Shire of Augusta-Margaret River withdraws illegal camping fines for high school ball after-party

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Shire rangers have withdrawn fines handed to local teenagers.
Camera IconShire rangers have withdrawn fines handed to local teenagers. Credit: Media - Shire of Augusta Margaret River

Shire rangers sparked community outrage after a group of Year 12 students were fined for illegal camping at the weekend as part of a long-held school tradition.

While the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River moved quickly to rescind the fines handed out to the teenagers just after 5am on Saturday, it was too late to stop residents incensed at the perceived heavy-handed treatment venting their outrage.

Parents of the affected teenagers said their children were left deeply upset by the incident which ruined their special night.

Making matters worse, the Times understands the incident took place near a shire reserve booked especially for the occasion.

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Christine Griffiths said a group of adults hired Gracetown Hall for their children’s ball after-party, which included a DJ.

The youngsters came unstuck when many then slept in swags under the stars, while friends sleeping in cars avoided the rangers’ wrath.

“It’s a great location because it was out of town and they were safe and they couldn’t drive home,” Ms Griffiths said.

“Why did they pick on the kids when they don’t do anything about the backpackers?”

Reports of the incident included complaints some of the teenagers were photographed and forced to produce ID.

A shire media statement said it gave “several fines to a group of youths” but one of the boys initially penalised believed up to a dozen of his friends copped fines.

The shire later confirmed 13 infringements were handed out and later withdrawn.

Linda Byrne said the experience was deeply unsettling for her child.

“My daughter and her friends got fined $100 each,” she said.

“It was scary for them. They took a photo of them. They woke them up.

“They had only been in the swag for two hours. Surely a warning and move-on notice would have been enough?

“One girl was very upset as she was worried for being in so much trouble.”

While some parents organised to collect their children about 4am, most of the youngsters were P-platers prohibited from driving after midnight.

Residents on social media rallied around the teenagers, furious that the young residents were penalised when many saw this summer’s backpacker influx flouting restrictions with impunity.

“There should never be a fine if people are sleeping in their car so they don’t drink-drive,” Gnarabup man Tony Breen said.

Resident Kelly Wilkinson said “insensitive is an understatement”.

“A teenagers’ ball turned into a trauma event for a few dollars,” she said. “How low can you go?”

Gracetown parent Rhys Jones said he and his wife and others made sure the site was cleaned up, but he was angry at the rangers’ actions.

“These kids are our future and now (we) have a new generation of shire haters,” he said.

Shire president Julia Meldrum issued a statement on Saturday after the incident but declined to say whether councillors would take further action or demand a review.

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