A section of the Wonnangatta River with scrub growing on the far side. Mountains in the background.

Gippsland farmer ‘shocked’ by Crown land campsites announced by Victorian government

A Gippsland farmer has described his shock at the location of several new campsites being established on what he considers “totally inappropriate” sections of land licensed from the Victorian government.

The government last Friday published details of the first four camps in Gippsland — two are on the Wonnangatta River, and two are on the Dargo and Macalister Rivers — on the Crown land river frontage.

Access to many of the campsites is from narrow country roads with limited parking opportunities and strict conditions.

Trevor Archer manages the farm that hosts the Macalister River campsite and said it was “totally inappropriate” because there was “nowhere to park”.

The site is 4 kilometers from Cheyne’s Bridge Recreation Area, a campsite with toilet facilities popular among trail bike riders.

“It gave me a bit of a shock, actually,” Mr Archer said.

“I knew it was proposed but they hit us pretty quick with it.

“There’s nowhere to park. The closest safe park is 4 kilometers away [at Cheyne’s Bridge] on a dangerous windy narrow road.

“It’s an accident waiting to happen if people are on foot down there.”

The Macalister River campsite is currently accessed by jumping a fence on Licola Road.(Rural ABC: Peter Somerville)

Access to the campsite involves scaling a barbed wire fence beside a narrow two-lane road and walking through a paddock often grazed by Mr Archer’s cattle.

“The entry point is 40 meters from where I bring my cattle up a little cutting … and later in the year there are 130–140 cows and calves coming up here and I’ve got to try to get them through [the campers],” Mr Archer said.

“If someone’s here trying to unload their gear when I’ve got cows and calves coming in… it’s just not going to work.”

The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning was contacted for comment.

The wide Macalister River flows between a rocky hill and green campsite.
The Macalister River Cheyne’s Bridge campground is 4 kilometers upstream from the new campsite.(Rural ABC: Peter Somerville)

Fulfilling an election commitment

The Labor government made a 2018 election commitment to open licensed Crown land river frontages to camping.

The land was previously accessible for day use, with the four campsites opened on areas that are frequently grazed by cattle.

The sites have to be accessed by foot, campers must keep portable toilets at least 50 meters away from waterways, or 100 meters away if burying human waste, and dogs and campfires are not permitted.

A dirt road adjacent to a shallow valley
A new campsite on the Wonnangatta River frontage must be accessed by foot.(Rural ABC: Peter Somerville)

Campers are welcome

Mr Archer said he was not opposed to having campers on the land but expected the 4km walk from Cheyne’s Bridge would deter many.

“I don’t see that anyone’s going to carry their gear 4 kilometers down the road, 4 kilometers back,” he said.

“And they can only get in that one entry and exit.”

Trevor stands on a ridge above a paddock leading down to the river.  He wears a broad hat and a dark jumper.
Trevor Archer worries how he will move cattle while campers are unloading equipment.(Rural ABC: Peter Somerville)

It would not be the first time campers have set up on the property.

“Before the 2007 flood when the river blew out and changed course, I had 14 sites where people could choose to camp,” Mr Archer said.

“But we had them where we wanted them. They were in a bend in the river and it didn’t interfere with our stock work or anything.”

A wide grassy farm paddock with rows of trees on either side.
Walk-in campers are allowed to set up on this site alongside the Macalister River.(Rural ABC: Peter Somerville)

Calls for a ‘level playing field’

Further downstream, Paradise Valley camp and caravan park operator Neil Williams was surprised to learn about the free campsite.

“It doesn’t really seem fair that we have to go through all the compliance rigors that we do, and the state government feels like it can open up a parcel of land for anyone at any time,” Mr Williams said.

He said many Paradise Valley guests had visited the park over many years.

But Mr Williams conceded he may lose business to the free campsites upstream.

“I’d just like everyone to be on a level playing field,” he said.

“There are caravan parks all over Victoria that have had to comply with Country Fire Authority regulations.

“There’s a whole host of other council health and safety compliance issues that we deal with on a regular basis and it all adds to our overheads.”

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