With regard to the letter you published by Bill Mitchell, the primary cause of the ‘vanpacker’ conflict is the refusal of Byron Shire Council and a minority of citizens who are directly affected by the problem to concede to the legal reality that sleeping in a lawfully parked vehicle is not ‘camping’; and no airy fairy ‘new definition’ implemented by Byron Shire Council will change that legal reality.
Whilst I sympathise with residents who have suffered due to the inappropriate behaviour of some (not all) ‘vanpackers’ visiting Byron Bay, committing indictable offences against the innocent is not the solution to the problem. Banning every person from sleeping in a lawfully parked vehicle to address the ‘vanpacker’ problem is as irrational as banning every person from driving because some people throw cigarette butts out the vehicle window whilst driving.
I wish to rebut some of Mr Mitchell’s claims, which appear below in quotation marks.
‘It is illegal to camp on council or public land’ – incorrect assertion. Again – ‘illegal’: indictable offence for which the person may be sentenced to a prison term. Ironically, falsely accusing a person of committing an indictable offence is ‘illegal’ – defamation.
‘I thoroughly endorse council providing the rangers with the legislative support’.
Had Mr Mitchell paid attention in politics class, he would be aware that his statement is ridiculous. Councils in New South Wales cannot provide ‘legislative support’ and providing unlawful ‘support’ is a lawsuit waiting to happen.
‘I read that “itinerant camper” Ms Morgan’ – the label ‘itinerant camper’ is inaccurate; ‘rotational resident’ would be more accurate.
‘Council’s actions are not directed at the genuine homeless. They are directed at campers who pass through our town at a cost to our local amenity with rarely any financial contribution. Council and rangers are showing sufficient consideration for the genuine homeless, which is not something tolerated in other shires.’
On this point, who speaks with greater knowledge founded in experience – the man living in a house (Mitchell); or the person who actually sleeps in her vehicle (Morgan)?
Note the following, Mr Mitchell – because ignorance is not bliss for those subject of your ignorant comment; and it is not folly to be wise:
This citizen’s legal battle against Byron Shire Council started at 5.45am, January 2010 at the Main Beach carpark. Despite the fact that I desperately needed the use of a clean toilet, I waited (with legs crossed) until 5am before driving to the Main Beach carpark in order to use the public toilets at that location.
After going to the toilet, I decided to stay and watch the sun rise over the lighthouse. The rear seat of my station wagon is down and I have a mattress in the back. I sat, legs outstretched, propped up against the front seat – watching the lighthouse beam of light slowly spinning; and, not surprisingly, I nodded off with my head resting up against the rear window. At 5.45am, I was shocked from a dead sleep into a rude awakening by a Council Ranger banging on the rear window of my vehicle (my private property) where my head rested. If a person had a heart condition, the person could have suffered a heart attack from the shock.
I said to the Ranger: what’s your problem – it’s after 5am – why are you banging on my car window?’ The Ranger replied: ‘it’s illegal to sleep in your car’. When I informed him that the assertion was incorrect, the Ranger pointed to the signage (Council Order) that (illegally) asserts: ‘sleeping in vehicles at any time prohibited – fines apply’ – informing one that the sign says it’s illegal to sleep in your car. I countered: ‘mate – if the sign said the Ranger is permitted to bang every backpacker in the carpark, that would not give you the legal right to f**k every backpacker in the carpark; and just because the sign says “sleeping is prohibited” – does not mean that you can prevent people from sleeping – the sign must comply with the law; and that sign does not’.
That was not the only time this citizen with a blue resident’s sticker on her vehicle has been harassed in relation to sleeping in her vehicle. Note the fact that I do not cook in my car – I ‘eat out’ for breakfast lunch and dinner; I do not drink alcohol or take drugs; I do not litter; I always use a public toilet; I do not party in my car – make noise – I go to the pub to listen to music. All I do in my car is drive, sit, read, type on my computer and SLEEP.
Throughout 2010, the Rangers and Police attempted to bully every person who slept in their vehicles from exercising that human right – not merely those committing real offences, everyone – including the locals who slept in vehicles, including myself. As I refused to be bullied with bullshit the police increased their attacks. I was subjected to multiple breath tests and ‘warnings’ and instructed to sleep outside the Byron Bay CBD – they suggested Tyagarah Swamp rest stop. Eventually, the battle with the police escalated into the police pulling one over – behind the police vehicle – off camera (no evidence of innocence) – and subjecting one to a penalty notice ‘drive in period of darkness without lights’ (I had been driving nearly 40 years and had no prior traffic offences – not even parking).
It took more than a year of my life and a lot of legal paperwork before I eventually cleared my ‘good name’ on appeal to the District Court. I have even had the police threaten to lock one up at Lismore psych unit if I continued to sleep in my car (that threat was thwarted by the revelation that my son – a Sapper – would be pulled out of a war zone; and ‘the brass’ would not be impressed).
The most recent harassment was only a couple of weeks ago. I lodged a formal complaint, and the Local Area Commander (who also falsely asserts that it is ‘illegal to sleep in your vehicle’) asserted that the police spoke to one in order to ‘enquire as to (my) welfare’. Any excuse will do. The supposed offence – folding my washing whilst lawfully parked in the Lawson Street North carpark.
‘I don’t like Ms Morgan’s chances of sleeping in her car in the main streets of Sydney when she lodges her action’.
Mr Mitchell. Nobody sleeps on a ‘main street’ anywhere if there is another option because it is too noisy and dangerous. Thus, ‘the chances’ of one CHOOSING to sleep in the ‘main streets of Sydney’ is zero. For the record and the ignorant: I often travel to Sydney (for business, entertainment and shopping). On the occasions that I choose to drive to Sydney, I sleep in my vehicle. As a previous resident of inner-city Sydney, I know all the best places to park and sleep.
Pay attention, Mr Mitchell: The ‘chances’ of sleeping in my car whilst lawfully parked in inner-city Sydney – without being harassed, have proven to be 100 per cent. Whilst I always park and sleep in a commercial area of Byron Bay, in Sydney – for safety – I park directly outside inner-city residential terrace houses. Obviously, my ‘chances’ of surviving in any arena (city or coastal town) are considerably better than the man who made the ignorant comment that he does not ‘like (my) chances’. Really, Mr Mitchell – if you believe that a human being has little chance of surviving ‘in the wild’ in a city, your ‘chances’ of surviving outside your nice house in a small coastal town are zero.
‘How about a lifestyle choice that involves supporting oneself without relying on the taxpayers and ratepayers of Byron Shire?’
Does Mr Mitchell really believe that any disabled woman aged 57 years would make a ‘lifestyle choice’ to sleep in a vehicle rather than have a comfortable home?