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Australian holiday parks – a Shangri-La for retirees?

The Silver Life - Australian outbackTrainee "Grey Nomads" continue their journey in Oz
The Silver Life - Trainee “Grey Nomads” head for the outbackTrainee "Grey Nomads" heading for the ocean

The Trend of Holiday Parks becoming Residential Parks.

Holiday parks, caravan parks and camping grounds are often thought of as convenient pit stops for tourists on a budget or for retirees who have made a life-style choice to travel Australia by caravan after selling or renting out their family home (the ‘Grey Nomads’). Such places can also be destinations in their own right where holiday makers on a budget can spend family time together enjoying swimming pools, bouncing pillows, playing crazy golf and a wide range of kid-friendly activities in a safe and secure environment.

But that image of Australian holiday parks is now far from accurate, as many parks across Australia have become locations where people live on a permanent or semi-permanent basis. This trend is now so pronounced that some holiday parks are renaming themselves ‘Residential Parks’.

Park residents fall into three distinct groups, each with very different motivations or circumstances.  Firstly, there are the older people, predominantly retirees, who own their caravan or cabin but are renting a park site.  Secondly are the itinerant and seasonal workers (typically in construction, farming and fruit picking), and thirdly, people who move into a park as a last resort because no other accommodation options are available to them.

The Australian Census of 2011 confirmed that 163,000 Australians now call a holiday park ‘home’. By far the largest group were retirees but 33,000 residents were members of households in which nobody worked full time. For these people, a park represented the most affordable accommodation option available, requiring no up-front bond payment, no background checks, and no additional fees for utilities such as electricity.

Often itinerant workers, particularly in rural locations, view a holiday park as the only viable option in the absence of a local rental market or affordable hotels. (1).

This growth in permanent residents is something of an enigma and represents a very strange sociological situation where the majority of park residents have made the positive choice to move in and the minority have done so because they have no option.

Bringing together such polarised groups living in such close proximity is a rare social phenomenon. We could perhaps even label these polarised residents as the ‘choosers’ and the ‘losers’.

Let’s first look at the motivations of the ‘choosers’.

Living permanently in holiday parks is a growing lifestyle choice for many people. Many parks provide a range of facilities and services, and the village atmosphere can foster a feeling of camaraderie so often absent in other styles of living. Parks often provide proximity to shopping, medical and transport infrastructures. Some parks may boast recreation and function rooms, bowls, BBQ’s, social events, bus trips, craft groups, exercise classes and a host of other activities. Guests can stay with you in your home and some parks allow you to keep your much-loved pets.

Holiday parks have become an increasingly popular alternative during retirement, as park living frees up capital for investment purposes or lifestyle purchases, and many pensioners may also qualify for government rent assistance for their park site.

All sounds great, so far.

Reading the advertising literature of some parks could lead you to conclude that a holiday park has the potential to become your very own retirement Shangri-La, but there are some potential negatives a retiree should also consider.

Many holiday parks are located in areas not normally approved for residential development, such as land prone to flooding; previously contaminated industrial land; land that is under major power lines, or situated in bushland and vulnerable to bushfires.

Let us also consider the possible impact of sharing your park with those people who don’t choose to be there, the ‘losers’.

Retirees may find themselves living with some potentially problematic fellow guests. A study of 46 Holiday Parks in New South Wales in 2005 (2) found that, of the permanent residents interviewed, 40% had experienced homelessness, 30% had mental health issues and 21% of the families with children had contact with the Department of Community Services in the previous 12 months.

Another major characteristic of holiday park living is that, because of shared facilities, there is a high level of control by park management over the conditions and daily activities of tenants compared with those enjoyed by tenants in private rental or social housing.

In particular, holiday parks represent a much easier environment for eviction.  An accidentally missed rental payment or unsociable behavior (in the opinion of the park management) might be all that is needed to make you homeless. The close proximity of caravans to each other means occupants have very limited privacy; caravan and cabin walls are sometimes very thin and offer no sound proofing against raised voices, loud music or other noisy scenarios.

Situations like this can lead to disputes, particularly for people with challenging psychiatric conditions or drug and alcohol abuse issues, and may result in people (often the victims) being readily evicted for disturbing the peace.

There is little doubt that more and more retirees are choosing to become permanent residents in Holiday Parks and that many of these parks offer safe, enjoyable, low cost and sociable locations in which to live. However, retirees need also to be aware of their park’s location, the unchallengeable authority of park managers, and the type of neighbours who might just move in next door.

1. Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (2013)
2. Stuart, G. (2005) ‘It beats living in a tent: A survey of residents in eight Lower Hunter caravan parks’, Parity, Vol. 18, No. 5, pp. 17-18.


Copyright: Bob Bell 17/8/2015


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About the Author: Bob B.

Bob Bell and his wife Edith are two Brits travelling through the great Outback of Australia. Whilst on their journey, they have agreed to become guest writers and keep us updated of their travel experiences through the land of Oz. Bob is a Guest Contributor of The Silver Life.

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