Mt Kilcoy004 DSC 0964Mt Kilcoy004 DSC 0964

July 2021
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article has been supplied or researched and accepted in good faith by the author and a clear apology is offered if anything which is inferred as factual is incorrect.


This article follows from a series of three entitled “Freedom Camping – or is it?” written in 2018/19. (Indexed at the bottom). The purpose of the series was to explain how each level of “camping” is structured and what is involved. The series started with Caravan Parks (Part 1), Paid “other” campgrounds (Part 2) and Free/Donation Camps (Part 3)

The second article raised the issue of “Can I offer camping on my land” and it was only briefly dealt with. This article takes that whole issue and explores it with specific examples

When I compiled the three original articles the caravanning and camping environment was in a state of moderate growth but none of us could foresee the impact of Covid19 and the growth that has developed as a result of travel being confined to the Domestic arena,  At the original time of writing the biggest growth sector was in camping on private property and that is certainly by far the current scenario.

What I didn’t elaborate on was this phrase from Article 2: “Can I offer camping on my land?  The short answer is Yes… and No.. depending entirely on where you live and your local Council as partly referred to above, so the first step is always [to] ask the Council”

Earlier this year I became part of an extended Facebook conversation with Nat Lowndes about her failed attempts to gain Council approval for camping at her Mt Kilcoy property, this progressed to a four day visit as we headed out of Brisbane for our current trip to Darwin and much discussion and examination of the process involved. This article draws on Nat’s experience in trying to resolve the issues and the overall reasons why the lowest forms of camping cannot be a reality in many Council areas (LGAs). The position Nat is in is not unique and relates entirely to the differences between Council Planning and other bylaws and legal instruments across Councils as a whole, the detail may not be always the same but the end result is – “No Compliance” = “No Camping”. 

The next question then is “No Compliance” with what?

The situation in Mt Kilcoy relates to the Somerset Council and its’ current planning scheme and associated bylaws which have planning definitions only for “Caravan Parks” and “Campgrounds” with relatively little difference between the two. We know of other Councils with similar narrow choices including one having only an allowance for “Caravan Parks”. There are no doubt many others throughout Australia with similar barriers to any other form of “approved” camping facilities.

Let us look first at how camping is structured from the most basic and work upwards: Free Camps with no facilities are the ultimate starting point, just a place to park for the night. Somerset has several “Free Camps” including the Seib Street overnight stop in Kilcoy itself (pictured); this appears to be anomalous in itself as it is located at least in part on a roadside nature strip on which it is an offence to park under the Queensland Transport Operations Road Use Act which is supposedly “…enforced by local council inspectors and police”?  Indicated on the onsite sign is a reference to “Self Contained Recreational Vehicles” but no defined requirement for grey water to be retained despite the fact that part of the “site” is less than 100m from Kilcoy Creek (This Creekside reference will be explained later)

Elsewhere in Somerset there are free camps including the Linville Railway Station which has recently been amended to allow “camping” for up to 72 hours including the use of tents and camper trailers and without any particular conditions; at this location there are piublic toilets and Donations are requested which introduces a form of payment for camping, so not quite a “Free Camp”?  Blackbutt Golf Club and Blackbutt Sports Centre both also offer camping for a “Donation”. Also within the Somerset LGA is a private property offering free camping with no facilities but only available by making a booking. 

Elsewhere the Somserset LGA does contain several Caravan Parks and Showgrounds offering full facility camping which we assume meet the  appropriate criteria.

So let us look at the situation Nat Lowndes finds herself in.

Nat has long offered camping on the property to friends old and new and we stayed ourselves for 4 days alongside the creek (Main Picture) and at no time has there been any suggestion from Council that camping of this nature is not allowed, or is in any way in breach of Council bylaws or any other “instrument”; this appears to be the same situation as the property mentioned above except that the owner there is openly offering it up to bookings from the public.

The next step came when Nat listed the property with Hipcamp and had some paying guests, this prompted a complaint (to Council) from a neighbour and Council instructing that (paid?) camping be ceased.

That event takes us to the present day where Nat has tried to gain exemptions for certain aspects of the “Campgrounds” definition in the Council planning scheme; the major problem is that there are some items for which exemptions cannot or will not be granted including the provision of toilet facilities and other “amenities”.

The Council position appears to be totally inflexible and unable to deviate from the requirements of a commercial campground with the only concession being an offer to allow camping of up to 6 people on 2 sites at the property; in reality not much more than allowing “house guests” to camp (which already happens with friends but for no fee?) 

This defeats the object of self-sufficient rural camping which is what many property owners wish to offer where the guests have their own amenities including a toilet. A distinction appears here that camping for nothing without toilet facilities is OK (as in the Kilcoy RV Stop) but when a fee is charged toilets must be provided. (?)

It should be mentioned here that Nat did obtain EPA “certification” for camping under conditions that in the Creekside area campers must be fully self contained, ie they must retain all their waste including grey water. In the other designated camping area on the property which is over 1km from the creek, the grey water retention is not required. This references back to Seib Street RV stop where grey water retention is not specifically requested despite being close to Kilcoy Creek.

Other Council’s Regulatory Framework:

At this point we will become more generic, having used Nat Lowndes situation as a very clear example of the problems which exist in some LGAs for any form of “camping” accommodation that is not a full-scale commercial facility. We can start by making comparisons to other parts of the country and other LGAs where a very different scenario is in place. Close to the Somerset area is the Fraser Coast LGA who have a very different solution by having a planning category of Eco Tourism which allows for these low cost camping options to be approved under their planning scheme.

This category basically allows for the following:
Self-contained recreational vehicle grounds have limited amenities and are used for short-term stays in self-contained vehicles only with the following provisions and limitations:

No more than 50 self-contained vehicles are onsite at any time.
Only self–contained vehicles are permitted to stay.
Guests stay no more than 7 consecutive nights.
The ground does not include constructed facilities such as sports courts, swimming pools or kiosks.

This basic outline of the rules would and does allow facilities like Nat is proposing at Mt Kilcoy to go ahead in full compliance. To go beyond that level of camping is also contained within the category so that toilets and other facilities can be incorporated if services are available.

Around the Country:

Elsewhere in the nation we find many variations and interestingly here in the NT (where the author is spending a few months) the NT Government have a Caravan Parks Act which covers all properties in the territory and has a very simple definition of a Caravan Park:

“Caravan Park” means an area of land used in either or both of the following ways:
a). as a complex of sites and caravans, for which rights of occupancy are conferred under various caravan park agreements, together with common areas including bathrooms, toilets and laundry facilities;
b). as a complex of sites for which rights of occupancy are conferred under various caravan park agreements, together with common areas that may or may not include bathrooms, toilets and laundry facilities.

..and that is it. The rest of the Act is concerned with the legalities relating to tenants, owners, occupiers and all the other legal implications.

This contrasts enormously with the aforementioned Council definition of a Caravan Park or Campground and all the associated requirements. 

We have recently stayed at several rural and semi-rural properties in the “Top End” and none of them have required any Council approval to offer camping on their land (It seems that the only criteria in common is that the properties are all zoned either Rural or Rural Recreational and there are more than 25 such properties in, mostly, the Litchfield Council area). The properties concerned have offered mostly space, water, and rubbish bins, a couple have toilets and/or showers and one a Dump Point; their fees have ranged from $15 to $25 per night.  The only area of concern one of them had was fire safety after a random inspection and were given a direction to install multiple fire hoses. As this was not feasible due to lack of water pressure they reverted to offering “Donation based” camping for fewer guests and were no longer classed as an Accommodation Facility… it seems there is a solution to almost anything..?

At the same time, travelers’ preferences have shifted away from the formal Parks to the alternatives of lower cost and Free Camps. Dept of Trade figures for the latest period can’t reflect the position well due to Covid but prior to that the trends were clear, this is lifted from the previous article in this series:
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:

These two highly contrasting sets of requirements to offer camping seem a little incongruous in today’s high demand environment for camping “space”, never before have we seen the growth in those taking to the highways and byways with every form of self accommodation imaginable. Formal Caravan Parks are not the answer and the numbers of Parks supports that. Over the country Caravan Park numbers have changed little in the last decade; some older parks and those in prime real estate areas have gone and a similar number of new parks have appeared, mostly the more up market parks such as those constructed by the NRMA.

Accommodation TypeMarch 2018March 2019% Increase
Caravan Parks and Campgrounds31.84633.2334.3%
Other Camping19.35921.2799.9%

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 that period; in QLD, NT and TAS there are small decreases in Caravan Parks/Campgrounds and Increases in Other Camping. 

I would not hesitate to say that any corrected figures for the current period would show enormous increases in both categories. The grouping of the categories used in these figures puts “Campgrounds” with Caravan Parks but for the perspective of this article the sort of Rural based low cost camping we are discussing comes under the “Other..” category, “Campgrounds” being used for the larger, formally structured facilities.

A very successful private property rural campground in Victoria

SOLUTIONS?  ..and so…what solutions are both desirable and achievable?

From the perspective of a full time traveler (ourselves) and a rural property owner (Nat Lowndes and others) we must achieve change somehow, the enormously increased demand brought about by Covid19 will pass its peak and undoubtedly drop when overseas tourism resumes fully but the figures will continue to grow thereafter and the Caravan Parks market cannot cope with present demand in many areas. It may sound simple to say, for those that use them, “build more Caravan Parks” but the last figures I checked to build any reasonable size park from ground zero have some staggering figures involved and they are not the wise investment for an individual that was the case in years (or decades) gone by.

The realistic solution is the increasing growth in private, rural based camping which has an ever-increasing number of guests as more and more of us discover the ability to camp “off grid” affordably and comfortably. If you want air conditioning and all the facilities of a home then a Caravan Park is your answer, but if you want a place to set up for a few days, or weeks then a bit of space in a rural environment fills the bill…and some will even cater for your desire for aircon by providing mains power but don’t expect it as a “norm”.

The current barriers to achieving this goal are mostly at the local government level but it doesn’t have to be just a Council issue, there are area wide solutions like the NT definition of a Caravan Park which isn’t really any more than “collection of sites”, nothing else is required. 

An area in which change can be made at a State level is contained in the NSW Local Government (Caravan Parks, Camping Grounds and Moveable Dwellings) Regulation 1995 which introduced the Primitive Campgrounds “category”. The planning scheme of Somerset and all other Councils in respect of Caravan Parks or Campgrounds is basically the same statewide and could easily be amended to include similar provisions; the summary of this is as follows:

Primitive camping grounds
65. (1) The following conditions apply to a primitive camping ground:
(a) the maximum number of caravans, campervans and tents permitted to use the camping ground at any one time is not to exceed: (Amendments 2005)

designate camp sites where tents, caravans and campervans may be located — in which case the maximum number of camp sites is not to exceed an average of two per hectare (that average being calculated over the total area of the PCG )1

not designate camp sites — in which case the maximum number of tents, caravans and campervans permitted to use the ground at any one time is not to exceed an average of two per hectare (that average being calculated over the total area of the PCG); with a concession that two or more tents (etc.) occupied by not more than 12 persons camping together as
a group are to be counted as only one tent.
Both options increase the opportunity for families and other groups to camp together.

(b) a caravan or campervan must not be allowed to be installed closer than 6 metres to any other caravan, campervan or tent;
(c) a tent must not be allowed to be installed closer than 6 metres to any caravan or campervan or closer than 3 metres to any other tent;
(d) the camping ground must be provided with a water supply, toilet and refuse disposal facilities as specified in the approval for the camping ground;
(e) unoccupied caravans, campervans and tents are not to be allowed to remain in the camping ground for more than 24 hours;
(f) if a fee is charged for camping, a register must be kept in accordance with clause 55.
(2) The provisions of Divisions 1–8 do not apply to a primitive camping ground. 

The really critical phrase here is the last one: Divisions 1-8 are ALL the regulations normally covering caravan parks and campgrounds under the NSW Act and none of these apply to PCGs.

While PCGs still require the provision of toilets there is no regulation as to the type and this is left to the individual approval, similarly, there is a requirement stated for water but this is not applied where water is unavailable, nor does it specify that is should be “potable”.

Interestingly in 2005 when the regulation was amended there were already over 50 campgrounds set up as PCGs across NSW, some Councils embraced the policy to create their own free camps in an orderly and legal manner free from the various requirements of establishing conventional “campgrounds”.

Cost Benefits:

At the risk of repeating an often quoted mantra – “Tourists bring Money”.

It is regularly stated in social media discussions on these subjects that towns that provide for tourists, whether they are passing by or wanting to stay, reap the benefits, any rural camping will reap the benefits for their local community.  There are some towns and campsites that collect data in the form of retail receipts from travellers and occasionally the figures come to light.  This year on the way from Brisbane to the NT the author stopped at Gayndah in the South Burnett at the local Heritage Railway Centre. A volunteer-run campsite it offers toilets and water (and lots of space) for a low cost.  They have on occasion (and still do) maintain a box for campers to leave their receipts; I was advised that last year, after camping/travelling resumed post the original Covid interruption, basically the period from Sept to November, receipts for the three months were over $60,000 so an income into the town’s retailers in a year of almost (or over) a quarter of a million dollars. (We injected over $1600 ourselves after an air conditioning repair to our Landcruiser plus shopping and fuel).

What’s Next?

A very difficult question – hopefully this article will expand the informational need to get more of our fellow travellers and followers to put some pressure on their local Council to open the gates for an achievable and sustainable level of rural-based camping. At the same time perhaps a State change in others like the NSW PCG..get lobbying people!

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article has been supplied or researched and accepted in good faith by the author and a clear apology is offered if anything which is inferred as factual is incorrect. 

Previous Articles in this series:

By Keith

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

All Over Australia