Cool campers hit the road

A hol­i­day in a tiny Teardrop car­a­van re­duces life to its sim­plest terms

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - JILL HOCK­ING

‘‘HEY, aren’t you a lit­tle cutie?’’

Is the woman on the bush path speak­ing to me, rub­bing sleep out of my eyes as I emerge from our car­a­van?

Or is she ad­dress­ing my part­ner, Andrew, who’s ly­ing in the shade of a coastal banksia, read­ing?

She ap­proaches and peers into our lit­tle mo­bile abode. ‘‘Come and have a look at this!’’ she calls to her hus­band. ‘‘Does it pop up? What’s in there? Can you stand up? What do you do in there?’’

Our car­a­van is dif­fer­ent to oth­ers cruis­ing Aus­tralian roads: it is low-slung and stream­lined and fea­tures art-deco curves that re­sem­ble the shape of a tear. It is called a Teardrop.

Weare ex­plor­ing the beaches of far east­ern Vic­to­ria for a few days, road-test­ing the sec­ond-hand Teardrop we bought from an ad­ver­tise­ment in our lo­cal pa­per.

On this maiden voy­age we’ll pitch up in a car­a­van park in Lakes En­trance and bush camp at Cape Con­ran Coastal Park.

This is an op­por­tu­nity for us two car­a­van rook­ies to find our tow­ing legs.

We give the woman and her hus­band a guided tour of the ‘‘lit­tle cutie’’. In­side the Teardrop, a dou­ble mat­tress takes up the whole floor space. (Un­less you are of Lil­liputian pro­por­tions, you can­not stand up.)

Doors on both sides mean an easy exit in the mid­dle of the night. There’s clothes stor­age above the foot of the bed and more stow­ing space be­hind our heads. A cen­tral flu­o­res­cent light and neat LED read­ing lights take care of night­time il­lu­mi­na­tion.

Out­side, at the back of the van, we lift the hatch to re­veal the natty kitch­enette: fridge, gas cook­top, sink, space for food prepa­ra­tion and stor­age for crock­ery, cut­lery and pots and pans.

Fixed to the front is a ca­pa­cious metal box for the wet-weather awning and non-per­ish­able food. At the car­a­van park we pitch at a pow­ered site and in the bush we use the bat­tery. The Teardrop is light and ma­noeu­vrable and needs nei­ther stick-out mir­rors nor the grunt of a 4WD to tow.

Teardrop trail­ers-for-two first hit the road in the US in the 1930s but it wasn’t un­til af­ter World War II that the phe­nom­e­non prop­erly took off. The Septem­ber 1947 edi­tion of Mechanix Illustrated: The How-To-Do Mag­a­zine fea­tured build­ing in­struc­tions for a dou­ble bed on wheels in the shape of a teardrop.

Teardrops went hand in hand with Amer­i­cans’ de­sire for a sim­pler life af­ter years of wartime aus­ter­ity. The back­woods and the wa­ter beck­oned; what bet­ter way to ex­pe­ri­ence the ro­mance of the open road than in a trim car­a­van with fetch­ing retro curves?

Early mod­els were built from sal­vaged World War II Jeep axles and wheels. Ex­te­rior skins came from the wings of wartime bombers.

Amer­i­cans’ love af­fair with the clas­sic teardrop waned in the 1950s. They wanted big­ger and bet­ter in their mo­bile homes, and over the years got what they wish- ed for: chunky car­a­vans fea­tur­ing not only a kitchen sink but dish­wash­ers, wash­ing ma­chines and dry­ers, top-end en­ter­tain­ment sys­tems and more.

At the car­a­van park in Lakes En­trance, our Teardrop stands out in a crowd of big rigs re­sem­bling air­craft car­ri­ers on wheels.

Cu­ri­ous campers si­dle past our van and stop to chat. They soon work out its kitch­enette is ex­posed to the el­e­ments and that, no, you can’t stand up in­side. One cou­ple, with a glance at our snug sleep­ing quar­ters, say wist­fully, ‘‘Oh, you must love each other.’’ They rem­i­nisce about cosy car­a­van hol­i­days of times past, all the fam­ily piled in to­gether.

We point out its fea­tures to an­other cou­ple, who look at us as if we have lost our minds. ‘‘It’s all you need,’’ they de­clare, ap­prais­ing the van’s ba­sic com­forts. But is it re­lief I see flick­er­ing across their faces as they scut­tle back to their lux­ury tourer, over­flow­ing with bells and whis­tles?

A hol­i­day in our jaunty lit­tle van re­duces life to its sim­plest terms. At Marlo we pull over, raise the kitchen hatch and within min­utes are sip­ping an al­fresco cof­fee by the mouth of the Snowy River. We trun­dle into the camp­ing area at Cape Con­ran at dusk, un­hitch, crank the prop stands down and still have time for a swim be­fore night­fall. In the morn­ing we wake to the screech of rosel­las high in the trees.

A Teardrop hol­i­day might be a small­ish step up from camp­ing, but when the skies open we count our lucky stars that we are above the ground, warm and dry, and not in a tent. The LED lights cast a warm glow as we read in bed.

At Cann River we dis­cover that our Teardrop is by no means the cutest of the pack. We stop for a pic­nic in the park and are ap­proached by the lo­cal po­lice of­fi­cer. His wife is mad about Teardrops, he tells us. In his back­yard shed we gaze at the sweet­est, most mi­nus­cule van we’ve seen: port­hole win­dows, shelves and a pint-sized bed. (They must re­ally love each other.)

Lit­tle did we know when we set eyes on this sec­ond lit­tle cutie that our two Teardrops are part of a zeit­geist in retro car­a­van­ning. Across the globe clas­sic car­a­vans are be­com­ing cool.

And how does the Teardrop fare on its in­au­gu­ral odyssey? We hit our tow­ing straps by day three; bump­ing in and out of camp­sites is a breeze. But the next day we come un­done when we stop for a pic­nic on a rut­ted bush track and dis­cover that a spring has shat­tered. (It’s not un­til later that we learn our dou­ble bed on wheels, built by a DIY en­thu­si­ast in 2004, was as­sem­bled on a 1970s trailer base.)

We are res­cued af­ter dark by a chain-smok­ing pan­el­beater who winches the van on to his tray truck, where it slips and slides its way back to town.

Af­ter we’ve spent two nights in a mo­tel, the Teardrop is re­paired and we are back on the road. We de­cide this gives a new mean­ing to the term ‘‘tear­ing up’’. my­cool­car­a­ vin­tage­car­a­

Teardrop car­a­vans first ap­peared in the US in the 1930s

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