The Dark Side of Camping

Camping goes hand in hand with 4X4ing right?  And we all support leave no trace?  We like to think we do (and most of us try pretty hard), but the hard truth from an environmental perspective is that humans are messy creatures.

Right now a lot of us are in Lockdown, and that is taking a mental toll for sure.  But what happens when we open up?  With most of the country unable to enjoy a decent amount of time outdoors in the last few years, my prediction is that Camping in most places is going to a difficult experience over Christmas and beyond, as every man and their dog hitches up and heads away.

I reckon we’ll see places at or over capacity for a decent period of time, and I’m not sure that it will lead to good things.  With the influx of people to Cape York this year, the place has been struggling.  At many popular places, bins are overflowing with rubbish, the bush is littered with human excrement and others are just leaving rubbish behind.

I’m not sure what the solution is here because every time I head into the bush I see evidence of dumping and rubbish left behind.  And you can’t blame every person that has been cooped up for months on end for wanting to get out into the bush can you?

We Love getting out and Camping!

National Parks new online booking system may help alleviate pressure on Campgrounds by saving the rush and fight for a site given you now pre-book most places, but I think the way to solve the problem may in fact be much simpler. 

Maybe we all need to take responsibility for ourselves, and be willing to make an effort for those that don’t see the value.  Earlier this year I supported a local cleanup with a bunch of misunderstood blokes from a 4WD group called Western Sydney Patrols, where we spent the day cleaning up out at Lithgow.  Even at the Campsite where the cleanup started, the amount of rubbish we picked up was staggering, and made a big difference.  So here are my thoughts:

Don’t be part of the problem

This one is easy.  I think of 3 things that will help ease the pressure here:

  • Consider whether you need to go camping at peak periods.  If you can go during the week or outside key holidays, you’ll enjoy it more and have less people around you.
  • Learn how to manage a bush poo.  Yep, it sounds very basic, but you need to know how to manage a bush poo so that animals don’t dig it up and that you don’t end up with toilet paper strewn across the place or landmines everywhere.  There are plenty of videos and articles on this so educate yourself.
  • Leave no trace.  This is really easy.  Make sure you have Rubbish Bags and can double bag everything you use and take it away with you.  Make sure you don’t leave rubbish on the ground where the native animal population can get to it.  This includes taking your cans or bottles too.

Give 15 minutes of your time

When you are out and about, take a heavy duty rubbish bag and spend 15 minutes walking around the area picking up any rubbish you see.  You didn’t drop it there – who cares?  All of us talk about wanting to do better, but it remains talk unless we take action.  Imagine if everyone out there picked up an extra bag of rubbish on each trip?  We’d clean up the bush in no time!

Call out poor behaviour

I’m sure I’ve said this before, but the standard you walk past is the standard you accept.  Don’t be afraid to ask someone (politely) to pick up their rubbish.  The worst they can do is tell you where to go, but the best outcome is they might actually pickup their game.  And if they don’t you can capture the details and pass them on to the relevant authorities.

Sometimes just calling someone out can be all they need to adjust their behaviour.

These are my thoughts on how we avoid nightmare scenarios across the country as we open up.  Do you have any thoughts on the subject?  Am I seeing it wrong?  I’d love your thoughts!


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Comments 28

  1. Hi Aiden.
    All that you have mentioned here is very positive.
    In my experience the people leaving their rubbish, what ever it is, and I am including playing till 4 am in the morning are not conducive to being asked to pick their rubbish or turn down the noise.
    Many people may get hurt here, as these deprecates just don’t care.
    If I may put in my two cents in.
    First take down car registrations. Count the amount of people, by sex.
    If you can take pictures without flash.
    Ask if you feel safe to do what you have suggested.
    Or give all the information to the police, or park rangers.
    Rgds Geoff West.

  2. Hi Aiden,

    The worst that could happen is well beyond being told off. Last year a sat and watched three or four 4wd vehicles drag race up and down the banks of the shoalhaven river till all hours of the morning whilst pulling very brave/stupid people on car bonnets behind them. The fear in my 5 yo girls eyes was enough to suggest that I quiet word with idiots like this could end in disastrous consequences for me and my family If I am later to become a target of their misguided drunken anger.

    Picking up their bags or rubbish was the best I could do to show my kids any
    positive out of it.

    Regards Chris.

    1. Post

      That is terrible Chris! Sorry to hear that. You definitely need to consider the situation and you did the right thing in that instance. My comment was not designed to suggest in that situation that this would have helped – apologies if it came across otherwise!


  3. Hi Aiden
    I think you are right but this was happening long before Covid.
    With lots of people now coming out of lockdown and not being able to go overseas (not to mention limited numbers in resorts etc), we can likely expect many newbies trying bush camping.
    We need to educate these people to get them started on the right path and your suggestions are a great start.
    “Tread Lightly! – Leave no Trace” is a great motto

  4. Aidan, I agree with Geoffs comments above. It is easier said than done. I live in WA and have struggled to get out for fear of being not let back in. Our premier has done a great job keeping us out of lockdown, but may I say, not everyone is happy with him. I know this is a 4×4 site but I want to put my two bobs worth in. In my opinion, and this is just my opinion, there are way too many people that have gone out and bought camping gear, caravans and the like and have never done this before. I am a Grey Nomad and have been for over 6 years. I’m not saying I’m the most experienced person around but I do have some and a fair bit of common sense. What I have noticed here in WA over the past couple of years is the amount of inexperienced people that have gone out and bought vans, camper trailers etc that have never even towed a box trailer before. They don’t understand bush camping at all, and have no respect for the bush at all. They think it is there god given right to do whatever they want and desecrate the bush and put other peoples lives at risk.

    1. Post

      Thanks for your thoughts here Pat. You are right – there are lots more inexperienced people having a crack, and many are ignorant unfortunately. Perhaps we need to work better to drive responsible behaviour across the industry and find a way to educate this audience and make them aware of the expectations? Really appreciate the view – Aiden

      1. Hi Aiden, we spent almost 2 years travelling around Australia and every place we stopped at whether it be for a coffee break or to free camp there was always rubbish left by others. We would pick it up but the next stop would be the same.
        Peter Fitzell

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      I totally agree Peter. I’m not sure when it became ok to treat the world like this, but you see it time and time again. There are a surprising amount of people that believe it is someone else’s responsibility to take care of things and make excuses for their poor behaviour. I’m not sure how to get through to these people, but we have to try!

      1. Hi Aiden,

        “I’m not sure how to get through to these people, but we have to try!”

        Hmmm, good luck with that.

        I believe that the sort of people who should be “educated up” are,
        1) NOT reading these offerings and thereby saying, “yes, must lift my game”,
        2) are even capable of being shamed into better behaviour, being dyed in the wool.

        Character starts early with quality adult guidance being a major influence if available.

        Exceptions of some good coming from challenging environments do exist, but they defy the odds generally.

        The only time I’ve seen a successful behaviour challenge, was when it came from like for like peer pressure accompanied by majority rule out numbering the culprits.

        This will possibly end up in a Mission Impossible Catch 22 cul-de-sac with governments opting for an easy fix with paid for key access only to locked gates on every National Park and fire trail accompanied by camouflaged motion sensor cameras at known hot spots.

        Not happy, but at least that way they know who to go looking for should there be a clean-up bill.

      2. Maybe I’m not up with the times? I’ve always preached that if you have the space to bring it in – you have the space to take it home! I can’t believe how it’s become such a problem? What’s happened to society?

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  5. I was talking to a number of rangers out on the other side of Lake Tyers not that long ago and we were talking about the crap being dumped by morons camping. they were telling us that people literally go to certain stores buy their tents, chairs and assorted camping gear, then when time to go home, not only leave all their rubbish, but all the gear recently purchased. then of course, newbies go online to learn about what to do/not do when 4x4ing and watch as presenters tear up tracks get massive fires going and generally acting like dickheads. thing about destroying tracks is they ruin those same tracks for later travellers. in the end only to have those tracks shut down by the rangers and government. notice then, that generally people blame the government for ‘over-stepping their authority’ but not one jot about the idiots that ripped the track up in the first place.
    we have travelled all over Australia, 7 trips with one camping in a tent (roughing it) fully off road as much as possible. but watching as more and more ‘townies’ getting out there because primary roads are better, cars are better and gear is better. we don’t bother anymore. it is so disheartening to see what used to be pristine areas turned into cesspools and rubbish dumps.

  6. No matter how hard we try, it is extremely difficult to educate some of the people who come out in the bush or popular camping spots. I find that most campers are pretty good, it’s the few who don’t care that spoil it. I work for national parks S.A, and i constantly clean up rubbish that is left behind, or just dumped, because people don’t want to pay disposal fees. I have come across many aggressive campers who don’t care or respect these areas, let alone take friendly suggestions about removal of rubbish. Also there are those who chop, saw, or pull down live trees, and cause the shutdown of campsites, which is a real shame for those of us who do the right thing. On the up side, my family and friends, have a good clean up before we leave, because it’s the right thing to do for the bush, and for future families to enjoy. I have often given campfire wood to other campers who didn’t plan well, and get cold at night. (provided they have a good attitude). It helps protect local trees, and doesn’t cost me that much. I have made a few friends in doing this, and helped them to plan a little better for next time. Win for everyone!

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  7. I’ve had something to do with being in the bush since I was a kid with dad and his brothers from either fishing or hunting and after we had finished the rubbish was burnt. We were mostly on private property so rubbish was burnt or thrown into the garbage pit on the place it wasn’t that hard.
    I still get out hunting and fishing with my mates and son and it’s just heartbreaking to see the mess left behind by others and we either burn,take out or bury a lot of the rubbish around our camp site or if on private property clean up our rubbish.

    Your on or in somebody’s backyard so you have to have respect for their place.
    How would you like a bunch of people in your backyard making a mess, doing the toiletries etc around your favourite tree or flowers and walking away, loud radio till 3am in the morning and generally been a pain in the rear end and then when you ask them to leave they threaten you with all sorts of nasty things?

    To me it seems that the 18-30 year old group seem to be the ones who haven’t learnt the unwritten laws of camping and respect for people’s property and more so on public land and scream the loudest when these are locked off to everybody because of the rubbish and mess they leave behind. The young blokes these days with all the gear and no idea is growing and their take on being in the bush in their hotted up 4wd is to rip around tearing paddocks and river banks up, hooning and generally being certified dickheads annoying everybody and not caring about anybody near them or the damage they do in the bush

    Now with everybody starting to come out of lockdown to a point and the huge sales in camper trailers and caravans to people who are basically clueless the threat of more of the uninitiated has exploded and their expectations of what they can and can’t do goes with this as a lot would be under the impression that they can go and do anything anywhere because they can.

    The end result is places both public and private get locked up and everybody suffers and now with the rise of the anti everything crowd these lockouts will increase and by the time these idiots grow up and realise this it’ll be too late for everybody.

    The current crop of 4wd/camping shows are good and more emphasis should be made on leaving places as you find them or even better as it’s everybody’s responsibility to look after the bush much like you keep your own house in good order it’s that simple and if you don’t and it gets locked up or permission denied don’t start whining about it because it was you and your mates that caused it.

    1. Post

      Thanks for the input Kevin. Some really great points there. I think the Camping Show content is a great idea, and luckily I know all the players here. Watch this space!

      1. One of the best comments here, Aiden this would be great to bring to the attention of Caravan and Camping shows, also 4×4 shows Australia wide.

  8. My observations are that this is not a simple problem, that has a simple fix. I feel that there are 3 layers of responsibility that need to be addressed.
    1. Societal – as a collective what are we prepared to accept? It wasn’t that long ago that drink driving was an accepted part of Australian ‘culture’. It was only through education and enforcement that attitudes changed where, what was once socially OK, is no longer accepted. We used to have lots of educational advertising on ‘doing the right thing’, haven’t seen anything for a long time now.

    2. Administrative – Are people being offered alternatives? I don’t want to start a ‘hot debate’ on whether having bins available makes the problem better or worse, but there needs to be options made available. My personal view is that rubbish bins, where provided, are either not emptied often enough, not big enough, or people are simply ‘taking the mickey’ and trying to stuff something the size of a lounge chair into them. My solution is skip bins with a limiting sized access hole in them, placed at the entrance/exit to camping/rest areas. They don’t require emptying as often, will keep the wildlife, and the weather, from scattering rubbish everywhere, and, by providing an alternative, it will encourage people not to leave their rubbish lying about.

    Ultimately the rubbish is going to end up somewhere so any argument about cost is moot, it has to be more cost effective to empty a skip bin that managing the personnel to clean up scattered rubbish.

    3. An individual responsibility. If each person takes some individual responsibility for their actions in maintaining the ‘cleanliness’ of our surroundings then we are already almost there. Unfortunately many people are only motivated by the ‘carrot or stick mentality, i.e. am I to be rewarded for doing the right thing. or punished if I don’t? I honestly don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that we tend to respond very well to peer pressure, so cleaning up after yourself, and leaving your site clean and tidy, is a damn good encouragement to encouraging your ‘neighbour’ to do the same.

    1. Post

      Great perspective Dave, and I think your nailed the administrative bit particularly. Maybe we do need a mass campaign on doing the right thing again?

  9. Unfortunately this is not just limited to camp sites. I look around my suburb and the crap just thrown out into the local parks and streets is mind blowing. I have been into camping and 4wding for over 35 years and for me the only way to control such behavior is to only allow affiliated recreation clubs or registered tour guides for overseas visitors who have a code of conduct that is managed to access our pristine areas. Our club has cleaned up many camp sites in our travels the last one I remember had about 12 soiled nappies just thrown out around the camping area. . Conversely increase the number of patrols from either NP or police with the power to issue on the spot fines.
    In regards to the NP booking system its not worth the paper its written on, as there is no policing of that system and you can turn up to a camp site that you have booked and find it is full with unregistered campers. ( from actual experience last year).

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      Hi Anthony,
      Thanks for the input here. With regards to the NP booking situation you described, what ended up happening? Did you chase NP for a refund? Interested to know!

      1. Yes I rang and complained however they just explained that they cannot police all camp areas and were sorry that this had happened. I also had this problem a few times when traveling in Queensland, one example, we booked and paid for a camp site the same afternoon, done via internet on our phone, it had available 13 camp sites with 3 being used, when we arrived there was only one mini camp site left. Unless NP in both NSW and Qld have available staff to manage a system like this it will in my view never work.

  10. All the above comments are valid, however you have all omitted one important aspect, that it all comes down to parents and how they were taught as children and how that knowledge gets passed on to their kids. Today’s society are taught that everyone is entitled and that no one needs to be responsible for their actions. It is always someone else’s fault. The majority of people are pretty good but it is the 20 % of the population that leaves its mark that we remember. The solution lies in the parents teaching discipline and allowing the teachers to do their job properly as well and not beat up on them when little Johnny get punished for his transgressions. Just my dollars worth. (More than 2cents LOL)

    1. Hi Patrick

      You: “however you have all omitted one important aspect, that it all comes down to parents and how they were taught as children and how that knowledge gets passed on to their kids. ”

      Perhaps my post on the 24th at 17:07 slipped under your radar;

      Me: “Character starts early with quality adult guidance being a major influence if available.

      Exceptions of some good coming from challenging environments do exist, but they defy the odds generally.”


  11. Yes lots of great comments and suggestions, keep them coming. Aiden you’ll have some influence, can we get a campaign going with all the major shops, clubs and 4WD publications etc etc maybe even with government support to get the message out to the few who spoil it for the rest of us. Every time you enter a store or open a 4WD page you get told to take your rubbish home….Thanks Neil

  12. When travelling on the lap we saw toilet paper everywhere! It’s not just literate English speakers getting out there, particularly when we actually open our borders again. Someone told backpackers camp near others and you’ll be safe, they should be told how to toilet in the bush! It’s not just a poo that leaves toilet paper, sometimes just outside the long drop – obviously their delicate senses couldn’t cope with a trip inside, probably because lots don’t know to close the lid! How to toilet properly in the bush should be publicised as widely as the “if you can carry it in carry it out” message. In your article I would have loved to see an actual link rather than “There are plenty of videos and articles on this so educate yourself.” even though this forum is probably preaching to the converted! The website is way too wordy! We need a short, funny preferably, video that uses visuals and simple language to convey the message, subtitled in a number of languages.

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