With holidaying 1960s style back in vogue, Susan Hall discovers that it has somehow become cool to tow a vintage caravan behind your old Holden.
Every year for one weekend in October, the seaside camping ground at the small town of Coledale near Wollongong, NSW, becomes a living museum. Most of the campsites are booked out weeks in advance by a group of vintage caravanners. They recreate an iconic scene from the past when they arrive in classic cars, towing rounded wooden vans from the ’50s or sleeker fibreglass and aluminium models from the ’60s.
Back in the ’60s, on summer weekends all over Australia, the roads out of the big cities were chock-a-block with family cars towing caravans, heading for beachside campsites that had only the basic facilities of a toilet and shower block. Those were the free and easy days before the advent of the camp kitchens, recreation rooms and swimming pools of modern caravan parks.
Many members of the vintage caravan community are Baby Boomers reliving those carefree family holidays of the past. Gary Cahill places himself firmly within this group and says that, “The ’60s were the best time of my life.” He lives in a small country town in WA’s southwest, and has a large collection of old caravans.
Each spring, Gary organises a weeklong vintage caravan tour around WA, choosing an itinerary that sticks to minor roads and takes in country towns with small basic caravan parks. Luxury touring this is not, since the old caravans don’t come with ensuites or comfy sofas. (Although they often have a TV or CD player – hidden carefully out of sight in a cupboard to retain the caravan’s retro look.)
Vintage caravans don’t have too much in the way of kitchen facilities either. Some of the most prized old vans from the ’40s and ’50s have only an icebox and a small one-burner kerosene stove. Owners of treasures such as these often choose to cook outdoors on a BBQ or patronise old-fashioned country town hotels.
But not all vintage vanners are Baby Boomers. Increasingly, young couples with kids are joining the movement. Maurie Cole comes to Coledale every year with his family. They supplement their classic FJ Holden Ute towing a 1950s wooden caravan with a modern 4WD that transports a tent and other camping gear. Maurie says he just loves the curved styling of the old Ute and caravan.
Members of the vintage caravan community share technical information, plan trips and keep in touch through an online forum at www.vintagecaravans.com. Mark Taylor, the guru of vintage caravanning in Australia, set up the forum several years back. His first vintage van was a 1950s home-built caravan. Its original pastel cream and green colour scheme, laminex dining table and period memorabilia are a real blast from the past.
These vintage caravans are undeniably a proud part of Australian holiday motoring history, but they’re more than that. They’re nostalgic time machines that take us back to a simpler lifestyle of the past.