Politicians hunting the grey vote stalk retirement villages and pensioner clubs. Handy because electors mustered in dining rooms and community halls lean to groupthink. Dissidents don’t do well in confined spaces where they’re condemned to stay mum or risk exclusion. Wrong spots. Hucksters should stake out the hills and river banks where independent thinkers and determined doers thrive and allegiances can be shifted – the backblock campgrounds.
These aren’t the profit-powered holiday parks with Disney murals and bouncy castles, but paddocks plus basics, often run by self-help groups. The Gun Club in Roma, the natural gas origin town of Queensland, lets blow-ins squat alongside the clay pigeon catapults
Nearby Injune has turned its racecourse from a monthly venue into an everyday stopover. A yard behind the rail line at Salmon Gums near the west-end start of the Nullarbor has been spruced up by volunteers who yarn to visitors round the camp kitchen.
Many of the movers are also shakers, retired professionals who’ve sent the kids packing and decided to do the same. They have cash and a determination to stay active and involved till they ford the last creek.
This is no small cohort: As you sample these words there are probably around 135,000 campers on the blacktop, cruising not racing. That’s according to the industry which has websites jostling for dollars by offering info on secret hideouts and special deals for reversing cameras.
With more than 620,000 RVs registered across the country, as one pulls into the carport, another hitches the trailer and heads inland.
‘RV’ is one more US import, meaning Recreation Vehicle, a four-wheel-drive, caravan or campervan. What used to be a ute with a swag can now be a Bali villa on several axles with inbuilt kitchen, shower, toilet and waste tank.
Few are technophobes. Octogenarians swapping video views on smartphones with the equally adapt grandkids half a continent away are a common sight. Less so are oldies tapping satellite arrays with hiking sticks to get signals in line with earth co-ordinates. (Seen, not imagined).
Dogs often come too as city kennel fees can be double country camping costs. The handicapped test the ‘disabled-friendly’ signs by traveling with custom built wheelchair ramps.
Perennials carry gear to keep going beyond bowsers, mechanics and doctors. The Sugarcity Pioneers from Mackay travel in convoys. Insurance companies aren’t keen to cover oldies who may tramp a kilometer too far, so mutual help is useful.
‘RV Friendly’ signs are slowly getting pegged outside country towns where progressive rule-makers read the stats: the rest are still grousing about interstate plates cluttering favourite parking places; like Peter Dutton’s asylum seekers, you never know what diseases they’re carrying or perversions they practice.
Hostile local governments tend to be run by hoteliers protecting fixed assets. They recall taxis overtaken by Uber so see threats, not opportunities. Using the Donald Trump manual they blacken outsiders with lurid tales of the bush befouled and ratepayers’ facilities trashed.
Misanthropes love adverbs; nothing is just ‘prohibited’ – it must be ‘strictly’. A standout sign made failure to flush a urinal an offence. Not a place to take the piss out of the police.
One rural myth has foreigners evacuating their bowels in botanical gardens and washing undies in reflection pools. Maybe there’s been the odd offender but the even truth is that most treat the environment as they would their lounge.
Having driven from Carnarvon on the West Coast to Carnarvon in Central Queensland the only sight of what seemed to be toilet paper desecrating the New England landscape turned out to be snow.
It’s easy to misjudge grey nomads. Their fashion is more Salvos than Myer. Builders’ boots and tatty shorts for the blokes, track suits for their partners. This is not a market for Revlon but it is for Mercedes.
Geraldton, about 420 kilometers north of Perth is a ‘RV Friendly’ town, unusual for a sizeable city. It lets caravaners overnight free in the CBD, reasoning this encourages longer stays and an emptying of wallets.
Grouchtowns get blacklisted in seconds through the nomads’ networks. They don’t grin and bear; with wheels and attitude it’s up and away. See my finger, eat our dust.
Campers come from all dots of the continent; they’re as socially connected as teens, deeply into the environment, keen to see for themselves what they missed knew in their youth: Aboriginal art, drought areas, climate change, conservation of the endangered.
At sundown gatherings they have more tales than Canterbury and along with Chaucer’s pilgrims, opinions aplenty. Academics or tradespeople, camping flattens the pyramid.
Their politics are complex – a Bob each way. Although their base values are Brown, they understand Katter and can relate to both. Bill Shorten’s electric car policy caught them in a bind – a powerful idea in inner Melbourne, not in the Never Never.
Politicians who hitch up to this legion of wised-up wanderers could learn how the grey electorate is physically and culturally on the move.
Journalist Duncan Graham is taking a break from reporting on Indonesia for an inland circumnavigation of his country.