Residents want Shire of Augusta-Margaret River to broker overflow solution to illegal camping

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
The Margaret River Youth Precinct is a regular gathering point for travellers with nowhere else to go.
Camera IconThe Margaret River Youth Precinct is a regular gathering point for travellers with nowhere else to go. Credit: Warren Hately/Augusta-Margaret R/Augusta-Margaret River Times

News Shire rangers cracked down last weekend on a group of local high school students has exposed a deep vein of anger about the perceived lack of action on the region’s illegal camping.

Parents of the students as well as residents voicing their outrage on social media have honed in on this summer’s flood of backpackers many claim go largely unpunished.

The Times understands behind the scenes, Shire of Augusta-Margaret River councillors and officials are scrambling to reconsider a peak-season overflow facility initially rejected when questioned by this newspaper last month.

Residents overwhelmingly want the Shire to develop a solution rather than reject the proposed as too complex and expensive.

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Multiple residents told the Times about their own experiences at hotspots including the Margaret River weir, Gnarabup, Gloucester Park and the suburban streets of Brookfield and Rapids Landing where backpackers were flouting the law.

Although the Times reported the Shire would hire more rangers due to facing twice as many call-outs this summer compared to previous years — and residents acknowledged rangers were handing out infringements — they said backpackers needed adequate facilities to avoid littering, illegal campfires and nuisance issues such as public defecation and urination.

“Imagine being the person to end the community’s Year 12 ball night like that,” resident Sarah Howell said.

“Meanwhile, backpackers are literally s---ting in our backyard.”

Catherine Cawley said she saw illegal camping every morning when taking her son surfing.

“They defecate in the bushes and don’t even have the decency to cover it up,” she said.

“This makes me sad as to what is happening to this town.”

Parent Christine Griffiths, who had two boys at Gracetown for post-ball festivities, told the Times it was a basic public health issue to offer van-based travellers an adequate rest area.

Travellers were camping daily at the weir and squeezing out the general public.

“There’s poo everywhere. It’s just disgusting,” she said.

“What it boils down to is the council doing something about it, not just ticketing them.”

The pressure faced by the region was threatening the warm welcome many wanted to offer tourists as residents struggled to find parking or access beaches.

The Gracetown-Cowaramup Bay Community group committee were greatly concerned about this year’s influx.

“They are spreading out and illegally using infrastructure,” president Richard Muirhead said.

Residents believed rangers were sometimes loath to fine travellers because they were often greatly outnumbered.

Shire sustainable economy and communities director Nick Byrne acknowledged last week’s ranger incident “highlighted broader concerns about illegal camping and accommodation pressures, which are priority issues for the Shire”. However, no specific solutions were immediately outlined. “Our Shire has become a bucket-list destination which means we’re attracting backpackers here on the trip of a lifetime as well as seasonal workers who are vital for the local hospitality and viticulture industries,” he said.

“This is coupled with a resurgence of digital nomads and van-life culture, plus a rental and cost of living crisis.

“Finding a solution is a priority for the Shire and a process has commenced to understand what the Shire can do to address the issue ahead of future peak seasons.”

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