Dozens of schools across Victoria, New South Wales, and South Australia are desperately trying to come up with a last-minute plan B after operators of a popular school camp venue were unable to secure the required insurance to host students. 

Key points:

  • A school camp has been cancelled with little notice due to public liability insurance issues
  • Tranquil Waters Cullulleraine was not able to secure appropriate insurance for the camp, which has been run at Lake Cullulleraine for years
  • Industry heavyweights say fire, flood and underwriting risks are making insurance policies difficult to obtain

For generations, children in the tri-state area near north-west Victoria have made treasured memories at school camps at Lake Cullulleraine, 50 kilometres west of Mildura.

But lakeside campfires, orienteering adventures, and canoeing escapades are under threat, after schools were told the venue operator, Tranquil Waters Cullulleraine, had been unable to find public liability insurance.

The head of the Australian Camps Association, which represents approximately 250 school and adventure campsites nationwide, warned the very future of school camps may hang in the balance unless someone finds a solution to the insurance issue quickly.

One of the schools affected is Mildura Primary School (MPS), and principal David Midgley said the leadership team spent their holidays devising a backup plan to salvage this year’s school camp, which was supposed to be held at Lake Cullulleraine.

“The children were disappointed when they got back to school on Monday, thinking that they were going to be going to camp on Tuesday,” Mr Midgley said.

“We’ll be looking at different options because we want the students to be able to have that experience of a school camp.”

Underwriting risks are at the heart of the issue, with many camps and caravan parks unable to get insurance cover.(ABC Gippsland: Kerrin Thomas)

Wildside Outdoors operator Thomas Floyd is normally responsible for running camp activities at the Lake Cullulleraine campsite.

Mr Floyd said the news was rattling.

“It’s been a pretty tough couple of weeks because we can’t run school camp, can’t have kids in the dorms or the toilets at the back of the dorms, and it literally just happened overnight,” he said.

“I got a phone call from Maureen [Croft, lessee and manager at Tranquil Waters Cullulleraine] saying she needs to renew her insurance, and the insurance company she had at the time literally just said no as soon as she mentioned school camps.”

According to Mr Floyd, Ms Croft had contacted 30 insurance companies but none was interested in servicing the camp.

“I can still run activity days out there, but obviously that’s not the full camp experience like kids want,” he said.

Many children enjoy getting out of their comfort zones at camp.(ABC Gippsland: Kerrin Thomas)

Nationwide problem

The situation unfolding at Lake Cullulleraine is not isolated according to Australian Camps Association CEO Peter McDougall.

He said many venues were struggling to secure insurance coverage for similar camps.

“Insurance is one of the top issues, affecting camps across the country,” he said.

“It’s been a massive challenge since COVID for a lot of campsites to get the appropriate insurance level to operate at their normal capacity.”

The root of the problem, according to Mr McDougall, was insurers’ reluctance to provide policies to providers situated in bushfire or flood-prone areas.

“Depending on the location of the camp, whether that’s a lot of bushland, for example, that’s a high-risk fire zone to areas that may be more flood-prone,” he said.

School camp is a right of passage for many young students.(Supplied: Blue Light Youth Camp)

Floods, fire and underwriting

The Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) said the obstacles in getting insurance for locations like Lake Cullulleraine were weather-related and due to underwriting risks.

A spokesperson for the peak body said caravan parks located in areas of high or extreme risk, and guest facilities with slides, jumping pillows, and trampolines were a source of public liability claims.

“A hardening market means insurers and reinsurers must consider and in some cases adjust their exposure to certain risks,” the spokesperson said.

“The ICA has been engaging with key insurers, brokers, and underwriting agencies across the caravan industry sector to explore ways to address insurance affordability and availability.”

Maureen Croft, lessee and manager at Tranquil Waters Cullulleraine, which incorporates the school camp venue, declined to comment.

The school camp tradition could be canned due to public liability risk.(ABC Mildura-Swan Hill: Lucy Bain)

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