The official Christmas-New Year holiday period may be over, but you wouldn’t know it in Evans Head. The population of the town almost doubles during the summer months as thousands of holiday-makers set up camp at sites they’ve had reserved for decades
The sign out the front reads ‘no vacancy sorry.’ The sight from a few steps inside the boom gates reinforces the message.
Thousands of tourists are nestled side-by-side in rows of tents, caravans and cabins, making the Silver Sands Holiday Park a town within the town of Evans Head.
Many have been making the pilgrimage to the jewel of the Richmond Valley for decades.
Jim and Margaret Leeson are this summer celebrating 81 years of holidaying in the park.
“When I first came here there used to be an old house where the kiosk used to be and there was a fella called Charlie Dark who used to give your horse (we came on a horse and sulky) a drink of water and he’d sell you a billycan of water for a shilling,” says Jim.
“And there was another place across there that had a tank on it, but Charlie always used to let the water out of the tank so he could sell his own water.”
The couple, who first began holidaying in Evans Head as children, say they’ve seen many changes over the eight decades.
“We had to walk behind (the sulky) because the horse couldn’t pull through the sand,” says Margaret.
“It was a good long walk for us through the sand and hot with no shoes on.”
Margaret and Jim now call Queensland’s Allora home for most of the year, but they’re originally from the Richmond Valley.
Margaret grew up less than half an hour from her summer haven.
“My parents had a farm up on the Richmond River and Dad used to stop at home because he had peace at home without all us kids running around,” she says.
Margaret was one of eight daughters in her family.
“I had the pick of the stall,” says Jim.
“No I didn’t exactly… there was a couple married.”
Not far from home
Manager Adrian Easdown began running the park just six months ago and says he was surprised by the large percentage of tourists who come to Evans Head from hometowns less than an hour away.
“It was quite amusing to find out that people would pretty much relocate their streets from a town like Coraki or Casino or Lismore and pretty much come down and have their own neighbours in the holiday park,” he says.
“But it’s great and it works well and they obviously enjoy each other’s company.”
One such holiday-maker is Max Fairfull who lives about 40 minutes inland from Evans Head in the city of Lismore.
Max has been camping at Evans for 42 years and rarely holidays elsewhere.
However, it isn’t the promise of warm white sand and salty blue water that pulls Max to the coast.
“I’ll never get bitten by a shark, I’m not much into swimming and things like that,” he says.
“We sit and we have a couple of stubbies and people walk in and out.”
Jim also admits to keeping dry even on the hottest days.
“I don’t go in the water, there’s sharks in there,” he says.
“There’s only two things I’ll never get killed by. I’ll never get killed by an airplane and I’ll never get killed by a shark.”
A second family
The park is bordered by the river and beach, but Max says it’s his holiday neighbours that pull him back year after year.
“The not-so-nice campers, you sort of squeeze them out I suppose over the years and nobody associated with them and they’re gone,” he says.
“Now it’s like one big giant family.”
Jim and Margaret call the park their home away from home, and the other holiday-makers their second family.
It’s a sentiment echoed by the younger generations of families following in Margaret, Jim and Max’s footsteps.
Corey and Kylie Smith, also from Lismore, first started visiting Evans Head as children with their parents.
Now, they bring their three primary-school aged children to the park for five weeks per year.
“Christmas is pretty good, Santa always visits and leaves his footprints through the caravan park,” says Kylie.
“Half of Lismore comes down, Casino, Coraki, Kyogle, they all come down.”
The Smiths have been holidaying at the same campsite for 11 years and don’t ever plan to give it up.
“My parents have been coming since I was in high school,” says Kylie.
“They had a site next door and my grandmother was next door to that and my uncle was across the road from that.
“Then I met my husband, we had a child and came down one year and this site was available so we took it.”
Margaret and Jim, now in their 90s, also intend on keeping their site as long as possible.
“While ever the chemist can keep the tablets up to you it’ll keep you alive,” says Jim.