Bondi invaded by 'grey nomads' who cut down parking signs for a free holiday

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The Independent Online

The golden crescent of Bondi Beach unfolds invitingly beneath you. Beyond it is the Pacific Ocean, a glorious sweep of blue. It's a million-dollar view - but who needs to pay a million dollars when you can camp for free? As summer approaches, camper vans are invading the popular beachside suburb and squatting on some of Bondi's best streets. Visitors can only park legally for a couple of hours, but no worries, as they say here. Just chop down the parking sign.

The culprits behind this spate of vandalism are not feckless young tourists, they are pensioners - the "grey nomads" who travel around Australia following the sun. "Quite a number are older people," said Kerryn Sloan, a local councillor. "It's a new phenomenon, and quite surprising.

"They want a seaside holiday for free, and bad luck to anyone who disagrees with them. They don't want to move on, and they know the law and how far they can push it. They can be quite confrontational. They are absolutely brazen, and they won't be intimidated."

The elderly anarchists operate in packs, travelling in convoy and texting each other tips on the streets with the best views. On arrival, they saw down signs, leaving parking inspectors impotent. It is usually two weeks before a new sign can be put up. By then the campers are ready to move on.

Towns and cities up and down the coast are afflicted, but Bondi - with its famous beach and numerous amenities - has been particularly badly hit. It is one of Sydney's most densely populated neighbourhoods. One despairing local man said yesterday that he had had seven camper vans parked in his street. Removing parking signs is only one sin. Once the unwelcome visitors have commandeered a street, they make themselves quite at home. They set up little tables and chairs on the pavement. They string up makeshift clothes-lines. They cook themselves meals in the street. They urinate and defecate in backyards and on the grass verges.

Some do not even bother drawing their curtains. "Sometimes little children have seen things that they shouldn't have seen, and parents get quite upset, and things can get quite heated," said Ms Sloan. She is particularly upset about the way that the campers dump their cooking oil and rubbish down the stormwater drains that feed out into the ocean. "It's a huge problem," she said. "These people want to stay here, and don't want to pay for accommodation, and they are polluting our beaches while they do it.

"We think that they have a network, telling each other where to go. They find the right street and all group together. Some of them quite openly taunt the residents. Our problem is lack of space. We're bursting at the seams. We've even had illegal campers in our cemetery."

George Newhouse, the local mayor, said that some campers played hide and seek with parking inspectors, dodging them when they approached. He said the council needed stronger powers to crack down on "inappropriate camping". It had also asked the state government to provide land for camp-sites.

"At the moment there's nothing we can do to stop them," he said. "We can ban camping in our parks, but if they're on a public road in a registered vehicle, we can only regulate the hours they can park. We've got some great spots and great views in Bondi. It's a highly desirable location." He said some older people were claiming that their pensions were so low that this was the only way they could afford to stay in Sydney. "If they're going to do that, I recommend that they don't do it in Bondi," he said.

Ms Sloan said she did not believe they could not afford cheap short-term accommodation. "They could go to a backpackers' hostel," she said. "We just want them to do the right thing, and respect our environment and our residents' quality of life."