Rural start-ups take off

Start-ups YouCamp, Shacky and Unyoked welcome country folk into shared economy


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Camping for strangers has become a lucrative sideline rural landholders.

Camping for strangers has become a lucrative sideline rural landholders.

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People in the country are now finding alternative ways of cashing in on their assets.

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Locked out of big city sharing economy schemes like Uber and Airtasker, people in the country are now finding alternative ways of cashing in on their assets.

They’ve begun opening up vacant land to start-ups like YouCamp, Shacky, Unyoked and the Tiny House Movement, and increasingly exploring other avenues like letting land for solar farms, parking lots and outdoor advertising.

Among them are cattle farmers Katrina Wood and Stu Haw, who have put their farm near Tenterfield in the New England region, 700 kilometres north of Sydney, on YouCamp – an Australian web platform bringing together landholders and keen campers.

“It gives people an alternative to crowded caravan parks and gives us a bit of extra income, even to buy a few bales of feed when we’re short,” Katrina said. “And it’s lovely sharing that environment with others.”

RELAXED EARNINGS: Wunglebung, a NSW farm registered on YouCamp. Photo: James Woodford

RELAXED EARNINGS: Wunglebung, a NSW farm registered on YouCamp. Photo: James Woodford

Among the visitors to their property, Wunglebung, paying $15 a night per person, has been Craig Stanfield, his family and friends.

“My family are all avid campers, and we love staying in remote places with no one else around,” Craig said.  “When we arrived there, it was like the heavens opened and the angels started singing. It was just awesome! And having a shower in a horse float that they’d set up as a shower was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.”

Former Fairfax Media journalist and founder of YouCamp James Woodford originally imagined the service would be like Airbnb for the outdoors, with campervans pulling up in people’s driveways or families setting up tents in people’s backyards, but instead it’s been seized upon by people living in the country.

It now has 700 landholders registered, a figure expected to grow to more than 1200 across Australia by this time next year.

“It seems to have opened up the shared economy for farmers and other land-holders, so they’ve been able to get some extra income in the same way that people in the cities have been able to through Airbnb and Uber,” he says.

Katrina Wood runs YouCamp with partner Stu Haw, whose daughter, Taylor is pictured. Photo: James Woodford

Katrina Wood runs YouCamp with partner Stu Haw, whose daughter, Taylor is pictured. Photo: James Woodford

“It’s really interesting this has happened as a way of growing the regional economy and helping rural communities. As well as the extra money, farmers are also seeing it as a way of sharing their life in the country.”

Not everyone is excited about the prospect of short-term stays on rural land. Last year Shoalhaven Council sent multiple cease and desist orders to Kangaroo Valley farmer Peter Botsman, who was using YouCamp. Peter then formally applied for approval, which was granted. 

Other companies like Shacky, which puts small shacks in idyllic landscapes for people to stay, with a 50-50 profit-sharing arrangement for the owners of the land, are also experiencing a surge in interest. Chief executive Andrew Hubbard says there are five shacks in remote places.

“But we’ll have 50 by the middle of next year, and I would love eventually to have 500 Shacky houses across Australia; we have big aspirations,” he said.  “For people coming to stay in them, it represents a way of switching off from their busy lives and staying somewhere in a very sustainable way as these are completely self-sufficient. It also opens up the countryside.”

Unyoked, which launched in March with two cabins, and works with a similar arrangement, has been taken aback by the demand.

“We’ve been contacted by over 300 landowners interested in turning under-utilised land into an income-generating opportunity,” said co-founder Cam Grant. “Some people are also keen to show off their properties and share these beautiful parts of Australia with others.”

Then there’s The Tiny House Movement which puts small homes – usually on wheels so they can be moved easily and aren’t classified as permanent dwellings by councils – on vacant land.

Unyoked is working with landowners to unlock remote spaces, where people can stay in a tiny home to escape the daily grind.

Unyoked is working with landowners to unlock remote spaces, where people can stay in a tiny home to escape the daily grind.

Farmers themselves are building some of these tiny houses from $10,000 to $150,000 for more elaborate models, putting them on secluded spots of their properties, and then letting them out to visitors.

“There are now over 100 of them that we know of, which guarantees there will be hundreds more being built under the radar,” said Darren Hughes, the founder of the four-year-old movement.

“They can prove a great investment for people and while it’s a grey area for some councils, there are so many now doing it.”

Other land-owners are opting to capitalise on their property with other types of money-making schemes.

Solar farm company Solar Prospect encourages them to earn an income by hosting a commercial solar farm, which typically requires 10 to 40 hectares, and involves no outlay, while others sign up for outdoor advertising.

Profitability there, says the Outdoor Media Association, depends on whether a sign can be placed in a high visibility spot by a busy road. Some are also looking to create car parking, although that can need lots of permissions and does involve expense, said operator PriPark.

Then there’s The Tiny House Movement which puts small homes – usually on wheels so they can be moved easily and aren’t classified as permanent dwellings by local councils – on vacant land. Farmers themselves are building some of these tiny houses from $10,000 to $150,000 for more elaborate models, putting them on secluded spots of their properties, and then letting them out to visitors.

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