Setting up an Activist Camp

Notes from Camp Meeting Tabulam. Workshop content by Murray Muzz Drechsler

Finding a location

  • Not under trees- dropping limbs and limbs thrown in storms -behind a windbreak to protect from wind and storms- different sized trees but not big eucalypts
  • Gullies are not good to camp in due to water runoff/ poor drainage, cold air/ frost
  • Dry creekbeds and river banks are prone to dangerous flash flooding even if it is not raining where you are
  • Avoid damp, muddy ground, springs, rocky ground
  • Check your north direction and make sure you have a good amount of sun for your solar system
  • If you are ina bushfire zone make sure you have a good emergency exit and firebreak –
  • A good flat site will make camping easier and more pleasant
  • Think about access to water for swimming, washing etc., phone signal, veghicle access, ease of finding camp from the main road

Pitching Camp

  • Arrive before dark, light a fire and introduce yourself to Mother. Ask for her protection and permission to camp on the land. This is respect for country. If the camp feels wrong or bad vibes, move. It may be a bad place, a sacred site or burial site. Always respect the spirit of the country and it’s people and animals.
  • Think about wind- make sure all your lines are taut and pegs are firm. Check your lines daily or after wind gusts and rain -to keep your tarp taut use plenty of tie downs and poles. Put two lines on every corner and main pole Make sure you have a good pitch on your tarp to help rain run off. Make sure there are no bellies in the tarp that will collect water as they will fill up with up to hundreds of litres and destroy your roof. If your poles are sinking into the ground you can sit them on a plate, wood plank or flat stone.
  • Plan where your rain runoff will go- trench to drain it away from camp or collect in a drum.
  • Pallets will keep you and your camp off the ground and above water and mud. Free pallets and milk crates are available in towns and warehouses.
  • Pegs need to be hammered in perpendicular to the direction of the rope. Ropes pegged closer to the pole have less trip hazard but are more likely to come out- more strain. Further away has more trip hazard but less strain. If the soil is sandy you can double peg or triple peg each line. If you can’t peg them use 20L water drums. If in sand you can bury sand anchors or logs, rocks to tie off on. Car axles are good for large tarps. When tying tarp eyelets, put the rope loop over the tarp eyelet on the pole to prevent the tarp blowing off. If your eyelets break through you can make a fastening by wrapping a small round pebble in the corner of the tarp and slipping a slipknot over it.
  • Buy yourself a GOOD TARP to start with. Heavy silver and green is good, truck tarps, billboard canvas. Look for double stitched corner gussets and heavy duty eyelets. Light green and blue tarps are weak and better for walls and floors.
  • A ridge pole gives a good structure to start with. Lash your two uprights to the ridge lying sideways on the ground at the right height. 2.5M or so. Lay the tarp over the ridge pole while on the ground. Tie your stay ropes onto the uprights. If you are on your own, put your pegs in first and then stand the structure up and tie it off. SEE KNOTS for correct lashings and knots.
  • Putting up tarps in the wind is hard and sometimes dangerous. If you can peg your tarp down to the ground on the upwind side it will help to stop it becoming a sail. If you have constant wind or a storm, peg the leading edge to the ground, put up a wall or park a vehicle in the way.
  • You can use trees to set lines to. – Okki straps are good but can be dangerous.
  • If it is just an overnight camp it can be made simpler and lighter. If you are in hot weather you can build a second skin over your tarp with another tarp or shadecloth to keep it cool.


  • Hiking tents are good for easy carrying but only good for a few nights.
  • All tents will deteriorate in the sun over time.
  • Cutting grass or mulch to put under your tent floor will soften the ground for sleeping on.(this can rot and smell after awhile)
  • A second tarp over your tent will protect it from the sun, cool the tent and help prevent leakage.


lay a groundsheet or builders plastic with old carpets over it. Carpet will keep down the dust and dirt in camp but will go mouldy if wet. Laying pallets down first will lift it off the wet ground and keep it dry.
Sourcing things locally will avoid large amounts of crap to transport- pallets, tarps, carpet, furniture etc. Pine pallets are light, free and last about a year on the ground. Hardwood pallets are heavier but last much longer.


  • Hygiene is uppermost! Gastro and flu can take out an entire camp overnight. If you have gastro or flu, stay out of the kitchen and don’t wash dishes. If you infect camp you can stop the whole operation and become a liability yourself.
  • Wash your hands and use Aquium after toilet, before cooking etc.
  • Wash dishes properly in HOT water and drip dry, not towel dry.
  • Follow safe food storage- below 5deg or cooked above 60 deg to avoid food bacteria poisoning. Reheat food once only. If in doubt, don’t eat it!
  • Keep food cold and dry, off the ground and away from pests, rats, possums, flies
  • lock up food overnight. If leftovers are to be eaten, keep cold and covered.
  • Eskies, lockers and metal or wooden boxes will keep your food safe and clean.
  • Evaporative coolers (milk crate and wet towel hung in shade) or piles of green leaves, buried buckets can keep things cool for a while.
  • Make a designated compost heap away from camp.
  • A good trestle table is invaluable. Bring plastic buckets reserved for washing, scrubbers, tea towels and detergent/soap. For larger camps a sink on a stand is helpful.
  • A large pot or hot water drum or donkey is very useful left over the fire and kept topped up.

Fires and cooking

  • Cooking over the fire or on coals is an efficient way to cook if you have a fire going.
  • Use a fire of hot coals to cook rather than large flames to keep the heat constant. It will smoke less also. You can have a main fire and rake coals out to a second cooking pit.
  • Starpickets can be used to make a long firepit and slide cooking plates or pots along to get the right heat.
  • Different fuel will create different heat. Large logs will burn slower and cooler, small twigs or sticks will burn quicker and hotter. Hardwood will make better coals and smoke less that soft wood or pine etc. Damp or rotten wood will smoulder and smoke, wood to be burned can be stacked near the fire to dry it.
  • Store firewood in a dry place or under a car, tarp etc.
  • Keep dry cotton cloths by the fire to pick up hot things. Wet or synthetic cloths will burn your hands.
  • Build your fire at a safe distance from tents, bush and flammables (petrol etc.). Build larger fires well
    away from camp in a safe place. If you want a small fire under a tarp, build it in a brazier or potbelly or cover with tin to avoid hot sparks.
  • Camp ovens and cast iron pots are good for camp cooking.
  • Keep away from aluminium and teflon cooking gear. Pots with plastic handles will burn. Get gear with metal handles.
  • Clean your cast iron gear and oil it when finished to avoid rusting.
  • If you are in a bushfire risk or season take a brazier or gas stove.
  • Make sure you douse your coals before leaving a camp even if it feels or looks cool.
  • Fires can be built for warmth, light, signalling wih smoke etc.
  • Make sure your pots don’t boil dry.
  • Keep water or sand handy to put out fires. A shovel or rake is good to have but don’t allow it to get red hot or it will damage the blade.


  • Boil riverwater before drinking or washing and never drink dirty water or radiator water.
  • emergency water techniques- condensation pit with plastic and cup collector

Toilets, Showers and Waste

  • Everyone shits. Period. Can’t be helped.
  • For a temporary camp dig individual holes and bury under 20cm of soil or mulch. It must be covered to protect from dogs, flies and stepping on it. Ash will help sanitize it. Make sure you take enough toilet paper!
  • For a permanent camp, build latrines with tarp dividers. Seats can be built with wooden boxes, milk crates, pallets or pre-made seats. Make sure they are sealed and have a lid.
  • Pit latrines are easy to build. Put a cup of ash, soil or sawdust after each use and bury well when full.
  • 20L food buckets with lids fit under a milk crate seat and can be carried away to bury or compost. -Place a designated washing water drum, soap and/or hand wash gel near the toilet and keep filled.
  • Keep toilets at least 20m away from camp and DOWNWIND!
  • In a large camp designate someone daily to clean and empty the latrines.
  • Piss away from camp a good distance and never piss in the same place twice. Check the colour of your urine- the darker it is, the more dehydrated you are.
  • Washing water, piss and other water can be soaked away in a gravel/ rubble trench to avoid stagnant puddles or carried away from camp and tipped out (not in the same place twice).
  • Bag your rubbish and take it with you. Separate recycling if possible.
  • Don’t drop cigarette butts and rubbish around.
  • Don’t wash soap, detergent or shampoo into rivers or dams because it poisons the water.
  • Camp showers and designated body washing buckets are useful. Build a shower cubicle or spot with a pallet floor, seperate women’s and men’s washing spots if desired. Usually you can get away with a bucket wash once a day and a swim once in a while. Washing in the sea and with sand will help deter sandflies.
  • If you are short of water or in the desert you can dry wash with dust or sand, and this will protect you from sun and insects as well.

Knots and ropes

  • *Download/ draw knot pictures – Different knots have different uses. Learn your knots and use them to build stronger structures.
  • LOOK AFTER YOUR ROPES. Keep them rolled up neatly and in a bag protected from sun and moisture.
  • Buy a variety of good-quality ropes. Braided army rope or yacht line is good for general use. Threestrand rope is good for splicing, general use but is hard on the hands- also nylon rope tends to slip. Telstra rope is cheap and plentiful and strong enough for most uses. Get smaller cord and hootchie cord or string for light use.
  • Knots all work on the principle of friction- slippery rope will be less useful and let go more often. Wet ropes will swell and won’t be easy to untie. A marlin spike or rope spike is useful.
  • Having thumb knots or unnecessary small knots in a piece of rope will lessen the load rating by 50% each knot.
  • Granny knots and thumb knots are good to start with but are not very useful. Learn some better knots.
  • Figure 8 knots are better than thumb knots, easier to undo and don’t reduce the load rating as much.
  • Half hitches are good for temporary low-strain knots and tying up loose ends when using with other knots. Use a loop to make it quick-release.
  • Slip-knot- thumb knot with a loop- make it with the load line as the loop tightener. Good for securing broken tarp corners with a small pebble, on a stick as a throw line.
  • Lark’s heads can be used for securing onto poles.
  • Clove hitches are good for tying onto poles and round bars. They will grip and tend not to slip and are easy to undo. Good for fastening tarps or lines to the top of poles. Use a loop on the second half to make it quick release. Can be tied with a loop mid-line.
  • Bowlines are good for most tying off onto trees etc except when tying under load. They are very good for high load and towing as they will undo even when pulled very tight. One-handed bowlines are good when climbing.
  • Reef knots, bowlines and sliding knots are good for securing two rope ends together.
  • Trucker’s hitches are good for tying loads and tensioning tarp lines. They can be easily re-tensioned to tighten tarps and can be tied mid-line (without a loose end).
  • Square lash- very good for lashing poles to poles. Use thinner line to make a better knot-
  • baler twine and bamboo can be built into very large strong structures.
  • Splicing- loops, ends, mid-line loops. Good for making strong permanent terminals or loops in 3strand ropes. –
  • Splicing and whipping- for making loops in braided ropes.
  • Daisy chain can make a long length of light rope into a short length of stronger rope. Sheep shank- use for patching damaged rope or shortening ropes.
  • It is good to have a few tie down straps and okkie straps handy for other uses.

Solar Systems

  • Panels, batteries and components will all have a positive and negative terminal. Positive goes to postive, negative to negative. Keep your red/black or wire colours constant to avoid confusion.
  • Make sure wires and terminals are kept insulated (with electrical tape) and dry to avoid short circuits and earth-out.
  • Connect the panel to a regulator, regulator to a battery, and load from the load out terminals on the regulator.
  • Only use 12v with 12v gear, 24v with 24v gear etc.
  • You can be electrocuted with low voltage! Always treat all wires as live and switch off your circuit while working on it and cover panels with a blanket.
  • Keep your wire distances as short as possible- voltage drops over distance.
  • Deep cycle batteries are best, but truck or car batteries can be used.
  • Batteries are fully charged at 13.5- 13.8v. Dropping the charge below 12.4v repeatedly will wreck your battery.
  • Refrigeration and heating uses the most power. Solar systems (unless VERY big) will not run heating, jugs, toasters etc. or normal fridges.
  • Use efficient LED strip or spot lights, or low-power fluoro tubes for lighting.
  • Face panels North (or move through the day to follow sun). The best power gain is when they are 90 deg to the sun’s rays.
  • CONSERVE YOUR POWER!!! You don’t know if the next few days will be rainy or overcast.
  • Power can be drawn from a car or car battery and recharged by running the car. Just make sure you don’t leave your car battery flat.
  • Inverters can be used to power 240V appliances but only use a pure sine wave inverter for sensitive
    gear eg. Computers, phones etc.

Last updated: July 16th, 2016

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