Each year the CamperTrailers.org web group calls all its members to attend an annual gathering somewhere in western NSW for a week of camper trailer-related activities, good times with like-minded folk and to raise funds to assist a struggling small community. For 2019 the date was September 30 to October 4, and the destination was Bonalbo, a tiny town in the Upper Clarence Valley, almost on the Queensland border and one that is deep in the grip of one of the worst droughts in memory.
When the announcement of the destination was made, at the end of the 2018 gathering at Bungendore, near Canberra, there was some surprise. Few had heard of Bonalbo and this was further north than the group had yet been over its 14-year history of these get-togethers. The usual target towns have been in the central west, where it is more central to participants travelling from Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne or Adelaide.
But Bonalbo was an ideal target and it met all the prerequisites for a target town. It was small, and struggling. The 2016 census listed 371 people as resident in the area, but knowing locals say that that is not an accurate reflection of the real figure of today, which would be well below 300 following the severe impacts of the drought and the general decline of so many small communities.
Thus it was that the arrival of over 205 keen camper trailer adherents and 17 dogs placed a considerable strain on the local resources, even as it injected a significant sum of money into the local economy. As examples, the local hospital auxiliary took over $700 from its cake stall at the mid-week markets where it is usually the same small pool of people who cook the cakes simply buying each others’ produce; the Thursday night meal at the Bowling Club having to cope with orders for 151 meals when the usual order would be for maybe 30; the local hardware store selling out of spray cans of silicon after a camper workshop recommending the value of silicon as a lubricant over some other types; and the local supermarket selling out of roast meats within 20 minutes of the weekly supply being delivered.
Add these sorts of figures to the $4005 raised from the Monday night auction of donated goods, $317.50 taken from the entry fees to the Tuesday trivia night, $8635 from camp fees paid by attendees, $561 from the raffle (even if $50 of that came from local Georgina Power), and $150 from the sale of George Mavros’ book and the benefits were manifold. All of this was donated to a combined group of 13 local community and charitable bodies, and if you add all the other money spent at the local pub, bowling club, stores, the local pool, and at the mid-week market and the town’s collective purses did very well.
There was a suggestion that some of the money raised will go to assist in setting up an historic walk for the town as it struggles to become a destination of relevance for travelers in that part of the world.
GIVING BACK TO RURAL COMMUNITIES
Collected figures from the 2008 annual gathering, at Peak Hill in NSW’s central west, indicated that the owners of the then 65 or so attending camper trailers spent just on $30,000 in that community. On a pro-rata basis and allowing for inflation we can estimate that the 2019 Bonalbo meeting with its 88 attending camper trailers injected about $48,000 into the town.
Certainly almost any time a camper trailer attendee walked down into the village from the showground they were greeted by people saying thank you for coming.
Yet, only a couple of weeks before it looked highly likely that this year’s meet might not even take place. Significant out-of-control fires were burning north of Bonalbo and across the Bruxner Highway near Drake and Tabulum, to the south-west. You could walk from east of the Clarence River to west of Tenterfield – nearly 150km – on burnt ground. Cooling weather and some showers dampened the flames which opened the roads in, but many attendees carried extra water with them to avoid overloading the local supplies. Certainly the drive through the blackened and still smouldering forests was a reminder of the dangers of the current climate, and when those fires around Drake burst into life again, as well as at nearby Rappville, less than a week after everyone had departed, claiming over 60 homes, it was a sobering thought for those who had gathered at the Bonalbo showground simply to have some fun.
Once again the week was a packed menu of activities. There were seminars on basic 12 volt electronics and tips and tricks delivered by the guys from Totally 12 Volt, an excellent seminar on lithium battery technology presented by Chris Carrigan from Lithium Battery Systems in Brisbane, another on C-pap machines, camp oven dampers and scones, Cobb cooking, digital SLR photography, and camping and cooking ideas. There were walkabouts to look at various campers as well as caravans, a nine-hole golf tournament, the annual Hardies (hard top campers) versus Softies (soft top campers) bolle competition, barefoot bowls at the bowling club, followed by dinner and bingo that night. Add in a number of opportunities to eat, including a getting to know you morning tea, a ladies “cuppa and chat”, the community breakfast and the damper and scones feast and all were feeling overfed. Throw in the cattle dog and camp-draft exhibitions by local farmers and George Mavros’ “Never Fear a Salesman Again” and poetry corner efforts and there seemed little spare time to simply sit and chat around a fire.
One of the highlights of the week was the auction night, not so much because of the wide range of items on sale, but because of the local auctioneer who tied it all together. Local dairy farmer Tom Cooper had the room in stitches with a string of sometimes edgy jokes and observations on the items he was selling. He made a good night great and he was the talk of the camp afterwards. One camper observed he’d run into him in the local supermarket a couple of days later and when thanking him for his efforts on the night was told that he was on his way to the council to get up a petition to get some parking metres in the town so that a local could find somewhere to park. The camper, on leaving the supermarket, said he looked up and down the main street and could see only two cars in sight, so the vein of humour ran deep in Cooper’s blood.
There were plenty of opportunities to keep the kids occupied, with the local pool a keen gathering place, plenty of room to ride bikes and an organised treasure hunt and Finska comp.
As said there were 88 attending campers, from all states and territories other than WA and the Northern Territory, with Vistas Crossovers being the biggest representation of brand with eight campers present (including one from Tasmania), as a result of a big push on the owners’ web chat pages.
The weather throughout was fine and sunny, other than one short overnight shower, leaving plenty of opportunity for people to take in the local area, with trips being made north through the forests to Woodenbong, right on the Queensland border, south to Tabulum from where some came back with substantial amounts of blueberries from the local processing plant, or east through the forests to fish in the streams around some of the local gullies.
The Spirit of the Group award went this year to Fiona Stagg who worked tirelessly assisting in the staging of various activities over the week and was ever-present to help in setting up sites for various campers.
With the 2019 gathering now just part of history the attention has been drawn to the 2020 get-together, and that is slated to be held at the northern NSW town of Walcha over the week of September 28 to October 2. Be there.