Small towns put out welcome mat tovan campers

SMALLER towns across the south west are welcoming free campers with open arms as long as they abide by the rules.

Public reserves in areas such as Panmure, Hawkesdale, Cobden and Lismore are being promoted as popular free camping spots through online travel blogs and by word of mouth between travellers.

Hawkesdale and District Development Action Committee (HADDAC) secretary Frank Huglin said the group was keen to discuss “the significant growth of free campers” in the town’s Apex Park with Moyne Shire Council.

Mr Huglin said Hawkesdale had won good online reviews about the free camping available in the township.

However, he said there was a need to control the unrestricted use of campfires and fuel collection for the fires.

More rubbish bins were also needed and “toilet issues” had to be resolved, Mr Huglin said.

“HADDAC is keen for the campers to keep coming but with some balance of control.”

Panmure resident Paul Moroney said many people camped for free at a picturesque picnic near the Princes Highway bridge over the Mount Emu Creek.

Mr Moroney said the site was equipped with public toilets and a barbecue and the campers caused no problems.

Seven recreational vehicles parked in the reserve during the March long weekend and there were three vans, several tents and a caravan set up on Thursday night.

Most of the vans are occupied by young international visitors, while the caravans are usually equipped with showers and toilets and being used by “grey nomad” retirees on extended trips around the country looking for cheap and convenient stops.

Unlike the majority of caravan parks, the space at free sites means they do not have to unhook their van from their vehicle each night and can quickly pack up and leave each morning.

Mr Moroney said campers often spent money in the township and some stayed for a few days. Several visited his pottery studio on the other side of Mount Emu Creek and he and his partner Glenda had invited some of them to tea, he said.

Moyne Shire Council environmental and regulatory services manager Robert Gibson said if free campers were not causing any litter or hygiene problems in locations away from townships and caravan parks, the council was unlikely to move them on.

“There are lots of spots where camping is not prohibited such as roadside rest stops where campers can go,” Mr Gibson said.

“But we do not want people camping on public land in townships and leaving a mess behind,” he said.

“We also have people who run caravan parks and we like to see them supported.”

He said the main areas where van campers had caused problems were around Port Fairy and near the Killarney Recreation Reserve camping ground.

Mr Gibson said the council recognised that van camping in free areas was becoming popular but it would be controlled where necessary.

Concern expressed on social media and internet chat sites that van packers were likely to get an unfriendly reception cheap jerseys in Warrnambool prompted the city council’s tourism services manager Peter Abbott to clarify the city’s position.

He said Warrnambool welcomed all types of tourists. Large urban centres with big investment in accommodation venues restricted free camping but many small towns provided facilities for them, Mr Abbott said.

Corangamite Shire economic development and tourism officer Terry Binder said he knew the Cobden and Lismore communities welcomed van campers but the council had no firm position.

A spokesman for Camps Australia Wide guides said there had been a proliferation of crowd sourced camping apps that gave people information about legal and illegal camping sites.