Campers rescued from floods had ‘no idea’ they were in a danger zone. Is more regulation needed?

Campers rescued from floods had ‘no idea’ they were in a danger zone. Is more regulation needed?

The dramatic rescue of campers from flooded parts of New South Wales this week has prompted calls for better regulation of camping on private land.

Key points:

  • More than a dozen campers in NSW had to be rescued from floodwaters this week
  • The Tweed Shire mayor is calling for better regulation of camping on private land
  • The NSW government says it welcomes feedback on its agritourism policy

Tweed Shire mayor Chris Cherry said she would be writing to the state’s planning minister seeking a review of agritourism policy. 

Cr Cherry said she spoke with two campers who were among 10 people rescued by the State Emergency Service (SES) at Eungella, west of Murwillumbah.

She said the Gold Coast couple was staying in their caravan on private property beside the Oxley River after booking via online platform Hipcamp. 

“Obviously they had no idea of the danger they were in,” Cr Cherry said.

Another four people were rescued in the Tweed after their caravan was swept away, while a couple free-camping next to the Shoalhaven River in the state’s south had to be rescued on Thursday.

Campers were isolated by the Shoalhaven River after 50mm of rain fell in the area this week.(Supplied: Brendan Shannon, NSWRFS)

The mayor described the situation as a “red flag”.

“Hopefully those in government will be thinking about making some changes, so people need to get at least some level of approval to check that fire and flood hazards are not too great to be putting tourists in that zone,” she said. 

“As a minimum council should need to sign off that it is a location where camping is an appropriate thing to do.”

More than half a metre of rain lashed parts of the Tweed Valley in northern NSW during a 48-hour period around New Year’s Eve, causing some rivers in the area to rise swiftly.

Farmers understand concerns

Dairy farmer Necia Davis has two camp sites registered with online booking platform Hipcamp, and was hosting a family on the property on Tyalgum Creek.

Agritourism and online booking platforms have made camping on private rural properties more accessible.(Supplied: Warning View Campground)

“We are no stranger to floods here and as soon as it looks like there might be a flood or some constant heavy rain, I go and have a chat with them,” she said.

Ms Davis said she understood the concern around camping on private land following the rescue of campers in the area. 

“But also Mother Nature, nobody can predict what she can do and I think we have so many rules and regulations already that another one around people wanting to camp and enjoy the outdoors is going to hurt us,” she said.

Hipcamp founder and chief executive Alyssa Ravasio said the company worked with local governments to handle disaster response and advise on regulation to ensure safe and responsible recreation.

“Hipcamp would absolutely champion additional regulations that help to ensure private land camping is safe for all and that hosts are able to receive timely notifications from emergency services,” she said.

Campers near Tyalgum were rescued after being isolated by flooding on New Year’s Day.(Supplied: Tweed SES)

Local Government NSW president Darriea Turley said councils were disappointed to not be consulted about the state’s agritourism policy before it was introduced in 2022.

The policy allows farms bigger than 15 hectares to host up to 20 campers without planning or building approval.

She said her organisation supported small business and agribusiness, but planning laws needed to be in place to protect visitors and the community. 

“We predicted this would happen,” Ms Turley said.

SES advises safety first

State Emergency Service commissioner Carlene York said while the SES had been called to assist a number of campers, regulation was a matter for government.

“Australia is very much about being out in open spaces, we want to encourage that where it is safe to do so and the risk isn’t great,” she said.

“The message from SES is, know where you are going and understand what the messages are from us and what the warnings are or the forecast for the weather from the Bureau of Meteorology.”

In a statement, a spokesperson said the Department of Planning, Housing and Infrastructure monitored the operation of all its policies.

They said the department welcomed feedback from councils, emergency services and members of the public. 

“The agritourism policy is no different, and the department will continue to monitor the policy to ensure that it is operating as intended,” the spokesperson said.

Carlene York says campers should make themselves aware of local hazards.(AAP: Bianca De Marchi)

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