The woman behind the controversial Ellis Beach camp


Karlie Brady


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Diana McKinstry, 51, lives in a tent on the side of the Captain Cook Highway after losing her job. Image: Karlie Brady.
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The illegal camp set up on the side of the Captain Cook Highway near Ellis Beach has sparked fierce debate online, with some saying the camp should be moved on while others call for compassion saying leave it be.

Diana McKinstry is the 51-year-old woman at the centre of the debate and says she's “not doing anyone any harm”.

Ms McKinstry set up her makeshift home by the highway last year after falling on hard times when she lost her job as a cleaner.

“I was sick, and I lost my job, and I couldn't afford my rent,” she said.

“The people who comment saying I shouldn’t be here; they have a roof over their head, they have hot water and food.

“What about the people in the streets in front of the shops or the people sleeping in toilets at night.

“During the day you don't see them but as soon as night falls and everyone goes into their houses, you go out in the street and see who's sleeping out on the street.

“For me, I have to weigh it up, do I live in town in front of the shops or do I come out here?”

- Ellis Beach illegal camper saga

Ms McKinstry said she is aware of the no camping signs and doesn’t want to cause problems; however, no one has actually told her she needs to move.

“The [Cairns] council came last year and talked to me about what I was doing and then left, the police talked to me and asked what I was doing and then left, and they never came back.”

Ms McKinstry has shown she is extremely resourceful with much of her self-sustainable camp made from salvaged items that were destined for landfill or things she has found dumped on the side of the road, turning them into tables, racks, baskets, and a roof.

“The inside of a washing machine I found I use as a fireplace,” she said.

She says the edge of the road and the beach is littered with huge amounts of rubbish and she spends much of her time cleaning it up.

“I went for a walk and there was a discarded fridge in the forest, a microwave, an air conditioner, and old tyres. All the rubbish is getting dumped on the side of the road and the grass just grows over it and covers it.

“In the mangroves, there are a lot of bottles and plastics and all that stuff, so I pick it up and I care for the land.

“There is a lot of work to be done on the coastline and the forest,” she said.

Ms McKinstry has also added a small garden to her camp with veggies and bananas growing, using her knowledge of the land from her time growing up in Papua New Guinea.

“I lived on an island and this is similar land, so I plant what is suitable for the sand.

“I know the beach plants and the forest plants.”

“I planted the bananas because I don't want to buy Glad Wrap or aluminium foil because it goes to landfill, so I use the banana leaves as my foil.”

She says cleaning up and creating the garden have given her something to do, rather than sitting on the streets or at a park in the city.

“As I'm not working currently this gives me something to do that is positive.

“I'm not a person who can sit around all day, I like to pot around.

“I’d like to go back and look for a job and start work again,” she said.

Ms McKinstry is happy living there but says if she is told to move on, she will.

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