Saving outback Australia, one van at a time

On the open road your personality changes from city/stressed to totally relaxed.

The first time I encountered grey nomads, I was irritated trying to get past them on Queensland’s Bruce highway.

However as retirement approached, I hooked up my $4,000 Hyundai to my $3,000 Jayco and proudly joined the annual migration.

Immediately I spotted a problem on a toilet wall in Bourke, where a truckie had written the words: “vans, not trucks, kill people.”

To further add to the chorus, the truckers association appeared on ABC TV asking Grey Nomads to “please drive considerately and to stop clogging rest areas,” however there is another side to this story.

Unlike city roads,  Australia’s outback highways

have a calming effect on most drivers. 

Lets not focus on my irritating slow driving speed that conserves diesel, 90 to 95 km per hr, but consider the  hundreds of outback towns in all states, that are being saved from extinction.

Outback towns admire Grey Nomads

but there is no need to keep this secret any longer.

I propose a National Grey Nomads Day. 

And can we please consider those free camping rest areas that nomads are accused of clogging. Some of the most proactive councils in Australia, Mareeba, Murweh and McKinlay, provide the best free camping facilities in the land, in recognition of the enormous amount of good done by elderly travellers. Murweh even provides electricity with an honesty box at Morven to take your $10 contribution for the electricity you consume at the free camp spot and McKinlay “reaches out to grey nomads” with excellent roadside facilities at regular intervals (shade, drinking water and toilets).

These contrast to outback NSW, SA and NT free stops which rarely have a good combination of quality toilets, water and picnic tables.

Grey Nomads make up the majority of visitors to Bourke.

Most outback shire councils know that if you spoil the 

elderly travellers, they will spend spend spend and 

tell all their friends how good it was.

Bourke Shire council said “it would be difficult to sum up in one sentence the benefits that Grey Nomads bring to the region as these benefits cascade even after they have left the area with positive word of mouth advertising.

But grey spending power is crucial to all of Australia’s outback tourist industries.

The Jandra paddle boat on the Darling River

was loaded with about 100 grey nomad travellers,

delighted to be educated while spending their money.

Two years ago, it was estimated 806,000 GN’s are visiting Australian small country towns each year and back then it was thought to contribute $200 million, up 20% on previous years. This year it is much greater because my wife and I joined them.

Also grey folk teach stroppy drivers how to unstress by waving cheerily and by talking to them along the way. Additionally we’re probably adding to our own longevity.

Aged travellers throughout the outback unfailingly pass on helpful tips about free camps and roadside facilities and friendly shires know that this attracts the “grey money”.

Grey money powers the Jandra Paddle Steamer

on the Darling River at Bourke,

a brilliant opportunity to travel back in time

to the days of river transport.

Bourke Council say that retirees “often extend their stay in Bourke to allow time to appreciate many of the attractions, free and otherwise. The Shire welcomes Grey Nomads and would encourage other Shires to do the same.”

Recognition at Longreach

Saving outback towns was spelt out to a group of retirees on Longreach’s paddle boat on the Thompson River where the host served a sumptuous dinner and announced: “thank you for supporting the outback, because without you people we would not have a viable business, we would be closed down.”

The most superb sunsets and days were

spent free-camping on the Stuart Highway.

Most retiree-travellers are aware they are “saving” outback towns and will tell you they are proud of what they do.

We drove past farmers in western NSW and SA “dry planting,” in the Autumn, hoping that it rained and if not, it was a gamble worth taking. And six months later it hadn’t rained.

In Peterborough, 1,400 km west of Sydney, in SA and 300 km north of Adelaide, the national railway walked away from the town but grey people have “saved it”.

Yours truly, at Peterborough, bought groceries, paid three nights in the van park, bought fuel, a gas cylinder, hardware and paid to see the railway centre, along with hundreds of proud grey nomads each week. We could not think of one local industry that doesn’t vertically integrate with the adventurous grey people. Our spending is worth billions to the national economy.

Winton shopkeeper, Bernie Searle, says that grey nomads

have rescued the town, during its six year drought.


The power of grey spending was endorsed by Steve and Narelle who operate a van park at Winton. They said “the grey travellers start coming around mother’s day and the volume turns into many thousands, a real flood. Maybe 30,000 before the season ends,” said Steve.

Winton old-timer, 72 yr old Bernie Searle, (pictured) who runs a clothing and souvenir outlet, has operated his dad’s store since 1954 when he left school, aged 14. “The grey travellers have saved Winton because we are into a six year drought, and the locals stopped spending awhile back. The retirees come and keep the outback alive. Without them we would be closed and every town needs a shop like mine,” he said.

Most retiree-travellers are aware they are “saving” outback towns and will tell you they are proud of that fact. The more they spend, the more appreciation they get from various towns and Shire Councils.

Our spending is worth billions to the national economy. Two years ago, it was estimated 806,000 GN’s are visiting Australian small country towns each year. Back then it was thought to contribute $200 million, up 20% on previous years. This year it is much greater because my wife and I have joined them.

Mental health and peaceful open road

If your mental health has been a bit strained lately,

why not grab a tent or camper and head for the open road.

Dennis and Flo, from Adelaide started aged 55, and have regularly travelled with a van for 20 yrs. They said the adventure and exercise improves their health and relationship. They are 50 yrs married, passing 75 and still adventuring. We met at Uluru.

Hans, from Cornubia, near Brisbane, has been a traveller  for 11 yrs and loves the freedom of the open road.

Compared to the grey travellers, the fly-in tourists at Uluru appeared uptight with no sense of community. When we went into the resort to book some tours and noticed the fly-ins were reluctant to talk or share information.

This 32-year-old Jayco camper was purchased for $3,000 and 

might be worth $1,000 but everything works and it does the job.

At the Alice, retired ladies, Kath and Ros from Springsure, were towing a pop top with their 6 cylinder Toyota with extra gas bottle and a battery for off-road parking.

“It is so peaceful on the road because you leave all your crap (troubles) at home”, they said.

At Mt Isa caravan park, John from Lismore said it was his first time as a nomadic traveller.

Another tranquil sunset on the Stuart Highway,

where the peace and quiet was unforgettable.

On his way to Perth via the Kimberleys, he had picked up the habits of waving to  travellers and exchanging useful information.

So what about the huge “nomadic” contribution to the national economy, outback towns, van construction and the 4×4 industries? Every year there is a major increase in retirees taking to the roads and with it a growing gratitude across all outback towns, some that would face extinction if the travel bug wasn’t spreading.

Unlike in the Crocodile Dundee movie,

the walkabout creek hotel is really a place for quiet reflection.


Outback Australian towns have secretly loved

Grey Nomads for years but there is no need to keep the secret any longer.

I propose a National Grey Nomad Day. 

No Comments, Be The First!

Your email address will not be published.