Sunday, August 08, 2010

Rise and Shine, it’s Move on or a Fine…

This was the front page headline in the Cairns Post newspaper which greeted us in a small gas station outside of Mission Beach. The article addressed increasing concern for illegal camping in Cairns and noted that it is also a problem in Townsville and Mackay. Ironically the volunteer town council members who have been patrolling the areas frequented by illegal backpacker/campers call themselves the “DAWN PARTOL”. If you don’t know why that is ironic, turn the page and read back into this blog to catch up! They seek out illegally parked campervans and tents and request that sleeping campers move on and inform them that they are breaking the law. While they don’t have the authority to move people on, they seem to help deter repeat offenders according to the article. Also mentioned, police officers are powerless to challenge illegal camping on certain types of land noting that most people are pulled up by the side of the road or in a public car park.

It’s a complicated situation since Australia’s east coast beach towns are currently hurting with low tourist numbers. They don’t want to drive people away but at the same time they don’t want anyone breaking the law. While technically illegal camping can be punished with a fine up to 500 dollars or even vehicle confiscation, Cairn’s council thinks that handing out warnings and notices are the best plan of attack given the large number of offenders. In July they gave out 600 warnings (like the one we got outside of Mossman) mostly to illegal beach campers and 3500 notices have been given out this year alone. Yes there are RV and caravan “camping” parks but many times they are full up. Anyway, college aged German, French, and even American backpackers/campers would more likely eat road-kill than pay 25-30 bucks a night on such lodging.

Public opinion is divided, some say that due to the tourist slump, backpacking visitors travelling on the cheap should be allowed to camp in public as long as they are in a safe place and are not an eyesore with cloths lines hanging up and such. Others see it as an untapped source of revenue and suggest a nominal fee for sleeping in a parking lot in a campervan in the heart of Cairns and other cities. Seems to me that a little planning by the cities and some friendly looking, “cheap tent camping for backpackers” sign would be a big hit and help draw visitors in to see some of the local tourist attractions. It takes some work to find the tent camping sites and phone in a reservation but we are at least doing our best to obey the law and camp in designated areas.

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