Traveller’s plea: leave us be

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The “policing public” who persecute travellers need to mind their own business, a Dunedin man says.

Traveller Beck Ritchie (63) said he had been parking his home – a bus, truck or caravan – overnight on public land “on and off” since the age of 18.

“This is my way of life.”

Once the public congratulated a traveller on their way of life and welcomed them to a town, but the mood had changed in recent years.

Now the “policing public” persecuted travellers.

“This is a plea to the public – relax a bit and mind your own business – it’s not a problem.”

No longer could a traveller stop for the night in a “gorgeous spot”, leave the site in a better state than they found it in and stay on the right side of the public.

“Now they say ‘move on you b*****d, you’re not allowed to camp here’.”

Mr Ritchie failed to comprehend why someone would be offended by someone wanting to stop at a site to sleep.

He was often harassed when he stopped at a site for the day, even if he had no intention of staying the night.

He wondered if he would cop the same amount of abuse if he owned a fancier caravan.

“They don’t consider it part of the view, they believe it obstructs the view . . . it’s a matter of attitude.”

A reason for the shift in mood towards travellers came after regular negative publicity on freedom camping.

All his travelling friends had self-contained vehicles and were unhappy when a freedom camper left a site worse than when they arrived.

“They’ve ruined it for us . . . travellers have lived this way for decades and we’ve been caught up in something by default,” Mr Ritchie said.

Consequently, councils were “herding” freedom campers and travellers to stop overnight at sites such as Ocean View Recreation Reserve.

He had spent his first night in the reserve site in his caravan when The Star knocked on his door last week.

The caravan had a pot belly fire but it was not going, as he did not want any smoke floating across his freedom camping neighbours.

Mr Ritchie wanted councils across New Zealand to allow self-contained campers to stop where they wanted.

“The people who make up camping laws, should bear in mind they might want to go camping in a campervan or a caravan one day and they’ll be sorry they’ve made the laws so tight.”

Restricting travellers to sites with conditions, such as only letting people stay two consecutive days, imposed a cost on travellers, as they used fuel moving between sites.

Dunedin City Council was more generous in the freedoms it allowed and the services it made available for travellers, when compared to other councils in New Zealand.

However, fewer sites were being made available for self-contained campers to stop in Dunedin.

To ensure a good night’s sleep, Mr Ritchie would park his caravan overnight on the private land of friends in Dunedin.

“That’s to stay out of the public’s jurisdiction.”