Top: Huon Campground, Lake Hume, Victoria
Having examined the ins and outs of Caravan Parks and paid Campgrounds we now come to the issue of Free Camps
Free Camping, or more often now referred to as “Freedom Camping” to include the lower cost options, still has it’s base in those camps which are truly Free. Let me start by dispensing the myth from the many naysayers on social media predicting the demise of free camping that nothing could be further from the truth. There is no evidence that the number of free camps is declining as there are camps opening as well as closing on a continuing basis. In fact very few close and usually for only one of two reasons – a problem with the legal conditions (Rockhampton and Cobar in the last year); or a problem with use, or should I say Abuse? Occasionally a change of council brings about the closure of free camps but by the same token another change of council brings about the opening of free camps; that is the balance; the Balonne Shire (St George) is an example of this in recent years in both directions. With the ever increasing number of RVs on the road (100,000 plus on any day of the year are going somewhere!) there are many Councils who are becoming RV Aware, opening RV stops and installing Dump Points (thanks to the CMCA for much of the latter). If we all keep spending money in the towns they will (mostly) keep supporting us.
The singular area where it could be said that free camps are declining is in the move to a small charge by some Authorities; we have to see this as an inevitable change in some locations due to the pressures placed on Councils and others by the ever increasing numbers; there is a cost in providing camping (and sometimes a necessity for some form of control or supervision)!
Free Camps – The Legalities:
Just as Caravan Parks and Campgrounds require approvals, so do Free Camps or RV Stops in any location; only camping in National Parks, State Forests and some similar Reserves are exempt from State and Territory Planning requirements and are able to create their own rules and prescribed camping areas. There is a lot of misconception that you can park up anywhere on the roadside, unfortunately enhanced by Social Media users and Apps listing gravel dumps and similar; camping at any of these locations is illegal in every mainland State and the NT under Crown Lands legislation. Having said that, in truly remote locations a little discretion has to be applied, but we still need to know where the legal limits are; there are no grounds for complaint if you are moved on!
Roadside “Free Camping” the Definitions: (Links)
Neither can you “camp” at ANY Rest Area, they must be approved. This in itself is a complex issue that requires understanding as there are also differences in the definition of “camping”, so rather than repeat other information here, a series of three previous articles relate the whole picture of roadside (Rest Area) camping and can be found here:
Part 1 is an overview, Part 2 the State by State variations for roadside stops, Part 3 the other options:
Below: A selection of Rest Areas with legal overnight camping.
Free Camps other than roadside:
The Free Camps which are not Rest Areas can be divided into Council, Community, and Government (and occasionally Private land). We do include in “Free Camps” those that request a small (say $5) donation, but not those with a requested “fee”, usually $8-10 or more as there are very few between these price points.
The general rules that apply to paid Campgrounds apply equally to free camps provided by the various bodies, the land has to be zoned and approved correctly (unless exempt as mentioned above) and the camp will also have to comply with applicable Council or State legislation which may restrict numbers, dictate amenities required, fire regulations and a myriad of other “details”. See reference to Rockhampton and Cobar above which were both closed as a result of the site not being compliant under their respective State Planning regulations.
There are many variations between States such as these relating to parking/camping on private property:
There are some emerging trends for certain groups to offer “park in my drive” for fellow members; the CMCA and Full Range Camping have this on offer but I think the take up is very slow currently. One issue that comes into play here is the often publicised regulation in WA that you cannot park and camp on any private property for more than 3 days without Council approval, even on your own land. Source WA: https://www.legislation.wa.gov.au/legislation/prod/filestore.nsf/FileURL/mrdoc_29669.pdf/$FILE/Caravan%20Parks%20and%20Camping%20Grounds%20Regulations%201997%20-%20%5B02-c0-01%5D.pdf?OpenElement
A lesser known regulation is that of NSW which allows only 2 days:
This is an extract from NSW Planning: (explained “in reverse” – telling you what you Don’t need approval for)
“Under the LG Regulation 2005 council approval is not required for the installation of:
—up to two caravans, campervans or tents on any land (with the landowner’s permission), provided they are not occupied for more than two days at a time and are not occupied for more than 60 days (in total) in any 12 month period”…
Source NSW: https://www.planning.nsw.gov.au/-/media/Files/DPE/Circulars/planning-circular-illegal-camping-2010-07.pdf
While this has been in existence for many years I can find no evidence of it being enforced whereas the WA one certainly has been and still is enforced
Below: Free Camping in Council and other Camping grounds
A Word on Free Camping Etiquette:
I suspect I am preaching to the converted for anybody who might read this, but some of the Golden Rules for the use of Free Camps are:
Obey Local Signage or other information for conditions – time limits, grey water, pets, fires (may be seasonal), generators
Put ALL your rubbish in the bins and if full or no bins take it with you. (It is not acceptable to place bags of rubbish next to a full bin as the birds and other wildlife will have it scattered far and wide by the next day.)
Empty your toilet cassettes into a Dump Point (or bury it responsibly in remote areas); do NOT use the bush as a toilet and if you must then use a shovel.
Responsibly direct your grey water if allowed, not just create a big “puddle” and do NOT run it towards a waterway
Respect your fellow campers
Put your campfire OUT when leaving your site (We have personally rescued one camper’s motorhome from a fire left burning next to their awning and floor mat!)
Some Final Thoughts:
Grey Water is not the major issue it is often raised as, much is said in Social Media about the thorny subject of Grey Water retention and so called “Fully Self Contained” camping conditions. “Fully Self Contained” should be used as a definition ONLY for those camps which have a legally stated requirement, or a condition imposed by the site owner, for campers to retain all their grey water so that we all understand what is needed when looking for a campsite. The reality is that from the listings in Full Range Camping there are currently (2023) significantly less than 500 camps with this requirement (Paid and free) in the whole of Australia. Some camps which started out by having this requirement because they were established under the CMCA guidelines have now dropped the requirement, either to attract more campers, or due to dry conditions. Those of us who have lived in areas of severe water restrictions (Brisbane pre 2011 floods for example) will know that many Councils encouraged grey water to be used for the garden and some even subsidised diversion kits. We should, however, all be responsible when running our grey water out; scrape food scraps off plates and containers before washing, and it is not difficult to run the grey water hose to gardens, bushes or trees or at least to move the hose around a little; most camping areas will quickly absorb the water and there is no high toxicity in grey water when not held in a tank; any toxicity is eliminated in about 2 hours in sunlight. By contrast, grey water kept in a holding tank for 2 days or more is more toxic than the Black Water from your toilet. This brings into question the suitability of emptying grey Water tanks into Dump Points which feed into a Septic Tank, especially considering the volume (135 litres from our own van)?
There are many caravans which do not easily have the capabilities of fitting a grey water tank because they are not designed for that, external containers have become more acceptable but there are, in reality, only minor inconveniences considering the small number of sites where the requirement exists.
I am not opening the inevitable “can of worms” here, just pointing out a few facts so let’s not start the whole debate all over! Remember as well that there are many Caravan Parks which do not have sullage facilities and where your grey water is discharged into the gardens and lawns.
Grey Water Article for a full explanation and the history: Grey Water – Why – When -How
This is, undoubtedly, the growth sector in RV accommodation and is going to continue to be so for the foreseeable future. This does not mean the end of Caravan Parks but a change which all interested parties will have to adapt to and some are resisting. Wherever we choose to rest for the night, or week or longer, there is some cost being borne by some body or organisation no matter how small. If, for example, a Council has to continuously bear the cost of removing “your” rubbish from a road or creek side area then you may find the area is no longer available to you when next you pass by – PLEASE remove your rubbish!
In the same way, if you find yourself in a “Donation” camp, please make a contribution, no matter how small; if you are on a really tight budget just spare a gold coin or two, the local community will appreciate every dollar – and your night’s rest will be there next time.
Discussions on Freedom Camping are not going to go away; the following is a summary of relevant accommodation by “bed nights” expressed in Millions and decimal from Austrade for March 2018 compared with March 2019:
|Accommodation Type||March 2018||March 2019||% Increase|
|Caravan Parks and Campgrounds||31.846||33.233||4.3%|
These are the most accurate figures pre Covid19 and since then numbers have only just returned (Jan 2023) to pre-Covid levels on a national basis .
The interesting factors in the background of these figures is that in NSW, SA and WA there are increases in both categories; in VIC there is an increase in Caravan Parks and a substantial Decrease in Other, in part this may be attributable to more fees being charged by National Parks for camping in Victoria; in QLD, NT and TAS there are small decreases in Caravan Parks/Campgrounds and Increases in Other Camping. Maybe we can draw our own conclusions from that?
Disclaimer: Any information contained in this, or any other, article on this website which may imply a legal requirement is sourced from freely available published documentation from various relevant authorities.