Inside Ellis Beach ‘shanty’ dividing locals: Camper refusing to leave claims to ‘clean the beach’

A green-fingered camper who illegally made a home and garden near oceanfront homes on a tourist beach has explained why she should be allowed to stay.

Diana McKinstry, who pitched her tent by Ellis Beach, north of Cairns, in April after losing her job, said she is helping out by picking up dozens of bottles and cans. 

She spoke out after complaints from local residents, and warning from authorities that her beachside home could be swept away by wild weather. 

Diana McKinstry (pictured) says she cleans Ellis Beach, where she has been illegally camping since April 2020

Diana McKinstry (pictured) says she cleans Ellis Beach, where she has been illegally camping since April 2020

A rebel camper has taken advantage of state government inaction to grow fruit and veggies at an illegal campsite (pictured) at Ellis Beach, near Cairns

A rebel camper has taken advantage of state government inaction to grow fruit and veggies at an illegal campsite (pictured) at Ellis Beach, near Cairns

‘I’m not doing anybody any harm,’ Ms McKinstry told 9 News.

‘I call my camp Golden Tent, that’s my palace.’

The makeshift dwelling has a kitchen under a blue tarpaulin with pans and utensils hanging from trees just metres from the ocean. 

She added that nobody has demanded she dismantle the camp and said: ‘I’d be happy to move on.’

Brett Olds, from the Cairns Regional Council, said Ms McKinstry had taken advantage of apparent inaction by the Department of Transport and Main Roads (TMR).

‘It’s a beautiful drive between Cairns and Port Douglas but you can’t miss this awful lean-to on the side of the road that has a vagrant living in it,’ Mr Olds told Daily Mail Australia.

Mr Olds also warned the tent could be at risk from forecast king tides, or even cyclones, and said he was told by TMR they are in the process of ‘training officers’ to evict her.

Rebel camper Diana McKinstry in the beachfront kitchen of her roadside campsite

Rebel camper Diana McKinstry in the beachfront kitchen of her roadside campsite 

‘They are useless down there, they’re 100 per cent reluctant. How long does it take to train someone to move a person along?

‘The problem is the council can’t move her on if we wanted to because it’s Main Roads’ land.’

Mr Olds says the local police are waiting for a written request from the Department, which he maintains they’ve rejected doing because ‘they say the police have more important things to do’.

‘She might be doing it tough but there’s places she can go to get a roof over her head.’

‘A lot of tourists travel that road, the first thing they see is that shanty, it’s not a good advertisement for our region,’ he told 9 News. 

Opinion about the illegal camper was divided on social media, with some pointing to her clear law-breaking while others were sympathetic.

‘The more I think about these kinds of issues, the more I realise the only reason rules like “no camping” exist is purely because the government and council don’t get any cash from people who chose to live a certain way,’ one Facebook user wrote.

‘She’s being completely sustainable with her living, good on her.’

Some pointed to the fact she wasn’t looking for a handout: ‘She’s obviously homeless and trying to survive She’s not on the streets begging and sleeping under bridges.

‘She isn’t on your doorstep asking for anything. She’s doing it hard all on her own. Bet all these whiners don’t even donate a cent to charity.’ 

But some social media users agreed with Mr Olds.

‘Can’t miss it from the road, total eyesore in a beautiful spot,’ one local resident wrote on Facebook.

The camper has claimed a big waterfront site at Ellis Beach to park her car, set up a table, pitch a tent and grow fruit and veggies (all pictured)

The camper has claimed a big waterfront site at Ellis Beach to park her car, set up a table, pitch a tent and grow fruit and veggies (all pictured)

Another noted: ‘I bet all the people on here who are on her side would love it if she set up camp in their front lawn.’

‘I drove past the camp, I think there’s more than one person living there. Looks like a complete junk yard and is a real eyesore. Come on people, move them on.’ 

‘Feel sorry for those that have to pay rates and a mortgage for land with a beach view! Where is it fair? 

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‘Homeless people are offered many assistance and support but won’t take it because why would you when you get to live right there with a beach view for free!’

Plenty saw the funny side of the situation too: ‘This is fantastic! Bureaucracy has finally tied itself in knots and disappeared up its own b***hole. Hilarious. What a hoot!’

‘Your multimillionaire neighbours will just have to put up with it. Play Kevin Bl**dy Wilson’s Living Next Door to Alan at full volume.’ 

Some were just plain envious of her free-living lifestyle:

‘If she is a nice lady and self sustainable what’s the harm, I’m a bit jealous of her really she seems free and living her best life!’ 

‘I might go pitch a tent too, free rent and gorgeous views. My two large dogs would love it as well’ one said. 

The beaches north of Cairns are popular with tourists and holidaymakers some of whom own and rent oceanfront bungalows

The beaches north of Cairns are popular with tourists and holidaymakers some of whom own and rent oceanfront bungalows

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