Legality of roadside camping in the outback

Submitted: Friday, May 20, 2011 at 22:32
ThreadID: 86438 Views:5018 Replies:11 FollowUps:3
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I have a question about the legality of overnight camping beside the road in the outback.

This question is the result of a nasty experience in western Queensland in June 2010. I am travelling again soon, so the issue has come back to my mind.

Our party of 2 vehicles with camper trailers pulled about 100m off the road at dusk to camp for the night. This was across the road from a roadside clearing and shelter bearing a sign: "Picnic Area". In this picnic area were 2 vehicles setting up a swag camp for the night. We set up over the road so as not to intrude on the "personal space" of the other campers.

About 30 minutes later, a man appeared at our camp (dinner half-cooked!) and immediately began an extremely abusive tirade to the effect that we were on private property and had to move on. he then approached the other campers in the picnic area over the road and similarly abused them. We all moved off without argument. I would have thought that the "Picnic Area" would not have been private property, but non-one was interested in staying anyway after the unpleasant interaction with this man. He was quite sinister, and this did not bode well for a good night's sleep!

On moving up the road a bit we stopped to chat to the other campers. It turned out that one of them was a Police Officer based about 300km away. Nonetheless, he knew of this landowner and his widespread reputation for anti-social behaviour and worse.

Of course we had no desire to camp anywhere near his land so we travelled 100km further on to a reserve beside Cooper Creek.

I realise that even in the absence of fences, there is most likely private property adjacent to most roads. However I assume that there is a gazetted width of land either side of the road that makes part of the legal road reserve.

So my question is this:
Is it legal to camp in this area beside the road, before private property begins?

Peter C
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Reply By: Motherhen - Friday, May 20, 2011 at 23:40

Friday, May 20, 2011 at 23:40
Hi Peter

You were unlucky - but only in Qld! It does seem odd that a signed picnic area is on private property where visitors are unwelcome. It may vary but i understand that 30 metres is a normal road reserve. A road side rest area, unless signed no camping and not a designated truck stop, is for resting so is OK. We look for places like disused gravel pits, tracks alongside rivers and streams, old roads that deviate from the current road. We also use Camps Australia Wide, which means you may have to share the space with others, but in some cases we have had nice places all to ourselves, and at other times have met some lovely fellow campers.

Only in Qld - but we had broken our own rules and gone through a gate. Looking for somewhere for the night, we found a well used track along a power line and through a pair of wide open old wooden gates into an old gravel dump on hill with a gorgeous view. Firmly believing we were in a Shire or Main Roads gravel pit we parked and i started to make a cup of tea. Along came the farmer with a ute load of dogs. I said we did not know it was private land, and would move if he wanted us to, but with his permission we would like to stay for the night. After questions like what about our campfire (i was putting the kettle on the caravan gas stove when he came) I explained we were farmers from WA and did not light fires, he still looked uneasy. I asked him again and he asked me to move. I thought afterwards what would I have done if accosting campers who were farmers from another state on my land - asked them home to dinner of course.

Theoretically on unfenced station land you need to ask permission, but in reality you usually have no way of knowing whose station you are on, how to contact them or even where the homestead is, or if you did find the homestead, would they find your visit an intrusion. We have stayed on station land and left no trace but our tyre marks. Most of the places we have stopped for the night acorss the country have the tell tale ring of stones and ash from the camp fire of someone camping there previously.


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AnswerID: 454994

Follow Up By: Tonyfish#58 - Saturday, May 21, 2011 at 08:29

Saturday, May 21, 2011 at 08:29
Road reserve widths vary greatly, even along a length of road. You have to have the DCDB to know where they are. These are on most Navigation units. You will see it often when you pass a road that is not there and when you get directed to a route that does not exist.

Regards Tony
FollowupID: 727911

Reply By: Member - MYPRADO - Friday, May 20, 2011 at 23:59

Friday, May 20, 2011 at 23:59
I had a shot fired at night while off road, little wonder why many in the outback i met carry guns. Just be careful, you are the only law.
AnswerID: 454996

Reply By: Bigfish - Saturday, May 21, 2011 at 07:07

Saturday, May 21, 2011 at 07:07
I would have thought that a sign post saying picnic area was just that! Not a camping , car washing or trucking bay. I would definately not camp in a picnic area. Actions like this see more areas closed. It is always best to havecamp area well sorted bu dusk just because of experiences like the one you had. The last thing we need is more sign posts explaining every little rule/command/facet or order. Just use common sense and also ask your self...If this was my property, how would I feel?

AnswerID: 455003

Reply By: carlsp - Saturday, May 21, 2011 at 07:24

Saturday, May 21, 2011 at 07:24
Being that you are writing and reading this forum, I assume you are a "good camper".

There are so many bad campers that leave rubbish and generally trash the place, that now we are getting angry locals and more council signs saying "No Camping".

Oh for the perfect world and I lament the days, when we could go anywhere and the world was full of responsible people. It is sad to see nice places that have been used and abused but it appears the way of the future. Sad.
AnswerID: 455005

Follow Up By: Brian Purdue - Saturday, May 21, 2011 at 07:53

Saturday, May 21, 2011 at 07:53
AMEN! carl
FollowupID: 727906

Follow Up By: Bigfish - Saturday, May 21, 2011 at 08:15

Saturday, May 21, 2011 at 08:15
Both dead right. It is only the actions of few idiots that now has everyone tarred with the same brush! For God,s sake people...what happened to common sense and respect?
FollowupID: 727909

Reply By: Tonyfish#58 - Saturday, May 21, 2011 at 08:36

Saturday, May 21, 2011 at 08:36
Yes you can camp on the road reserve. It is hard to determine where this is unless you have the DCDB for the area. It is on all the Navigation units, but I am unsure if they all show the road reserve on the face of the unit. This land is owned by DERM and either controlled by Sate or Local Government depending on which road you are on.

A fence is not always on the boundary either, a lot of properties fence sections of road reserve.

Its sounds like you got unlucky, we do the same thing and try to make ourselves unseen. We also leave little trace that we have been there.

If we know where we are going to stay we try to ring the station and get permission. (This is not easy, try finding a phone number for a station :-)

Cheers tony
AnswerID: 455011

Reply By: Member - Richard H - West NSW - Saturday, May 21, 2011 at 08:38

Saturday, May 21, 2011 at 08:38
As you may see I live in Western N.S.W.

Coming from a law enforcement profession this can be a hard call as to see who is right & who is wrong.

I've personally intervened in campers allegedly trespassing on private property, a case in point was a Rural Land Protection Board stock watering point, where I was assured by the cocky that it was his land. Further inquiries revealed that it wasn't and he was later told in no uncertain terms. Also the Darling River bank is an 'iffy' issue, in some places there is public access and in others there is not. It's unusual for a cocky to allow campers for obvious reasons as so many idiots have stuffed it for the rest of us.

Public stock watering places are usually sign posted, but I have noticed that in this area a lot of the signs have faded or have disappeared & haven't been replaced. But note that not all highways and country roads are travelling stock routes where these places exist, you usually need a bit of local knowledge.

My advice is to go into rest areas, and places that it obviously is not private land. It saves moving in the dark. If you have to go through a gate you can generally concede that you are on private land.

I've found that in western Qld. on a great many roads you will see a signpost into a stock watering point and a track in. I've used these places for a number of years and I haven't been challenged, though I wonder if I'm not trespassing & the cocky has grazing rights to that place.

Short of getting in touch with Qld. Ag. someone on this site may know what the score is.

B.T.W. I was chucked out of a gravel pit some years ago north of Cobar, I next day I went into the shire & asked if it was public land. They told me that they have agreements with the land owner to remove road making materials, and that I was indeed trespassing.

AnswerID: 455012

Reply By: Member - Tony (ACT) - Saturday, May 21, 2011 at 09:37

Saturday, May 21, 2011 at 09:37
Same sort of thing happend to us south of Cobar but with a better outcome. We drove in off the road about 200m with not a fence in sight, and out of sight from the road
After a couple of hours and just before dark, camp oven roast on sitting back with a nice wine, we heard a vehicle approaching. It turned out to be the cocky in a battered old rocky tray back with a load of dogs on board.

He pulled up at our "camp" and told us to make sure the fire was out before we left the area, and then chugged of through the bush heading for home 2k away.

So its not all dome and gloom out there, be seen to be doing the right think and hopefully alls well.
AnswerID: 455014

Reply By: cro142 - Saturday, May 21, 2011 at 09:44

Saturday, May 21, 2011 at 09:44
Thanks for the information people.
It sounds like it may be difficult to establish the legality of roadside camping as there are obviously several issies to consider.

I did neglect to outline what sort of camper I am! Basically I would never enter a gate, or knowingly camp on private land. I also only leave the slightest of wheel tracks behind at any campsite - not going off-road to camp if it is even slightly soft, as I don't want leave ugly ruts. Definately no rubbish or fire remains. After all, you have got to ask yourself "Who the hell is going to clean up after me?" No-one of course, so after a while the whole country that you love to be in will be a rubbish dump.

Usually I will camp in reserves, designated campsite areas etc, but sometimes there is no option but a roadside camp.

Peter C
AnswerID: 455016

Reply By: olcoolone - Saturday, May 21, 2011 at 09:50

Saturday, May 21, 2011 at 09:50
I'm lead to believe you can camp short term within 50m of a public access road.

Many property owners will challenge you and they know they are wrong.

Same as public access roads being closed, always check legally if they are or aren't as signs are sometimes left there by the request of the property owner (meaning the road is not legally closed).

There is a section of the Canning that has a 50 kilometer restriction of "No Camper Trailers", this has been placed by the property owner and not the authorities, the property owner can not restrict camper trailers unless it is authorised and gazetted.
AnswerID: 455017

Reply By: Member - Phil G (SA) - Saturday, May 21, 2011 at 20:45

Saturday, May 21, 2011 at 20:45
Our problem is that it varies from State to State, different roads, different PARs, National Parks, State forests, etc etc Its pretty hard to know for sure who's land you are on and what the rules are and what is "legal". Sometimes its 50metres, sometimes 100, sometimes xx km from a road
Boils down to use your common sense.

Sure there are pastoralists who can try to send you (legally or not) on your way but they seem to be a minority. They are getting sick of the increasing tourist population looking for a free camp and trash the area, and they don't like tourists who pose a risk (big bonfire and heavy music brigade who throw bottles in the fire).

But the odd pastoralists who have come by our camps have usually just wanted to say hello and check us out. When they realise you are normal people they usually tell us they are out shooting for the night and not to worry if we hear them!

I continue to camp out bush in remote areas - but use discretion - don't camp near water or other stock watering points or within 10kms of a homestead. Best is to hide behind a few trees somewhere where you won't bother anyone.
AnswerID: 455070

Reply By: cro142 - Saturday, May 21, 2011 at 21:44

Saturday, May 21, 2011 at 21:44
Yes, it is certainly hard to understand the legality of this issue, but certainly common sense and respect for landowners and the land itself is the way to go.

One other point here is that it's not just a "free camp" that makes bush camping like this attractive; it is the sense of pure enjoyment in being remote from all the trappings of society. Just to enjoy the remote bush, even if it is only a roadside camp.

It's a real pity that "tourists" can generate ill feeling with others along the way. It's much better to respect property, public or private, wherever it may be, and to simply enjoy this great country. That's what I try to do.

AnswerID: 455076

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