Free or Not Free?
So, what is Free Camping? You can buy magazines dedicated to Free Camping. You can buy books and travel atlases or even look at websites and subscribe to apps on all your devices.
What does free camping really mean?
For the new comers, you need to appreciate that the word “Free” can have two meanings.
Looking at Wikipedia, as an adverb Free can mean “without cost or payment”. However, Free can also mean “able to act or be done as one wishes”. Let’s call these “Scottish Free” and “Off-Grid Free” for the sake of this blog.
#1 – “Scottish Free” – in the context of camping
For the camper, the words ‘without cost or payment’ can sound very attractive. But, you need to be aware that places that offer all the amenities of a caravan park don’t often come free (in this sense of the word).
However, there is a somewhat happy medium here if you’re prepared to be prepared (there’s another word with two meanings – bugger). If you do all the pre-work and have your camping rig set up such that you can go without mains power and water for a night or two, then find places in small towns (and some bigger ones) where you can camp in rest areas, at the back of pubs or places known as the town common.
So, what do you need? Well, on the basis that you can always get a meal at a pub, you could always just get away with a place to shower, wee and poo. You may even say that you don’t need that… you do! Trust me.
Anyway, in country areas, many pubs and fuel stations offer a shower for as little as $5 (nearly free) – or even free if you have a drink and a meal there. Many pubs even offer camping out the back or somewhere close by.
Free camping is never free – someone always pays
Regardless, even if the camp is free, I am a firm believer that someone is meeting the price for your camping – however small. To give an example – you camp in the bush outside of a town and bury your poo property and take all your rubbish with you. You take your rubbish to the next town and drop it in the bin – There! Someone has to take that rubbish and dispose of it for you. Even if you use a port-a-pottie, you need to dump it somewhere and the chances are that you want to get water from somewhere – again, communities pay for this.
Pay it Forward – or Back
So, remember that if you get a freebie, you ought to pay it forward – or back – by going that extra bit further in the town nearby. They’ll love you for it.
Campsite on Wallam Creek at Bollon
An example of a free camp in this regard is the campsite on Wallam Creek at Bollon (half-way between St George and Cunnamulla in western Queensland w3w.co/bricks.emigrate.dovetail). This is a great place, right on the creek with lots of birdlife, with town water, fireplaces, rubbish bins, toilets, hot showers (200m away), a nearby pub (Bollon Hotel), coffee shop (Debs Cafe), laundromat, museum, park area and fuel (by arrangement with Debs).
They have a population 221 (ABS 2016) and I’m sure that each one of them enjoys having travellers stop, visit, rest, eat and drink. There is no charge but they do have a donation box at the toilets and the museum.
So, that’s the Scottish Free and the degree of preparation is up to you. Just, please, pay ‘em back / forward.
#2 – “Off-Grid Free Camping”
So, this is where some of the confusion may come from…
You can be fully self-sufficient, having all the gear (namely solar panels, onboard toilet and shower, megalitres of water, 12v fridge, gas stove, cartons or grog and perhaps even a generator just in case) but still find that you have to pay someone to camp there. This someone, may be for camps in State Forests or National Parks, council run camping areas, out the back of pubs.
Please be aware too that, whilst you’ve invested heavily to be self-sufficient, these places can charge a fee to cover costs, (albeit small) and to sometimes raise much needed funds or extra income. Be assured that quite often these monies raised, quite likely stay very much within the town or area and go to good causes/resources.
Off-Grid free campsites can also sometimes stipulate that campers need to be fully self-contained. But what does that mean?
Whether you agree or not, fully self-contained means that you don’t need to take anything from where you are and that you don’t need to dump, discharge or dispose of anything where you are – you bring it with you and you take it away.
The Caravan and Motorhome Club of Australia Limited (CMCA) have developed a Self Contained Vehicle (SCV) Policy in an effort to demonstrate “to councils and other authorities that self-contained vehicles need not have a negative impact on the environment, even if a campsite has no facilities” (refer https://members.cmca.net.au/content/scvlnt).
To meet SCV policy, its members’ vehicles would be required to hold “…fresh, grey and black water, as well as storage capacity for garbage waste” and all waste needs to be retained within the “confines of the vehicle, and leave no trace of its visit to a site”. This policy is heavily marketed by the CMCA and they work very closely with many regional councils.
I say all this because, if a council person, ranger or other person asks you to prove that you appropriately equipped (prepared) to free camp (self-contained) these may be the requirements that you are expected to meet.
Paying Twice – Please
Now, you spent last night at the Off-Grid Free camp and you paid someone $5 or more, and this morning you’re driving into town to dump your rubbish, your port-a-pottie and perhaps fill up your water tanks. Again, the townspeople pay for this service and I believe we should pay for it by going to the pub, the bakery, the butcher, the newsagent, the grocer – the smaller the better. You may buy fuel – but, I’m pretty sure that a big part of that will go to ‘the man’ in the big smoke.
Pushback by Caravan Parks
To combat those of us who use more and more Scottish Free camps, caravan parks are quick to point out to the councils and media how much they’re suffering from this trend away from their parks.
This push was felt in Tasmania so much so, that there is now legislation. I understand there is a limit on the number of “Scottish Free” camping places councils can provide in the area, based on a percentage of the sites available within the caravan park. Good or Bad???
The lure of a shower at the camping park
Also, I did hear of a caravan park where you can pay to “Off-Grid Free” in their park – for a reduced fee. The clanger here is that, if you are lured (or perhaps seduced) into wanting to use the park toilets; showers; laundry; games / TV room; tennis court; putt-putt green; blow-up trampoline; pool; spa; or perhaps the rubbish service, you’ll need to pay extra for them – and why not. Makes ya think hey.
So, get Out&About and do a bit of Scottish and Off-Grid Free if you’re up to it – but don’t be fooled into thinking you don’t owe someone (anyone) for the privilege of camping and travelling in the great place now called Australia.