by Collyn Rivers – Updated 2020
“No camping” – but what’s camping?
We’ve all seen signs that say ‘no camping’ but what does ‘camping’ mean?
How to free camp legally in Australia is complicated as there are no overall definitions. In NSW alone, over ten authorities regulate camping on their land. In New South Wales alone, over ten government authorities regulate camping on their land. Even the definition of camping is inconsistent across the related Acts.
Apart from state governments, local government authorities establish rules or bylaws to regulate activities – including camping. There are over 500 such authorities across Australia. Those that regulate camping may each have their own definition. Private landowners can also define what they mean by ‘camping’. They may allow or prohibit it.
How to free camp legally in Australia – legislation
In essence whether or not you are ‘camping’ depends on whether or not you are following whatever Act, regulation or by-law that the authority concerned uses to regulate camping. A government authority sign (in your proposed camping area) should refer you to the relevant legislation to see what definition applies.
Some towns welcome free camping, others, that have a council-run camping area may ban it.
How to free camp legally in Australia issues are clearer if you erect a tent. They are less clear, however, if you stay overnight in urban areas in your travel trailer or motorhome. In these situations, the local council’s Health Department rules. They usually prohibit your overnight occupied parking in defined areas. In practice, you are unlikely to be disturbed if you stay overnight in a quiet back-street (not overlooked by any residence), Do not raise a pop-top roof, or let anything drain onto the road.
How to free camp legally in Australia – do not free-camp near travel trailers
Do not free-camp anywhere near an established travel trailer. Nor to cheat travel trailer owners by using their facilities without paying. Some people do.
Buy a bag or two of firewood during the day (many fuel stations stock them. It is usually scarce anywhere near camp sites.