For more than 18 months the only fixed address Katie Williams and her family have known is the one they tow behind them. Here, they share how they responded to the COVID-19 travel restrictions, the challenges they and the caravanning community have faced as displaced nomads, as well as their outlook for the future.
I feel that being on the road full-time kept us somewhat sheltered from what was evolving as a world-wide pandemic back at the beginning of the year. Travelling long term in our caravan means we are not always within range of a TV signal, and well, quite frankly, we don’t often watch the news, so the limited information we’d seen about coronavirus seemed like a threat to other countries… and something we thought we’d be safe from here in Australia.
The first time we honestly noticed something was going on was back in mid to late February, when there were videos and memes circulating social media of people panic buying loo paper. We hadn’t seen any changes to our personal shopping experiences, so again it kind of felt worlds away from us.
Adjusting to new restrictions
When announcements came through to cease travel and bunker down in our current location, that’s what we did. We cancelled future campgrounds we had pre-booked and complied with orders to keep our van off the roads.
We kept positive through the challenges that were thrown at us. We’d had work lined up for the next two months which fell through due to the restrictions. Emotionally speaking, we framed this setback differently than, say, being laid-off from a more permanent working position.
We were already rather used to being isolated given that we’d generally travelled out of peak season for at least the last six months, so keeping the recommended social distance from others was easy to do, and only required a minor adjustment. We were fortunate to be in an area with a huge amount of remote coastline to get out to for our physical and mental health.
Home-schooling the kids was already part of our reality, so we didn’t have to alter our lives when schools started closing. We were also placed in good stead for some of the restrictions imposed, given we’d spent the last 18+ months as a family in close quarters in our 22ft caravan. Being ordered to ‘stay at home’ didn’t feel like the massive shock to the system that others may have experienced.
What did have a huge impact on us, however, was the fear of being kicked out of the small rural town we found ourselves locked down in. With all the requests from local authorities’ Facebook pages telling non-locals to leave – even if they had no fixed address – we honestly never felt so unwanted.
Our anxiety and stress spiralled at the prospect of attracting hate and fear that was aimed at nomads such as ourselves, who literally had nowhere to ‘return’ to given our home IS our caravan – with online comments bringing me to tears on multiple occasions.
It was a very intense first two weeks in lockdown. We were nervous to even visit the supermarket to get groceries, given we had interstate number plates, and comments were circulating that ‘out-of-towners’ would not be able to purchase food if they didn’t have a local address listed on their driver’s licence.
Full-time travellers were labelled as the ‘cruise ships of the outback’ and made to feel like we would be solely responsible for transmitting the virus to wherever we may be located (or passing through), even if we had already been there for weeks prior.
We waited with bated breath for close to three weeks for the caravan park we were staying in to inform us we’d been cleared to remain put – that we were formally recognised as displaced nomads with no fixed address. Up until that confirmation, anxiety peaked every morning as we checked in with reception to see if we were allowed to stay another night or not.
There were reports of caravanners experiencing abuse over the radio from other road users; being terrorised in camps; having tyres slashed and rocks thrown at them; and town-folk adopting vigilante behaviour, physically blocking off roads into their towns and making up signs telling all non-locals that they weren’t welcome and needed to f*#k off! It was extremely difficult to not take everything happening to caravanners personally, and to keep our minds from wandering to a place of fear and paranoia!
Whether real or imagined, there were definitely times during that initial lockdown period when there was an ‘every man for themselves’ attitude that made me concerned for my family’s safety, and feared being ‘found out’ by the small town locals and attacked in some way.
In hindsight, a lot of our stress was fuelled by comments shared online (not things occurring to us in person), and we feel very fortunate that our situation had the ending it did, because our fate could have been very different had we been forced out onto the road in those initial weeks – being permanently displaced for goodness knows how long!
Travel ceased indefinitely
Our loose plan for 2020 was to spend it exploring the north and middle of Western Australia, thinking that we’d take our time zig-zagging between the coastline and further inland to really get a feel for each place before making our way back up north to the Kimberley to experience the Gibb River Road. We had discussed our desire to potentially head back across to the Northern Territory to tackle Arnhem Land and some of the areas we missed during our 2019 adventures.
Since we sold up and hit the road, I don’t think we’ve made a single plan that’s ever played out without some refinement of the original ideas, but it has still felt somewhat hard not being able to plan our next moves. We have friends in other states we were looking forward to catching up with here in WA over the coming months. Our kids have been looking forward to meeting other travelling families, and there are things we had planned that we were so excited for that were cancelled owing to the restrictions, such as a swimming with the whale sharks tour we’d previously booked.
In saying that, we’re thinking if restrictions stay in place toward the end of 2020, that we may continue on exploring WA’s southern areas through the summer months before possibly hitting the Nullarbor and seeing parts of SA we missed on our way to Tassie – places we still intend on visiting at some point in the future.
Can tourism bounce back?
At the time of writing, some restrictions have been eased in WA to allow non-contact recreational activities such as hiking and camping – whilst still abiding by the social distancing rules and intra-state border closures.
With WA Parks and Wildlife opening their online bookings to regional campers, it was almost instantaneous that their website crashed from being overloaded with bookings, which further supports our assumption that the caravanning/camping industries will experience an ascending boom as restrictions are systematically eased for intra and inter-state.
It makes sense to us that after being confined to one area, the majority of us will be itching to get back out there and experience a level of freedom that was quite possibly taken for granted merely months ago!