Rising from the ashes: Austrade grant helps Tathra eco camp take flight


An idyllic holiday park has risen from the ashes of a 2018 bushfire disaster in south-eastern New South Wales.

The Tathra Beach Eco Camp offers glamping among regenerated bush, minutes from the sea. The centrepiece – an attractive camp kitchen – owes its existence partly to an Austrade-administered grant.

Some have called the rise of the rebranded Tathra Beach Eco Camp ‘phoenix-like’. However, local First Nations people have another symbol of rebirth: the sea eagle.

CEO Carmen Risby says she learned this from the camp’s groundsman, Gary, a proud Djiringanj man of the Yuin nation. During the park’s arduous rebuild, they both loved to glimpse sea eagles overhead.

Rebuild and reinvention

Bringing the property back to life was a huge, complex effort. There was a limited budget and lots to do. ‘We had to break the project down into easy-to-manage pieces,’ says Carmen.

Meanwhile, the park was being reimagined as a sustainable, ‘back-to-nature’ experience. Funding under the Australian Government’s Caravan Parks Grant Program fast-tracked the eco-friendly camp kitchen.

The finished indoor kitchen and dining area uses recycled materials and energy-efficient design. A rainwater tank is attached. And there’s an accessible entry ramp from the large clearing outside it.

‘We’ve created this big, beautiful zone in the property,’ says Carmen. ‘Outside, there are picnic tables and a big communal campfire area where people can gather. We’ve started holding singalongs in nature once a week. We’ve brought in local artists and food businesses.’

Tathra beach eco camp view of people sitting and talking

Long and difficult bushfire recovery

The eco camp property was once the Tathra Beach Motor Village caravan park. That was until March 2018, when a ferocious fire ripped through Tathra.

The blaze destroyed 65 buildings in the popular tourist town and damaged others. The Tathra Beach Motor Village was left a burnt-out shell.

Bushfire recovery is a long and difficult road. The 2019-20 summer fires, personal and other challenges made it more so with the Tathra Beach Motor Village.

The 1,000-person-capacity caravan park stayed fenced-off for more than 3 years. After COVID lockdowns, new owners managed to reopen the site for summer 2021.

Reviving the local tourist industry

Those new owners, including Carmen, were the team behind the neighbouring Tathra Beachside holiday park.

Part of NSW’s picturesque Sapphire Coast, Tathra is heavily reliant on tourism. The friendly park takeover was a move to help revive the local economy.

‘We felt the only way our small town could move forward was to bring back more visitors,’ says Carmen. ‘If we could reopen this beautiful site, the whole town would benefit.’

Summer 2021 relaunch

The plan was to get Tathra Beach Eco Camp up and running as soon as possible. So, the summer 2021 opening proceeded with a temporary reception building and cabins still closed.

‘We got the site operational and tidy,’ says Carmen. ‘We had camping. We repaired an amenities block. Then we brought in some beautiful glamping.’

Another crucial step was re-laying basic services like electricity and sewerage. ‘This is the stuff you can’t see, which makes no money,’ Carmen says. ‘However, it is really important.’

‘One great thing’ that makes a difference

With the focus now on camping and glamping, guests needed to self-cater easily. A customer survey from Tathra Beach Eco Camp’s first season made it clear. The thing they most wanted was a camp kitchen.

But the new owners had already spent millions. More glamping was being added as a cute but cost-effective solution. Savings were being made renovating 22 fire-damaged cabins that were first thought beyond repair. ‘We salvaged anything we could. We were really resourceful,’ says Carmen.

With everything else underway, it seemed the team would have to delay the camp kitchen. Or they would have to compromise on the eco-friendly design. Instead, $100,000 funding under the Caravan Park Grants Program allowed the $365,000 project to go head in 2023.

The $10 million Caravan Parks Grants Program is part of a $48 million Tourism and Travel Support package. The Australian Government announced the package in the October 2022 Budget. It forms part of the Phase 1 Action Plan of THRIVE 2030, Australia’s long-term visitor economy strategy.

Carmen was ‘over the moon’ that the grant saved the project from falling at a difficult hurdle. She says, ‘These grants weren’t meant to do everything. These grants have given caravan-park owners a boost to do one great thing to change their property and be more competitive. That’s the beauty of them.’

Connecting to Country

The camp kitchen’s first use in September 2023 was for a conference with the state and Bega Local Aboriginal Land Councils. It was a connection forged through the Tathra Beach Eco Camp’s aim to be both environmentally sustainable and culturally sensitive.

All visitors are encouraged to connect to Country, on this beautiful site with kangaroos hopping through grassland among gum trees. Groundsman Gary regularly talks to guests about Indigenous people’s history and connection to the land. When visitors arrive and depart, park staff wish them ‘Walaawani’ – a local Aboriginal word meaning ‘safe journeys’.

Carmen and fellow owners have now sold Tathra Beachside to focus on their newer property. She says guests are booking longer stays at Tathra Beach Eco Camp. The camp kitchen allows them to self-cater and make their holiday budget go further.

‘There’s no other space quite like it, not in Tathra nor in the region,’ she says. ‘It’s thanks to this grant that this infrastructure has been put into this little town now. It’s going to keep giving for many, many years.’

Learn more

The caravan and camping sector is a major contributor to the visitor economy. The Tourism Research Australia (TRA) website has the latest statistics for caravan and camping. This caravan and camping data comes from TRA’s National Visitor Survey (NVS).

The Caravan Park Grant Program helps improve visitor infrastructure. Improving visitor infrastructure is a priority of THRIVE 2030, the long-term strategy for Australia’s visitor economy. Read about THRIVE 2030.

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