Etiquette for Newbies

Ron and Viv Moon — 17 December 2020
Camping is all fun and games until someone breaks these unspoken rules. Here are some tips and tricks.

With summer in full swing and a new year dawning, more and more Australians are holidaying at home. Many are buying vans and campers and heading off for the very first time. That’s great news for van manufacturers, camper trailer builders, the aftermarket accessory industry and 4WD, camping and vanning retail outlet stores. Plus, of course, the communities, small and large, scattered across the country that rely on self-grown tourism and wandering nomads in vans and campers are looking forward to a great year.

For many people this year’s travelling will be the first time they have towed a van or a camper or even driven on a dirt road for any length of time. And while many people who buy a 4WD for the change of lifestyle or the big trip around Australia, go and do a 4WD course, many of those same courses have little instruction on how to drive on dirt roads — so pick one that does!

Generally, you aren’t going to die while driving on a sandy beach or crossing a river up on Cape York, but do the wrong thing at 80km/h on a dirt road and you’ll be lucky to walk away from it unscathed. Put a van or camper on the back, and the chances of you coming to grief, if and when you do the wrong thing, are magnified 10 times over.

So, don’t be all macho and remember, it’s best not to rely on your mates for any enlightenment. Join a 4WD club, do a dedicated driving course or join a tag-along tour so you can start your initiation into the enjoyable life of touring and camping and learn by experience. For a course, check out Great Divide Tours in NSW, (, or just Google, ‘Driving courses for towing with a van’, or similar. The life you save may be your own, your partner's, or some stranger coming the other way. 

When you are on the road there is etiquette involved with passing and overtaking. If you are towing consider those behind you. In the US, it’s a law in most states that you pull over if there are more than four or five vehicle behind you, but you shouldn’t let it get to that stage. On a dirt road its more important again, and simply driving slowly on the dusty verge is not good enough — pull well over and let those following slip by. 

When you come upon a truck, a semi, or road train heading either towards you or in the same direction, you can bet if it’s a single lane of blacktop he will be very reluctant to drop off onto the dirt. If you want to overtake, best to give him a call on the UHF radio (you’ll have one of them, won’t you?) and let him know you’re behind him and he’ll let you know when it’s safe to pass. On a dirt road if a truck with a billowing cloud of dust is approaching its best to get out of his way, stop and let the dust cloud disseminate before proceeding. Being in a hurry could easily cost someone’s life.

Camping in the bush etiquette demands that you begin playing by largely unwritten rules even before you set up. 

I know many people feel apprehensive camping on their own, but one thing that gets me a little ruffled is when someone camps within metres of us when there is a vast area for them to set up in. And don’t even think about having blaring heavy metal music going — if you want to do that, make sure you are a long way away from me and my camp. 

Take care with fire and dispose of your rubbish properly. As far as going to the toilet when in the scrub is concerned, and you haven’t got a porta-potti or similar in your camper, and there isn’t a long drop dunny within cooee, you need to follow the steps in the Bog Report. It’s not that hard!  

Most of our outback roads pass through pastoral properties and while you may not have seen a house or a living soul for ages, the land is owned by someone who is generally trying to make a living out of it. You are not entitled to wander around willy nilly, following any station track you come across. And if you pass through a gate leave it as you found it — if it was open leave it that way, if it was closed and you opened it, close the thing!

For more on the accepted things to do when travelling in our outback or camping in the bush check out


No Fixed Address Regulars Column Etiquette Camping Unspoken rules How to