Shire of Augusta-Margaret River decline overflow strategy for backpackers and campers

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
This Kombi van will need a booking.
Camera IconThis Kombi van will need a booking. Credit: David Freund/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Shire chiefs say they will not provide a designated overflow camping area to meet peak summer demand from backpackers and tourists with nowhere to stay because of booked-out lodgings.

Shire of Augusta-Margaret River acting chief executive Arthur Kyron and president Julia Meldrum have told the Times the issue was more complex than just providing a space where campers could stay.

“We live in one of the best places in the world, which continues to attract new residents and visitors from around the world,” Ms Meldrum said.

“Additionally, we are seeing changes in the way people live and travel as they embrace the opportunity to work remotely and the van-life culture.

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“A seasonal rest area won’t address all of these issues,” the shire president said.

“This is a complex issue that requires thorough consideration to adequately address all of the issues currently at play.”

The issue has come to a head this summer as the shire swelters under even greater pressure from visitors, including not just van travellers, but Perth tourists coming down for a break crossing their fingers at finding somewhere to stay.

Social media has seen a steady stream of posts complaining about backpackers defecating at surf spots or hanging laundry in the middle of town, and figures provided by the shire showed more illegal camping infringements have been issued than ever before.

Those incidents have led to calls for a designated one-night stop facility for travellers – avoiding the need for illegal camping or people caught out due to the region’s popularity.

The shire last investigated the issue a decade ago – exploring tourism season concerns along with worker accommodation shortages during vintage – a round table including local caravan park operators hosed down the idea as bad for business.

However, Margaret River Business Network president Rob Gough said backpackers were a crucial workforce for the region and shouldn’t be “tarred by the actions or behaviours of a few”.

“Making provisions for a dedicated seasonal space would not only support our local economy, but provide alternatives to parking in the bush which would benefit the community at large,” he said.

“It is not only hospitality, but our thriving tourism and wine industries who depend on backpackers.

“In many cases, backpackers are so well-educated, worldly, experienced and ambitious that they improve the quality of goods and services of those they work for, above and beyond what they would otherwise be.”

Mr Kyron told the Times this week any solution would need State Government support.

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