While there is no limit on the amount of water you can take, the small fee ensures a more ‘water wise’ approach for travellers of all ages,” said a spokesperson for the Ningaloo Visitor Centre. “We work closely with Water Corporation WA on a water wise education for residents and visitors due to our remote location and limited natural resources.”
At nearby Ningaloo Coral Bay Bayview caravan park, guests can access 20 litres of water for free and then pay $1 for every 10 litres after that. People not staying at the park can get water at $2 for every 10 litres.
Yet park manager, Jacqui Price, says they still have a ‘huge problem’ with travellers stealing water
“It’s more the backpackers than the grey nomads though,” she said.
At South Australia’s remote Nullarbor Roadhouse, manager Daniel Williams says there is a special coin-operated dispenser where travellers can buy desalinated and ozone-treated water for $1 per 20 litres.
“You just need to provide a hose or container,” he said.
And for travellers who do, for whatever reason, still find themselves in water shortage trouble, the message from Streaky Bay RSL Committee member, Tracy Hackett, is simple.
“If you need help or water, just ask … you will be surprised how many people are willing to help,” she said. “You don’t need to help yourself, that is stealing!”