By council reporter Alena Nickell
THE free camping saga plaguing the tiny village of Bendemeer looks closer to being resolved, after council agreed to conduct a community survey to gauge sentiment for “primitive” camping in the area.
But it may be too little, too late, to save the village’s only fuel supply.
Free camping at the rodeo grounds has been the subject of strident opposition since council agreed in 2008 to allow motorists – the majority being recreational vehicles (RVs) – to “rest” at the area, which flanks the commercial Bendemeer Tourist Park.
The issue flared again several months ago after long-term caravan park owners Jim and Amy Geddes – who also own the village’s only fuel station – advised the community they would be shutting down the depot and its general store on November 1.
“I’ve given up – that’s why we are closing,” Mr Geddes said.
“They’re camping right in view of my caravan park.”
After battling council for five years and continuing to lose about $1000 a week in revenue, Mr Geddes said he was at his wits end and wouldnot even entertain the thought council could shortly rectify the long-standing problem.
“If I thought it was believable, even remotely possible, I would think about it,” he said
“But I don’t believe it at all.”
An emotional Mr Geddes said the stoush had aken a tremendous toll on both his and his wife’s physical and mental health, promoting them to shut the service station and general store where they come into contact with free campers daily.
Councillors voted unanimously at Tuesday night’s council meeting to undertake a survey of the Bendemeer community and the surrounding catchment to determine the level of support for the retention of the free camping site at the rodeo grounds rest area.
At the suggestion of Cr Mark Rodda, councillors also determined to ascertain support for an alternative site –adjacent to the football field – in the same poll.
Cynthia Murray was one of two Bendemeer residents to speak to the issue at Tuesday night’s meeting, where she urged council to immediately suspend free camping at the rest area until the survey was complete.
Although her pleas were not answered, Ms Murray welcomed the survey and the suggestion of an alternative site.
“We’re not objecting to free camping – just not there,” she said.
“At one stage, (council) promised to put up a fence ... and stop people from sticking their noses into Jim’s place, but it never happened.
“They’ll pull into the driveway (of the caravan park) and see all the freebies right next door and back right out and go and join the freebies.”
Councillors encouraged the Bendemeer community to embrace the lucrative RV industry, which is the fastest growing domestic tourism sector in Australia.
“We must look at this as an opportunity to grow Bendemeer,” Cr Helen Tickle said. “Let’s welcome them. Let’s embrace them.”
The survey and viability study into the alternative site will be dealt with as quickly as possible.