Young French, Germans and other nationalities are roaming Australia by the thousand, living out of rickety Kombis and Nissan Urvans they have hired or bought.
Like most Grey Nomads in self-contained vehicles, the young foreign travellers are looking for the dream of travelling in this land and freedom camping in our wide open spaces. The Grey Nomads are quite conscious of Ranger Danger – being sprung illegally camping – but the young foreigners tend not to care. They plead ignorance and offer to move on. If they get lumbered with a $100 or $150 fine, they shrug and lose it somewhere on their wandering way back to their home country.
Caravan parks are occasional stops but the experience the freedom-loving travellers seek is not there. They do not dream of being sandwiched into caravan parks, paying for amenities they do not need (we have been quoted $60 a night when we have looked for a unpowered site) and being glowered at by fussy, grumpy old bastards parked two meters away.
Nor do they enjoy the dozens of shrieking signs this is forbidden, il est interdit; es ist verboten; go to bed by 10pm and be very quiet if you bonk. The allure of Australia is the freedom to soak up the wide open spaces in carefree independence. No matter how hard caravan parks try to block the practice it is going to grow.
Campers on the Cape Naturaliste coast west of Busselton were clearly pushing the boundaries. We joined them, even though a Global Warrior finds it a little hard to be discreet.
The cape is scalloped by idyllic beaches of white sand lapped by turquoise waters. Until the notorious WA coastal wind gets up in the afternoon and churns the tranquillity. Perfect for stealth and brazen free motor homing.
We spent one night sidled in a discreet layby beside a couple of youngish Germans in a motor home they had bought and a voluble 40ish Aussie in a Cruiser. Kevin was apparently on his way to Timor. Or he might have been planning to do the grape harvest on the Margaret River.
He told endless yarns that rolled our eyes but enthralled the young cosmopolitan crowd he hung about with during the day. His main audience was the French contingent camped in three or four assorted Kombi-style vehicles in a prime spot just off pretty Meelup Beach’s main parking area.
Vehicle numbers and their occupants changed daily as young French friends Facebooked and mobiled an amorphous network of fellow travellers. Most nights three or four vehicles were at the core of the noisy, happy ménage, staying one or two nights or a week.
Queries about ranger danger were greeted with an eloquent French shrug of the shoulders. Toilets and cold showers were nearby. They swam, fished, drank, cooked and cackled at Kevin’s tales of Oz.
Charming Coco, a seamstress from somewhere near Paris, was bubbling with high spirits at a little table behind the vehicle she shared with an indeterminate number of mes amis.
She beamed through her dreadlocks. “We found thees for $50 and I must be having it,” she purred. “I have meesed the sewing.” Coco was making curtains for the campervan. It needed them.
Our German friends were a little less gay. Kristiane was a concept artist with lots of examples of her art. We sat in Isabel as she showed me her sketchbook and computer images of the strange things conceptual artists do. My knowledge expanded. I learned that appreciation of some ethereal aspects of the arts is hidden deep inside my brain. I hope one day to find it.
Simon the tanned 60ish Aussie from Perth was being really stealthy with his Land Rover. He told us of a 4WD side track nearer the lighthouse where “no one (ranger) will ever bother you”. During the day Simon appeared around the amenities and fun foreigners; at night he sloped off into the bush.
He swam seriously despite the sharks, wandering around in a saronged towel and gold chain and happy to talk to anyone about his racehorses in Albany and cricket on TV. His wife loathed cricket and would not let him watch it in the house so he often packed up his TV and headed off to free camp near the beach. If he stayed at home and watched cricket in the garage there were too many jobs lined up to do.
We didn’t see any rangers but heard they were girding their lions to tackle the illegal campers around the cape when they had time. Apparently they were a bit busy chasing the French travelling circus from the foreshore in Busselton. Now that’s not a bad spot ….