Australia’s Grey Nomads
There’s a ‘breed’ of camper and traveller known as Grey Nomads.
These are those who have generally retired or accessed their nest egg and hooked up the caravan (old or new). They take off to travel, visit and experience the Australian countryside.
On the road
This ‘taking off’ is sometimes on a permanent basis where they no longer own or have access to what was once their family home. The home may have been sold or rented out.
Then there’s the Grey Nomads who have adopted a somewhat transhumance approach to their travels where they live at their ‘base’ camp. They may choose to live at home in the summer months and over Christmas, the New Year and Easter. Then in the cooler Winter months, they head west and north in a fanned out pattern. This could possibly be seen from space as reminiscent of the ‘Go West Young Man’ philosophy seen in the United States in the 1800’s.
Either way, these Grey Nomads eke their way into all corners of otherwise quiet regional corners of several states – including outback Queensland.
Given the fact that many Grey Nomads have retired; turned their back on big smoke jobs or working for the ‘man’; or just taking that well deserved long holiday, access to, and need / willingness to spend, money is often reduced.
Setting up camp
As is their demonstrated need to push back on societal norms and avoid structured caravan parks and camp grounds in preference for setting up camp behind country pubs, in regional town ‘commons’ and rest areas, roadside rest areas, truck stops, showgrounds, sports clubs and recreation grounds.
Naturally, there’s limits and restrictions on each one of these – with maximum stays and the need for campers to be self-contained to various degrees. And, let’s not go in detail on truck stops here.
That’s not to say that you won’t see a Grey Nomad in a caravan park. Caravan parks offer respite from life on the road with full amenities and laundries. Plus the occasional roasts and pizza nights and pancake Sundays (or is that just me??).
As I’ve commented in a previous blog (refer: https://campandtravel.com.au/free-camping-in-australia/), the concept of ‘Free’ Camping means different things to different people. This ‘Free’ can be ‘no cost’ or ‘off-grid’.
And just to confuse things, monetary costs can apply to each. It’s also interesting to note that, sometimes, these costs can be about the same as a caravan park.
Some caravan parks have tried to join the fight on these matters and offered much reduced fees on the basis that travellers don’t use the park’s amenities or facilities – but can elect to pay for certain extras.
Access to facilities
What you will see in places like Cobar (NSW), where they’ve set up an area opposite the Visitor Information Centre, is access to town water and a waste dump point. Here, you can stay in a parking space and stay the night. During the day, waves of vans, campers and mobile homes coming in, dropping their waste, filling their tanks and heading off again.
Yes, yes, yes… I know that some will say that they do their shopping in town and fill up with fuel etc. But, is there more that we, as travellers, should be doing to honour and respect these small country towns and regions.
Many may have dropped their gold coin or $5 into the honesty box for the night’s accommodation or even bought a pub meal and a few rounds of drinks at the hotel.
But… we all know that there’s some travellers out there who will skite about how they haven’t spent any money during this stay or bugger-all in so many days. I’ve heard them.
Push-Back from Camping Localities
It may be just under the surface, but I suspect that we may be on the verge of seeing some growing push-back in how Grey Nomads are seen in country and remote areas.
Goondiwindi (SW Qld) once had a small camping area set aside for fully self-contained campers at the round-a-about at the city’s eastern entrance. This was one place where you were certain to see Nan’s whites and Dad’s ‘Reg Grundies’ blowing in the breeze as you entered town. Was this Goondiwindi’s ‘Welcome Sign’ – with a difference? It’s now closed.
St George (SW Qld) saw a local tourist park operator go somewhat ‘ballistic’ on Facebook at the prospect that the council (to which he, as a park operator, paid rates) was proposing to build a Free Camping spot for visitors to the town – taking business away from his. Many were so incensed by his tirade (at the time) that they vowed never to stop in St George again.
In April 2019, the ABC reported that industry says free camping could spell the end of the traditional caravan park within a decade. (abc.net.au, 12 April 2019). This followed the Tasmanian Government’s earlier policy statement that councils should compete on fair and equal terms with private businesses in providing campsites – adding that councils must limit their public, non-powered campsites to no more than 10 percent of all camping offerings within a 60-kilometre radius of a commercial caravan park.
But, the Tasmanian councils were being accused of not adhering to these rules and applying exemptions. Mr Rowen Carter (no relation), Caravanning Tasmania President, considered that councils were subsidising people to have a holiday in the centre of town. Also, like the tourist park operator in St George, Mr McCudden (of Zeehan) stated that he was required to pay rates, insurance costs, water bills, rubbish disposal costs while those services are passed onto free campers.
The now current COVID-19 pandemic also provided an opportunity for some strong community feelings to bubble up when the Queensland borders were closed and travel within the state was limited. This was a time when small regional towns and their people actively said that visitors weren’t welcome because they were seen as a strain on food and goods supplies as well as medical facilities.
There were even reports of visitors’ tyres being slashed and vehicles being damaged.
Then again though, some towns have adopted these campers with open hearts (or open cash tills). I heard of one town, where the school’s parents would come into camp on the weekend and sell pancake breakfasts.
Fight Back by the Grey Nomads
“But we’re retired!”
“We’ve paid taxes all our lives.”
“We have worked hard and now we want to travel.”
“These small struggling towns need us.”
“This town is supported by the money we spend here.”
“Every year we come to this place.”
“But, but, but… I’m entitled…”
These (and more) will be the arguments put up by many a Grey Nomad. But, will they be enough to re-establish the Grey Nomad movement in Australia as it was in the New Normal?
New Normal for our Grey Nomads
Will regional councils need to re-affirm their love of the Grey Nomads? Will these same councils take a good hard look at the Grey Nomads’ role in their respective region’s growth and development – or even day to day life – or look to other tourism generators by providing increased amenities and charging to recover those costs? Will more city people now turn to these areas with increased passion and fervour?
The future of Grey Nomad travel
How will Grey Nomads value their role in these communities differently or will they continue to adopt the roll and drop strategy as they travel to far flung places like Stonehenge (SW Qld)?
Or will they stay home, or close to it, until the feeling of safety returns fully?
I’ll be interested to see how this develops and I’ll watch with great interest – up close – in a showground or pub near you.
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Oh…, I probably should declare that I’m 60.