This article by
Lionel Mussell was first published in the U.K. 'CARAVAN' magazine
- March 2001issue
'Going north for the winter?'
Sounds strange - but that's what thousands of Australians do
during the colder months. While Britons and Europeans head for
Spain and the south of France, Americans migrate to Florida and
well-off Russians journey to their dachas on the shores of the
Black Sea, Aussies from the south-eastern States of South Australia,
Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania, take off for Queensland.
On the other side of the vast continent, Western Australians
leave Perth and flock to Broome and other north-western coastal
From May onwards the roads north are clogged with a vast army
of nomads with their caravans (North American readers note: an
Aussie 'caravan' is your 'travel trailer'), motor-homes, campervans,
camping trailers and tents. Most have grey hair - if they still
have hair at all - and the large majority are aged pensioners
or early retirees who have taken the 'package'and spent some
of their lump-sum severance pay-out on a shiny new four-wheel
drive vehicle and luxury caravan.
The majority of these 4x4 vehicles will never leave the bitumen
but are popular because of their stability and effortless towing
ability. Toyota Landcruisers and Nissan Patrols are the most
sought after for bigger rigs while a host of smaller 4x4s including
a growing number of Land Rover Discoveries, are seen towing smaller
and lighter vans. Many of these vehicles are diesel powered,
often with turbo-charging, and these have a reputation for reliability
Despite the popularity of the four by fours, many Aussie caravanners
prefer to tow with a large passenger vehicle with the Ford Falcon
and Holden Commodore range leading the field. The Falcons have
4.0 litre engines while the Commodoreís power plant measures
3.8 litres and both are capable of towing quite large vans with
ease. Ford and Holden also produce V8 engines with a capacity
of around 5 litres and, although expensive, these are popular
with drivers who tow heavy vans.
Australian touring vans are heavy! Aussies who
get a look at British and European vans or read their specifications
in magazines, are astonished when they see how light they are
for their size. One brave - or should that read 'foolish' - Aussie
manufacturer did produce a lightweight van based on European
design principles some years ago and horror stories of these
vans falling apart under rugged Australian conditions are legend.
A typical medium sized Australian touring van would be one of
the huge range of vans produced by Jayco - by far the largest
manufacturer of caravans and campers in Australia with an output
from their new modern factory of around fifty units a week. A
popular 15'X 7í6", single-axle, pop-top would weigh
around 1000 kgs unloaded. Add another 200 - 300 kgs for supplies
and gear and we are getting close to 1.3 tonnes. It would have
a heavy galvanised chassis and leaf spring suspension. Tyres
are usually 8-ply light truck radials.
Inside a favoured layout is an island double bed at the front
and fully equipped kitchen at the rear near the entrance door.
Most vans are fully insulated to help take care of the extremes
of climate encountered in Australia and some are even air-conditioned.
A three-way refrigerator is usually fitted running on LPG, 240
or 12 volts although 12-volt compressor fridges have started
making inroads on the once universal three-way units.
Larger luxury caravans like the Jayco Westport range are often
fully equipped for self-sufficient long distance touring with
their own showers and flushing cassette toilets and start at
around 17' and go up to about 25'. They usually have tandem axles
with leaf springs or independent suspension and light truck radial
8-ply tyres. Equipment often includes solar panels for charging
batteries, transformers for producing 12 volt power for lighting
and recharging the storage batteries when hooked up to a mains
source, inverters for turning 12 volts into 240 volts in the
'bush' to power items like televisions, VCRs, tape-decks, torches
and even lap-top computers. Most of them are fitted with microwave
ovens as standard.
Examples of these larger vans are the Galaxy models sold by Scenic
- a Melbourne manufacturer with a range focusing on larger vans
and specialising in custom-built vans for extended touring. A
typical unit of this type would measure about 20'x 8'and have
a tare weight of around 1700 kgs riding on a tandem axle. Even
adding about 300 kgs for loading this still puts it well within
the weight allowed to be towed by a Ford Falcon although many
of these rigs are towed by 4x4s. Larger units with every conceivable
luxury are increasingly popular with vans up to around 25' towed
by the big 4x4s.
Until recently Australian States all had their own towing regulations
and speed limits but common-sense has at last prevailed and a
uniform code has been adopted. The allowable weight of a trailer
with brakes is now the vehicle manufacturer's specified limit
or one-and-a-half times the unloaded weight of the tow vehicle
' whichever is the smaller. Nearly all Australian vans are fitted
with electric brakes. These operate in conjunction with the vehicle's
brakes and can be adjusted to apply the van brakes ahead of the
tow-vehicle which is a great aid to stability.
Boom Time for Caravanning
Caravanning is enjoying a boom in Australia and the caravan industry
produced around 9,000 new units in 1999. This has risen from
a mere 3,000 units in 1990 and is expected to reach more than
16,000 units annually by the Year 2,005. With prices of medium
sized vans starting around $20,000 Aus. and larger units costing
from $30,000 upwards, caravan manufacturing is a major Australian
industry these days.
Joan Green, Editor of 'Caravan World' - Australian's leading
caravanning magazine - says, 'As we enter the Year 2001, it's
apparent that the new age of caravanning has now well and truly
begun and is quite unlike anything that has happened in Australia
before. A well structured industry, a strong emphasis on safety
and amazing technical advances in design and building have transformed
RVs and the way we use them.'
The Same Neighbours
Many Aussie tourists head north for the same caravan park each
winter and their neighbours for four or five months are often
the same people they meet up with every year. This still entails
a journey of two or three thousand kilometres each way.
Others head off for much longer trips with a great number doing
'The Big One', the trip right around Australia - a journey approaching
20,000 kilometres! This takes in a great variety of landscapes
like the lush jungles and green cane fields of northern Queensland;
the mountains of the Dividing Range; the harsh beauty of semi-arid
deserts; hundreds of square kilometres of wild-flowers; the tall
timber of the south of Western Australia; sheep country; cattle
country; vast wheat-fields and other crops - and always stretching
ahead and beckoning - the endless strip of bitumen that means
you can travel right around Australia these days without ever
leaving the sealed surface.