Vanpackers at Belongil Beach.
Vanpackers at Belongil Beach.

Byron Shire Council rangers' blitz send 'vanpackers' packing

BYRON Shire Council has installed new street signs to deter 'vanpackers' from camping illegally in the town's streets following a Northern Star special report into the issue.

We reported the health warnings a local doctor had issued the council over a 12-month period in which he documented dozens of examples of vanpackers camping illegally near Tennyson St and defecating in the town's streets, sports fields and parks used by children.

Dr Lincoln Gillam, a respected radiologist with more than 25 years' medical experience, warned the town was at risk of contracting deadly diseases common to developing countries if the practice continued.

Following that report, the council's manager of governance, corporate and community services (compliance), Ralph James, met with Dr Gillam.

Vanpackers give campers a bad name, say travellers

As a result, two large 'no camping' signs were installed on Monday, while bollards at the end of Tennyson St are scheduled for replacement to prevent vehicle access to Lands Department land and a 'No Through Road' sign are planned for the intersection of Tennyson and Marvel Sts.

Since our report, the council has ramped up patrols, with 31 no-camping infringement notices issued in the vicinity of Tennyson St in the past two weeks.

Yesterday, Dr Gillam said the situation would not be resolved for him until the town was cleared of campers defecating in public and he would now be writing to Ballina MP Don Page.

"To be fair, the council seems equally frustrated with the situation," Dr Gillam said.

"The State Government needs to give the council power to prosecute the business owners of the vans the travellers rent out."

Byron Shire Mayor Simon Richardson said the council had asked the State Government for help with vanpackers.

"We have asked if we can fine the rental car company directly and whether we could clamp vehicles. Both of these actions would get the vanpackers to change their behaviour but the State Government has refused," he said.

However, a recent NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into Tourism in Local Communities recommended the NSW Government develop guidelines for camping in self-contained recreational vehicles and non-self-contained vehicles on public land.

The report said councils should be encouraged to wheel clamp and fine drivers of non-self-contained vehicles camping illegally.

SELF-CONTAINED: Campers Michael and Marlene Porter from the Gold Coast in their Winnebago van at Byron Bay this week.
SELF-CONTAINED: Campers Michael and Marlene Porter from the Gold Coast in their Winnebago van at Byron Bay this week. Megan Kinninment

Vanpackers give campers a bad name, say travellers

VANPACKERS damage the reputation of well-behaved campers, say travellers Marlene and Michael Porter.

The Gold Coast couple were stopping over in Byron Bay this week as they made their way down the East Coast in their Winnebago fully self-contained camper.

"The vanpackers give us 'leave no trace' campers a bad name," Mrs Porter said.

Because the Porters' $100,000 van had cooking facilities, shower, toilet, water tank and grey water systems the couple needed little in the way of local facilities, Mrs Porter said.

"When we spent 10 months travelling Australia we probably stayed in three caravan parks in total. Most are too expensive for us - some charge up to $60 a night - and we are fully self-contained.

"There is an anti-camping mentality in many places - Byron Bay and Noosa are the worst for free campers."

Mr Porter, 57, said councils had to acknowledge the fact that self-contained RV (recreational vehicle) campers didn't want to pay park fees when they could just as easily stop by the side of the road and cause no problems with waste or litter.

"We don't want to stay in a caravan park packed in like sardines listening to the bloke next door snoring," he said.

"We like to pull off the side of the road by ourselves for peace and quiet.

"In many areas the council have provided minimum facilities - cold showers and access to water and toilets - for about $5 a night," he said.

"RV campers actually bring money to the town by buying petrol, food and paying for activities like surf lessons," he said.


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