Life Travel Broome in the firing line as tourist towns grapple with ‘grumpy’ grey nomads
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Broome in the firing line as tourist towns grapple with ‘grumpy’ grey nomads

Broome car wash
Broome's only car wash has been the scene of arguments between locals and grey nomads. Photo: Matt Bamford
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Travelling retirees are being urged to brush up on their manners as small towns confront a nationwide increase in camping and caravan holidays.

The pastime is experiencing double-digit growth in most states, but some townsfolk say “grumpy” seniors can leave them feeling overwhelmed at times.

A series of run-ins in Broome, Western Australia, has renewed debate about how to best handle the visitors, who are important contributors to the local economy.

A popular pastime

Across the country, camping and caravan holidays are more popular than ever with Australians spending a total of 54.5 million nights on the road last year, according to the Caravan Industry Association of Australia.

Three people in deckchairs are silhouetted against a setting sun on a deserted beach
Travellers flock to Broome, WA between June and September every year.

These holidays add $20 billion to the economy every year and grey nomads, who spend the most number of nights on the road, are important contributors.

But congestion-clearing infrastructure can be hard to come by in places where tourists can often outnumber ratepayers.

WA Local Government Association president Lynne Craigie said small towns could struggle to cope with the seasonal influx.

“One of the biggest challenges is the number of people that come in – it’s where to fit them and often it can cause a bit of an overflow,” Ms Craigie said.

“People can be a little short, sometimes [the long drives] can lead them to be a bit snappy.”

Cars and a tourist camel train on a beach
Broome residents say they can feel overrun by tourists at times. Photo: ABC News

She said local shires were making the extra effort to accommodate everyone.

“We need to make sure that we are very welcoming, but also our guests need to understand that we are doing our best,” she said.

While the disputes seem small, they create a lasting impression among locals.

Accosted by an older woman

Broome’s population roughly triples from June to September as tourists arrive seeking an outback adventure.

It has long been a favourite destination for people looking to escape the cold winter months down south.

Some have been making the pilgrimage for 30 years.

But a series of fiery interactions recently have left residents reflecting with a mixture of frustration and amusement on the nomads that arrive in droves every year.

Broome resident Gina Lincoln was accosted by an older woman at the town’s only car wash earlier this month.

“This particular woman just started yelling at me over the noise of the car wash,” Ms Lincoln said.

The outburst shocked Ms Lincoln, who was with her young daughter at the time.

“That she would do that in front of a little kid, that was the most upsetting part.”

Ms Lincoln said the incident showed how stretched resources and short tempers could create divisions.

“Some people seem to feel entitled and I think these interactions might be quite common,” she said.

“[But] I think the issue is more around the town’s capacity to provide enough resources for everyone’s needs.”

As Broome swells in size, supermarkets can also become a battleground.

Resident Alice Best recalled a confrontation over a loaf of bread that startled her.

“I could see that there was one left so I was aiming for it and just before I got there this woman pushed my hand away and snatched the loaf from underneath me,” she said.

Ms Best said most Broome residents had learned to embrace the rollercoaster ride that grey nomads brought to the town.

“There’s a lot of rich history there. A lot of the nomads have been coming up for years and years,” she said.

“They do things around the town. They volunteer and they are helping the economy, but they certainly act out occasionally.”

Expert advice

A drone photo of a four pelicans landing on the blue water next to the red cliffs of Broome.
A flock of pelicans enjoy the waters off the coast of Broome. Photo: Ally.photog

Grey nomad is a term used to describe Australians over 55 years old who travel for an extended time, often covering great distances each day.

The term was popularised following the 1997 Australian documentary Grey Nomads screened by the ABC, which captured the phenomenon of older travellers who made their homes wherever they parked.

In recent years, dedicated websites and internet forums have sprung up for tech-savvy nomads to share tips.

Etiquette is a prominent topic of discussion.

There are six commandments that govern the way grey nomads travel, according to thegreynomads.com.au.

They include waving at passing caravans, using “privacy screens” when drying out “unmentionable” garments on the clothesline, and keeping the level of noise and alcohol consumption to a considerate level.

Maintaining a sense of humour and being ready to lend a hand is also advisable.

two cars go through a carwash marked Broome carwash
Broome’s car wash can become inundated during peak season. Photo: Matt Bamford

Patience a virtue

For more than 20 years, South Yunderup resident Ian Baird has been driving his caravan 2300 kilometres to Broome to spend the winter months.

He has seen the odd “grumpy” nomad upset by “something stupid” and recommends travellers sync with the town’s signature slow pace.

“Just be patient. Don’t start yelling and screaming,” Mr Baird said.

“Don’t be in a hurry. When you get here, flip straight into Broome time.”

When he’s not working at the Broome Turf Club, Mr Baird is socialising with dozens of other nomad friends around town.

A smiling middle-aged man drinks a cup of tea while sitting in a deckchair outside a caravan
Ian Baird says grey nomads should embrace Broome’s slow pace. Photo: Matt Bamford

He said that everyone had more to gain by getting along.

“I think we give the town a great injection of money,” he said.

“[Broome locals] are lovely people. I don’t see any other way other than just be nice to each other.”

-ABC

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