Caravanning Danger: Reindeer Crossing

The Wallaby Track: Careful how you load your caravan this festive season.


Yes, it’s that time of the year again. Soon, Santa will be harnessing up the reindeer and heading off with all the pressies, so watch out for him if you’re caravanning this Christmas.

Traffic will be heavy again and there will be a lot of caravanning ‘newbies’ out there with their big, expensive caravans and tugs to suit. Unfortunately, putting a caravan on the back of the new ‘fourby’ and setting off to see Australia needs a bit more effort than just packing up, loading the van and car, making sure everyone has fastened their seat belts and here we go.

There are so many other things to consider and experienced vanners do them almost automatically. They know that crosswinds can affect towing, that being overtaken by semi-trailers can cause the outfit to sway, that it’s important to load the van correctly with the ball load in mind and to make sure their outfit isn’t overweight.

Coming home from northern NSW recently, I saw a few outfits that were accidents waiting to happen. Some were swaying dangerously while others were obviously overweight, with tinnies on the roof of the tug, big outboard motors on the A-frame and a boat trailer hanging on the back of the van.

Then there were those who didn’t give a hoot about what was behind them, with no towing mirrors to see past the van. They were usually the ones with no CB radio, either, so you couldn’t give them a gentle hint that you’d like to overtake them – and, yes, I know they might have had a rear view camera but they don’t show what’s overtaking and don’t replace towing mirrors. That’s not just my opinion – it’s the law that says your mirrors must enable you to see along the side of the caravan.


At our Australian Caravan Club’s Gippsland Gypsies Christmas Muster recently, I responded to an urgent email plea from the North Pole and hastily donned a Santa suit, rounded up a couple of elves and gave out lots of Kris Kringle presents. All that ho, ho, ho-ing was hot and thirsty work but the ladies all gave me a big hug – maybe I’ll help the old boy out again next year!


Our muster was at Bridgewater – just a mere 165km from home. It was, as usual, a great gathering but I had to come back early to take part in a band concert at Stawell and what a great evening that was.

Paul, a distant cousin of mine from the UK, and his wife, Tina, were in Australia visiting their son who lives in Sydney and were spending a couple of days at Apollo Bay, Vic, so I jumped in my little Getz next morning and headed down through the lovely Otway Ranges to catch up with them.

I arrived at lunch time and afterwards we headed to Port Campbell with Paul driving their hire car. “I hadn’t driven an automatic car before yesterday,” he told me, but that wasn’t a worry as he was an excellent driver and they were delighted to see the Twelve – or is it eight? – Apostles and Loch Ard Gorge. Even though it was a Monday there were crowds at the viewing areas.

Paul’s mum and I were cousins and Paul and Tina were at a family reunion when I visited the UK seven years ago. My mother often stayed with Bob, Paul’s dad, when she visited Cornwall and often went for trips with Paul and Tina.

We had a lovely dinner at Port Campbell after going on to see London Bridge and, yes, they had heard the story of the businessman and his secretary who were featured on national television when the link to the shore collapsed and they were stranded. I’ll bet that took some explaining!

It was after midnight when we stopped reminiscing and went to bed. Next morning, after breakfast and a bit more reminiscing, it was time to leave as I had an appointment back in Stawell. They were re-surfacing the road on the Apollo Bay esplanade and I was held up for about 20 minutes before clearing the town and tackling all the curves and hills of the Otway Ranges, but Getzie got me home in time for a coffee before heading out again.


I recently received an email from an Apex 40 friend who had told his son that I was the expert on caravans! His son and daughter want to buy a van and go caravanning Australia and needed advice about what to buy.

They had a couple of makes in mind and both manufacturers had good reputations, but where to start advising about the hundreds of vans on sale at the caravan shows and in the dealers yards? Sales staff all have lots of reasons why their product is the best and for newcomers to the world of caravanning the choice is very confusing.

I did, of course, advise them to subscribe to GoRV and check caravan reviews in all the past issues. I also told them of a small manufacturer who makes excellent caravans and happens to be a friend of mine – his customers seem to be very happy campers.


When we bought our first new caravan all those years ago I didn’t know my life would be at risk just a few weeks later!

It was the first van we had owned that had electric brakes and the salesman explained that in the unlikely event of the van getting in a sway, an application of the van brakes would straighten it out.

The road where Lionel came a cropper.

Heading north from Sydney along the lovely wide motorway towards Gosford, the van did start to sway a bit. I was going downhill at about 80km/h so didn’t apply power as that was quite fast enough. Ah, I thought, the van brakes, and put them on! At once the sway was much worse and I was using all three lanes of the road. Being a slow learner, I applied the van brakes again and now the sway was uncontrollable and I was heading for the solid rock wall that separated the northbound and southbound lanes!

My brain said I’m dead. New car, new van, new job and I’m dead! You are not supposed to use your brakes when you have a sway but I hit them hard as the rock wall loomed. The van jack-knifed but the speed fell away and I thought maybe it will just be hospital! The outfit stopped a couple of feet short of the rock wall and was facing uphill. I’d made one of those weird skid patterns that you sometimes see – but I was alive!

The cause of the brakes increasing the sway was found to be that the wire to the magnet on one side was faulty, so when I applied the van’s brakes it only braked one side, violently increasing the pendulum effect!

From then on, until I stopped caravanning and switched to motorhoming, I checked the van brakes every morning when I started moving to make sure they were pulling up straight – I found faults that way more than once. It is a simple check that may save your life.

See you down the track.