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Byron Shire
September 26, 2023

Byron Council compliance staff bolstered

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Byron council estimates up to 160 camper vans are parked illegally each night. (file pic)

Are the van campers of Brunswick Heads thoughtless travellers with no respect for the town and its inhabitants, or are many in fact local homeless folk looking for a safe space with toilets and running water?

That was a key theme during a passionate Council meeting last week, which ultimately saw councillors vote to close down the van camping hub on South Beach Lane, and to spend $250,000 on bolstering Council’s compliance team.

South Beach Lane is located next to open parkland, a bridge and runs along the river, near Torakina car park.

A group of local residents living in the highly-sought-after strip of houses adjacent to the lane slammed the van campers who have set up a community in the car park there.

‘I speak on behalf of my family, residents of South Beach Lane and beyond, when I say that the relentless camping and loitering has reached an unbearable limit,’ said resident Sam Boulton, whose family has lived on the lane since 1968.

‘There’s no reprieve and we’ve reached breaking point.’

Mr Boulton said there was continuous noise from engines, doors slamming, and music, and that campers dumped rubbish, gear and food waste in the nearby park and sometimes into people’s backyards.

‘The current circumstances mean that it is not a pleasant place for raising a child, study, working from home or simply enjoying home time,’ he said.

‘The attitude if asked to be quiet? “We can be here till 1am”.’

Other residents spoke of campers defecating in the park next to the river, having loud parties, dealing drugs, and swearing and spitting at local residents.

‘The principal of the primary school has to call the police to do a sweep before there’s a cross country race down there,’ another resident, Mark Bathie said.

However, as the meeting went on the Council heard another side to the story.

Sarah-Jane at her homeless camp at Byron Shire Council chambers in Mullumbimby. Photo Jeff Dawson.

Sarah Jane McGrath, a long-term local who became homeless in 2020 and lives in her van, said she had ‘total respect’ for the residents who were being impacted by van campers, but suggested that it was not fair for everyone camping in Bruns to be ‘tarred with the same brush’.

‘I totally agree with shutting the car park in the future, if not tomorrow,’ Ms McGrath said. ‘It’s clearly caused people so much distress, and that distresses me and my community. But I don’t know who those people are, I don’t hang out with them.’ 

McGrath implored the Council to come up with ‘appropriate solutions’ to address the lack of basic amenities for homeless people living in Brunswick Heads and the rest of the Shire so that they could find ‘a little bit of peace of mind’.

‘I don’t sleep well at night either. That’s because I live in a van. I never know when I’m safe, I never know when I’m going to have to get up at 3am in the morning and go to the toilet. 

‘I have to deal with people coming up and staring in my van and taking pictures. I have to start educating them how to be appropriate.

‘If we’re not being accepted, if we’re not being respected, then you can understand why people stop respecting everything.’ 

Ms McGrath’s request for greater support for the local homeless community appeared to fall on deaf ears at the meeting.

All parking to be removed from South Beach Lane 

Instead, a majority of councillors voted to have all parking removed from South Beach Lane.

The matter will need to go to the Local Traffic Committee for approval, meaning the closure is likely to be at least a month away, and the decision will be reviewed in three months’ time.

However, it will mean an end to the van camping community in that part of the town. 

‘I think we need to act on this now,’ Mayor Michael Lyon said.

‘I think those residents have been through enough.’

Three councillors voted against the immediate closure, arguing that there needed to be a broader and more strategic approach to the issue of unauthorised van camping in the town rather than simply shutting down parking in one street.

Greens councillor Duncan Dey put forward a motion to this effect, but it was voted down by a majority of other councillors. However, Councillors were all on the same page when it came to bolstering Council’s compliance resources.

They voted to spend an additional $250,000 to hire two new compliance officers and buy a new vehicle.

‘We don’t want to live in a police state, but we do want to live in a Shire where people are following the rules,’ Cr Lyon said.

‘We do want to live in a Shire where our community feels protected and backed up by our Council’s enforcement team. People shouldn’t feel unsafe in their own streets.’

‘I think we need to develop a reputation for zero tolerance [of illegal van camping].

‘On blogs and websites, the van lifing community think of us as a soft touch. If you want to come to our Shire and camp you have to pay your way – just like everyone else.’

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  1. Thank goodness, having been threatened and nearly assaulted for no reason by illegal campers we’ve been avoiding going the area for a long time.

  2. during the 4 years i’ve been living in my car as a long-time resident of the shire i have observed a nasty variety of disregard by travelling vanners.
    for that reason my own options of overnight stays were rather limited, not wanting to mingle with the irresponsible-dog-owning, nature-trashing, noisy crowds.
    how can it be so difficult to discern whether someone is local or just travelling through? check da papers!

  3. They voted to spend an additional $250,000 to hire two new compliance officers and buy a new vehicle.
    Wow. This money could’ve been put towards housing homeless people!
    How absolutely ridiculous to just spend it on more policing .
    It’s not resolving the issue. Closing a street to
    All Parking ??? Ridiculous.

  4. Great news, can never get a park there anyway, always filled up with vans, so it should be returned to green space for the community.


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