THE erection of a new sign at Wingham Riverside Reserve was a welcome sight for Wingham’s Citizen of the Year, Ron Sky who is passionate about bringing tourists to Wingham.
The new, colourful notice reads “Wingham Riverside Reserve: overnight parking; self contained vehicles are welcome to park in this location overnight. Enjoy your stay!”
Overnight stays at the reserve were a contentious issue last year after Greater Taree City Council put a sign at the area in August which stated camping was prohibited. This was met with frustration from Wingham Advancement Group (WAG) and community members who felt local tourism would see a negative impact.
A recommendation was passed by council in October to officially approve overnight stays of self contained vehicles at Wingham Foreshore Recreation Reserve.
In the last few months, WAG member Ron said plenty of overseas tourists have chosen to stay alongside the river including people from France, Italy, South Africa and Switzerland.
They also see a steady stream of ‘grey nomad’ travellers frequent the spot.
Ron attends the reserve daily to open and close the toilet facilities, clean the barbecues and pick up rubbish. He also welcomes the travellers to town and hands out brochures with local tourism information and contact numbers.
“They come because it’s a free camp and the spot is as picturesque as any in Australia,” Ron said.
“Campers say this is magic. We’ve had people come back to stay three times.”
Ron and his wife Leonna have their own campervan and travel up to nine weeks each year.
Wherever possible they stay in towns that offer free overnight stays.
“We call it ‘freedom camping’,” Ron said as they are free to set up where ever they like.
The Skys explained they are drawn to sites that offer facilities like dump spots for travellers.
Although not paying for their accommodation, they said they spend money in each town at restaurants, cafes, supermarkets and on fuel for their van.
Ron and Leonna said Wingham sees positive flow-on from travellers coming to town.
They spoke to one travelling couple who had spent $196 in Wingham in one day.
Ron also believes that while visitors are staying at the reserve, there is not as much vandalism and rubbish left in the area.
Ron hands out brochures to the travellers with contact numbers for the Police and Wingham Advancement Group members and encourages the travellers to report any anti-social behaviour in the area.