The Sunshine Coast is Australia’s caravan-living capital

For Mr Davidson and his mates at Coolum it was the affordability. It was simply cheaper to live in a caravan.

A permanent site could be bought for $14,000 a few years back. These days, it could set buyers back $80,000.

Mr Davidson has been at Coolum Beach Holiday Park for 11 years, Mark Duggan for nine, John Jackson 19, Ken Cameron 18 years and Darby Sutton 23.

“Most of us aren’t here by choice,” Mr Duggan said.

“Originally it was by choice, but now we’ve got no choice,” Mr Jackson said.

Mr Duggan said: “Life circumstances, the economy, the loss of businesses, that’s pretty much it. We can’t go buy a house or pay rent anywhere else in Coolum. It’s too much now.”

Friendship and affordability keep Bob Davidson and mate Ken Cameron living in a beachside caravan park at Coolum.
'We couldn't go pay rent anywhere else.'

Friendship and affordability keep Bob Davidson and mate Ken Cameron living in a beachside caravan park at Coolum.
‘We couldn’t go pay rent anywhere else.’Credit:Tony Moore

Some semi-retired first, others had health problems, others saw their businesses fail, while others moved north from Victoria.

Mr Cameron, who shifted from the Gold Coast, is still an active lifesaver.

They are five of the final 18 permanent residents at Coolum Beach Holiday Park, where, they said, the demand for sites from people on holidays was eroding the number of permanent sites.

Ten or 15 years ago, there were 35 permanent sites at Coolum Beach, they said.

Some of the sites for permanent residents were phased out in 2014, when a further 45 fully serviced sites were added for holiday rental.

Coolum’s location was part of the attraction, the friends agreed. But Mr Davidson said it was their friendship – and the affordability – that kept them there.

“This is one of the good points,” he said.

“We meet here every three days for a few drinks and a bit of a laugh.”

University of Queensland demographer Elin Charles-Edwards said affordability was definitely the main reason people chose to live in caravans.

“If you are living in a caravan I would almost certainly suspect it is because of affordability,” Dr Charles-Edwards said.

“You think about affordable housing options at the bottom end.

“We’ve seen an increase in rental prices, the cost of having a mortgage these days is so high and there is a retreat in public housing, so caravans are an affordable option.”

Dr Charles-Edwards said the August timing of the census meant many southerners were “enumerated” in caravans in warmer Queensland beach locations than their normal homes.

“You will get the impact of tourists from Victoria and Tasmania and also the ‘snowbirds’ who are coming up from Victoria and travelling north are more likely to be enumerated in caravans,” she said.

The census data shows 49,126 people lived in Queensland caravans. Western Australia was second with 22,756, followed by New South Wales (12,933), the Northern Territory (10,538), South Australia (5127), Victoria (4408), Tasmania (795) and the Australian Capital Territory (70).

Caravan living has been a fact of life on the Sunshine Coast for more than 80 years when the first camping grounds emerged.

On the Gold Coast, living in a caravan has existed since the early 1900s.

“Permanent residents in caravans at Kirra Beach Tourist Park – then named Shambrook Caravan Park – dates back as far as mid-1900s,” a Gold Coast City Council spokeswoman said.

The Sunshine Coast has 46 caravan parks and camping grounds. Six of them are run by the Sunshine Coast Council, which has added more than 90 extra caravan sites.

Overall, the Sunshine Coast has 159 long-term caravan sites and 1086 tourist caravan sites.

On the Gold Coast, there are seven caravan parks, where five allow permanent residents from Southport down to Burleigh Heads.

Officially, there are 280 permanent caravan park residents on the Sunshine Coast and 77 on the Gold Coast.

Tony Moore is a senior reporter at the Brisbane Times