The holiday is over

The holiday is over

Lou and Sandi Beltrame, along with their daughter, Pirra, have been running the Omeo Caravan Park for more than 12 years.

They’ve put their physical and emotional energy into making the caravan park a place where people feel not only welcome but a friend of the family.

Ms Beltrame says it’s not a job, but a lifestyle. They lease the caravan park from the East Gippsland Shire with the agreement due to expire in the middle of next year.

“This is our whole life, not just a livelihood,” Ms Beltrame told the Advertiser.

Last week they received an email from the shire informing them that their lease would not be renewed in 2021 as council intends on taking the caravan park “in-house and managed by council directly”.

The news not only came as a complete surprise, but Ms Beltrame said to be informed by email, without any personal contact from the shire, was staggering.

“It was like having your heart ripped out and shoved back down your throat and someone telling you you’re not worth anything,” Ms Beltrame said.

Blindsided by the email, the Beltrame’s immediately contacted their local councillor, Natalie O’Connell, who reportedly was unaware of the development.

“We have since found out that nobody in the council knew,” Mr Beltrame said.

The council, who are elected by residents of the East Gippsland Shire, needs to approve any move to change the lease arrangements in a majority vote.

“We were 100 per cent shocked,” Mr Beltrame said.

“We’ve had not one phone call from the shire.”

Devastated, the Beltrame’s posted the news on their Facebook page and by Monday morning had received 23,000 reactions overwhelming in support of their tenure.

Ursi Markus Israng, from Perth, who stayed in the Omeo Caravan Park for two weeks wrote: “Can’t believe this. It’s Sandi, Lou, Pirra and Peanut (Beltrame family dog) who made this park awesome”.

Another post from Rachael Nickell read: “You guys ARE the caravan park!The friendly chats – the best food in town and the cheeky Peanut making sure everyone’s campsite is a-ok! This place will not be what it was/is without you!”.

Kate Charles wrote: “What a huge loss for Omeo! You guys are so welcoming, friendly and we love coming to your park. Easter will never be the same”.

Ms Beltrame’s parents moved to Omeo about six years ago to be close to their daughter.

In their mid 80s, they also help out at the caravan park, adding to the vibe of a family-run park.

“They chat to people staying here, it keeps them active and involved,” Ms Beltrame said.

“Dad comes and tinkers and fills the trailer with wood to deliver to the campers.

“I don’t want to have to move them now.”

The Beltrames have also played a role in supporting their local community, such as schools and the football and netball clubs. Earlier this year they played host to the Australian Defence Force as part of the bushfire recovery effort in East Gippsland.

“I’ve been part of the community for 12 years,” Ms Beltrame said.

For the Beltrames the caravan park is a 24-hour a day operation.

“We don’t have office hours, our website says, office hours - always open,” Mr Beltrame said.

They regularly greet visitors arriving after hours to show them to their campsite.

“Would they have wanted this park if they didn’t have an interest in the bike path?” Mr Beltrame asked.

The shire currently operates campsites at Mallacoota and Cann River.

The Beltrames met with two shire officers late last week and are expecting to receive further feedback this week.

They’re hopeful their lease will be extended for another couple of years.

The family moved from the Mornington Peninsula to take over running of the Omeo Caravan Park and have made many improvements to the park, such as planting trees and garden beds and putting in cabins.

Mr Beltrame runs a food van at the site after campers expressed disappointment they were unable to purchase hot take-away food in Omeo after hours.

Having ridden the highs and lows with the bushfires and COVID-19, which has impacted their income, the Beltrames were looking forward to a better year next year.

That was until they received the shire’s email.

The Advertiser has been told the letter was inadvertently sent to the Beltrames.

East Gippsland Shire’s general manager of place and community, Jodie Pitkin, said the letter was prepared as part of the lease end notification process but should not have been sent without prior discussion with the tenants.

“Whether the caravan park is run in house or externally is a decision for council,” Ms Pitkin said.

“In the meantime we have met with the current lease holders to work through some concerns from both parties, including the lease end date. The meeting was very pleasant and we have agreed to work together over the coming months.

“Council manages leases on crown and council land across the shire, including caravan parks and must ensure the parks provide maximum benefit for ratepayers and the community, in terms of tourism, management, costs and cost recovery.

“We encourage everyone to continue to support the park, make a booking and explore the Omeo region.”

Ms Pitkin apologized “unreservedly”.

It is standard practice to communicate with leaseholders at least six months ahead of any lease expiring.

A petition to keep the Beltrames in the caravan park is currently circulating.

IMAGE: Lou and Sandi Beltrame have had the lease on the Omeo Caravan Park for more than 12 years and were devastated to be informed by email from the East Gippsland Shire their lease would not be renewed next year when it runs out. K348-6573