Burringbar traders suffer as campers turned away

TASMANIANS Bob and Evelyn Leonard weren't aware they couldn't park their motorhome and stay in Burringbar's Masterson Park.

The law-abiding "freedom campers" and several other travellers recently spent a night in the park - despite its official closure by Tweed Shire Council two weeks ago.

"We heard about the Burringbar park from a friend in our motorhome club, and it's one of the loveliest spots we've been to," Evelyn said.

Council officers closed the park as a "free campsite" on August 7, following complaints from residents about the anti-social behaviour of some visitors, who had set up camp semi-permanently and were damaging bush and lighting fires.

Burringbar is one of many user-friendly campsites the Leonards have stayed at on their four-month, 200,000km trip "up the middle", through Central Queensland, then out to the Gold Coast and points south on the way home.

"This is what we're all about," said Evelyn, who finds most caravan parks too claustrophobic to enjoy.

"We're free campers, not freeloaders," she said.

"In a town like this, we spend money on fuel and food."

The Leonards' motorhome was one of only five at the site one morning this week - well down on the usual turnout, and a shock to local retailers' bottom line.

"It's affected my business already," butcher Brett O'Keefe said.

"I've noticed a big difference."

He would like to see the park stay open.

"I can't see why council rangers can't come around and move any troublemakers or overstayers on," he said.

Bob Leonard has encountered a similar problem in other places.

"The few ruin it for the majority," he said.

But local real estate agent Stuart Cahill said the park's closing was "insane", the result of "hysterical" over-reaction by a few locals to the presence of one man who was a nuisance.

"Council has gone to a lot of trouble to improve the park for campers and they've got $60,000 to spend on a shower block," he said.

"Businesses and most people in the town want the park to stay open. Campers spend hundreds of dollars at the store or the sports club and have a good time.

"I'm disgusted with what's going on here."

The recently-formed Burringbar Community Association is gauging local feeling about the park.

Some in the community were not happy with the "rapid increase" in travellers to Masterson Park in the past 12 months, the association said, "especially as it is not legal nor policed".

"Now we are looking for a way to move forward within a proactive environment," the group said.

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