Ferry Street RV free camping stirs debate

Elaine and Greg Lane with neighbour Gai Supierz (right) enjoy the view of the campers from their front verandah.
Elaine and Greg Lane with neighbour Gai Supierz (right) enjoy the view of the campers from their front verandah.

The issues reported in last week’s Guardian News around the RV free camping in Macksville have stirred up a rather robust debate.

There are many in the community who sympathise with those residents on Ferry St who are sore at the overcrowding and abuse of the site by a couple of overnight campers.

And there are others who see the council-led initiative as a wasted economic opportunity. 

“If they can afford the vehicle and the fuel, they can afford to pay for a camp spot,” Matt Harris said.

Alan Peters believes it wouldn’t spell economic disaster if the site was taken away.

​“Events such as concerts, car, bike and sporting clubs are the money spinners,” he said.

But there’s always more than one side to any story.

Paula Davis who owns the Valley Emporium on River St said she’s “all for them being there” and reckons the majority of free campers spend the money they save on accommodation in town.

“I see them walk across all the time, they put their laundry in at the laundromat and then they head off to have breakfast or come in to pick up gifts for their grandkids,” she said.

“And if they’re there on market days they always come over and buy from the stallholders.”

“They like to have a chat and I often hand out maps to them and point them in the direction of the chocolate shop in Bowraville or the buffalo farm in Eungai – there’s no tourist information centre in town here so I help them out where I can.

“Keep ‘em happy I reckon.”

Paula also highlighted the economic value in the free advertising the Valley would likely be getting via word-of-mouth recommendations from travellers who have had a great experience here.

And for a large proportion of Ferry St residents who live opposite, the presence of visitors at the site is a welcome delight – one that has been happening for well over a decade.

“I love them being there,” Gai Supierz said.

“It’s interesting to see all the different types of campers that pull up.

“I’ve had a few people ask me in the last week what I've got against the campers, especially considering I have a caravan myself, but I don’t have anything against them!”

And Elaine and Greg Lane (both avid travellers and free campers themselves) agree with their neighbour.

“There’s a very small minority of residents that have objected to this,” Greg said.

“I personally wouldn’t mind if there were 40 or 50 of them over there, but that wouldn’t be fair to the people using the boat ramp.

“Occasionally I grab a beer and go over for a chat – in fact, when we were thinking of getting ourselves a motorhome I went over there to have a yarn and ask for advice.”

And Ferry St locals were delighted to spread Christmas cheer with their temporary neighbours, lighting up the length of the street with candles – a tradition that has been going on for the past seven years or so.

And what of the complaints to council about noise and rubbish?

“I’ve never seen any mess left there,” Elaine said.

“I haven’t heard any generators going, especially not at night. We hear the Star more than we hear the campers – we often sit here and bop along to the music.”

“Yeah, actually we were having a giggle because last Friday we could hear the band playing Eagle Rock plain as day,” Gai said.

“It doesn’t worry us as long as the campers abide by the rules, and it’s lovely to sit here and watch all the activity and see the river being used,” Elaine said.

But all three agreed that there did need to be stronger enforcement from council to stop the boat ramp from being blocked, especially over the festive season.

“We should have big signs that say ‘boat trailer parking only’ or something to let them know,” Greg said.

The signs that are currently installed at the site

The signs that are currently installed at the site

Where to now?

Council staff are currently conducting a survey of residents and local businesses to address the issues that were raised at the January meeting and to assess the most appropriate solution.

According to locals who received the paperwork, one suggestion put forward by council was to move the free camping area to the Macksville Memorial Aquatic and Fitness Centre carpark.

Paula Davis doesn’t agree with that particular option, saying the river bank on North Macksville is a more aesthetically suitable location for the promotion of Macksville.

She would much rather see the Lions Park site equipped with more amenities (like a sink and bench for washing up, some coin-operated showers and some bins) to nip current issues in the bud.

“They could also put up a sign asking people to limit generator noise,” she said.

The debate has also elicited a number of interesting proposals from the community at large.

Matt Harris has questioned why there is no grey-water dumping spot in the vicinity if council intended Ferry St to be RV-friendly.

Karly Lane suggested that to counter issues of crowding and overstaying that timed parking be introduced. She also suggested that proper enforcement was needed to limit vigilantism which often leaves visitors with a sour taste in their mouths.

Kim Jury has suggested that Gumma Reserve be re-designated as a free camping spot.

But Greg Lane believes that Gumma Reserve is not easy to manoeuvre around in a bulky motorhome.

While Councillor Sue Jenvey has argued, in hindsight, that if the showground hadn’t been sold by council, it would have been a more suitable location to cater to free campers.

The debate will undoubtedly continue, but what is becoming clear is that if Macksville (and indeed the Valley) is to continue along the path of attracting tourist revenue into our economy, residents will need to learn to live with the tourists that accompany those wads of cash.