The Mirror News

Happy campers at what cost?

THE famed beauty of the Franklin River Reserve outside Toora has spread far and wide, with scores of caravans, tents and campervans regularly parked there. Locals who have kept tabs have counted an average of 25 to 30 vehicles there each day over summer, often many more.

Those in favour of free camping at the reserve argue that the campers contribute to the local economy by buying provisions of one sort or another in the nearby towns of Toora and Foster.

‘But at what cost?’ say others, pointing to the overflowing rubbish bins and the overused toilet facilities, originally designed for no more than a dozen flushes per week.

“So much for ‘leave no trace’,” said Rachel Brown, who runs the nearby Toora Tourist Park with husband Andrew. She was referring to the self-containment code of conduct for Recreational Vehicle (RV) users, which promotes environmentally responsible camping.

South Gippsland Shire Council’s highly contentious decision to allow free camping at the reserve as part of its Recreational Vehicle Strategy 2014 was made primarily to attract RV users.

“RV users are self-contained, self-sufficient and do not require external toilet, shower and BBQ facilities,” reads the RV Strategy. Yet the majority of people who overnight at Franklin River Reserve are clearly far from self-sufficient. From her observations, Rachel Brown estimates as few as 10 or 20 per cent of the campers are RV users, with the majority being travellers in small vans, cars and/or tents.

Multiply the number of vehicles commonly at the reserve by two, to allow for a couple of holidaymakers per vehicle at the very least, and numbers of visitors making use of the limited facilities at the reserve mounts up significantly. Shire workers generally collect rubbish bins three times each week, but often this is not enough. Last weekend (a long holiday weekend) had barely started when the bins were already full and overflowing, creating a terrible eyesore, if not a health hazard. This is the case more often than not.

The health of the Franklin River is also at risk, suggested Ms Brown. “The septic system is not designed for this amount of use.”

She said that a shire truck and excavator recently spent a day at the reserve digging trenches to deal with problems with the septic system. “And it’s the ratepayers who are paying for all this,” she pointed out.

“It was a challenging process when we developed the RV Strategy,” admitted South Gippsland Shire Coastal Promontory ward councillor Cr Mohya Davies. “A large percentage of the community is in support of free camping, although there is some opposition. There are pros and cons, and I am aware it comes at a cost.”

Cr Davies said that Council had increased the rubbish collection at the reserve in a bid to keep up with the demand from campers, and the septic issue has been fixed – for the moment – with no plans to upgrade the current small toilet block.

The councillor said that she regularly calls into Franklin River Reserve and acknowledges that there are very few self-contained RVs among the many users of the reserve.

“Council needs to understand the costs of allowing people to camp there. I acknowledge there are very strong opinions on both sides of the debate. The RV Strategy will be reviewed at some stage. We have to ask ourselves: ‘Is this what we want the Franklin River Reserve to look like?’”


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  1. I am looking forward to visiting this area in the near future. It is unfortunate that some can spoil things for all. we have been on the road for the past 12 weeks and have kept track that when we do free or low cost camp in an area we will stay longer and we spend more in the local area.
    I hope the concil continues to support initiatives such as this.

    Posted by Ann Kennedy | March 16, 2016, 4:50 pm
  2. I see Rachel Brown is carrying on with the general misinformation we come to expect from Caravan Park proprietors. Self contained vehicles and the various Leave No trace Schemes are in the main the realm of the grey nomads who take this very seriously. Most spend time at each site they visit ensuring the place is cleaner than when they arrived, all they leave is their tyre tracks. The Campervan and Motorhome Club of Australia provide Dump Points around this great country for those people to dispose of their effluent, so in the main they use their own toilet and washing facilities and never leave a drop behind. How convenient it is for Ms Brown to just lump everyone in the one basket. When Caravan Parks influence Councils with their one sided views the rest of the business community misses out. This is a 7 Billion Dollar a year industry and wise Councils are ensuring they get in for their share. Just watch them all drive right by if forced into a Caravan Park. Rachel they never were your prospective customers and never will be. Freedom of Choice is what it is all about.

    Posted by Col Coleman | March 16, 2016, 4:58 pm
  3. Check out the controls used by Julia Creek (QLD)over their free camping site for self contained RV’s. You must register and get a permit stating that you are in a self contained vehicle and subscribe to the LNT “contract” before going on site. It seemed to work well for them when we stayed up there. The place was clean.

    Posted by Stephen Harbour | March 16, 2016, 10:15 pm
  4. I live in a small town on the Murray. We have 2 van parks and five times as many free camping sites within 5 minutes from town.
    Currently there are very few campers along the river due to the Blue-Green Algae closing the river.
    The parks are still booked out, but the town is empty compared to this time last year, even though the weather’s warmer.
    No free campers = no tourist economy. Our businesses have the figures to prove it.
    Park owners are a selfish lot. On one hand they put in motel/ unit type accommodation, yet don’t care about the impact on nearby motels…Then they complain when people stay in their town, but not with them.
    They want people to visit and spend money, as long as it’s with them!
    The author of this article is a greedy hypocrite.
    She has the credibility of a $7 note.

    Posted by John Harrison | March 16, 2016, 11:19 pm
  5. There is no sense in reviewing a strategy that is not implemented. The strategy also states a maximum of 48 hour stay. As some people have been living there since 1 st January implementing the strategy they already have would go a long way to removing the problem.

    Posted by Heather Bligh | March 17, 2016, 9:06 am
  6. Dear Concerned citizens.
    May I first of all say thank you for allowing people like myself, who do not like crowded caravan parks which charge stupidly high amounts for things I do not need. to camp in my RV at Franklin River Reserve. But camping is never actually ‘free’.

    I do spend quite a bit at local shops and cafes and attractions instead. I prefer to support the community not one small section of it- the caravan parks.

    I noticed that the one complaining the loudest here does appear to be a park owner.

    But I do agree that ratepayers should not pay for the very few ferals who do not show respect and thanks for this beautiful spot.
    So can I suggest a solution?

    Charge $5 a night to every user here. It would not take too much to place a chain across the drive and have someone take the money in exchange for a free campsite? Or perhaps have volunteers? By all means lock the chain at night to stop deliberate latecomers.

    And another solution finding better response in NSW and Queensland is for caravan parks to section off part of their park for ‘self contained only’ and charge $5 a night.
    I would happily pay $5 a night for this spot.
    Thank you once again

    Posted by di roberts | March 17, 2016, 4:08 pm
  7. So Mrs. Brown who runs the local caravan park is the only voice in this article? No vested interest there of course 😉

    The reserve is a very welcome and much needed free place for passers by to stay a night or two.

    Saying that the Franklin River is effected is ludicrous considering there is farming all around which pollutes the river with dumped sheep and cattle carcases, fertiliser runoff, top soil (what’s left of it) runoff etc.

    Well done council for at least temporarily fixing the already outdated toilets.

    Every wondered Mrs. Brown why people choose to stay there and not your park? It’s called nature.

    Posted by Boris Borgnine | March 30, 2016, 2:22 pm