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B2596 Caravan, full size, home-made, and internal fittings, wood / glass, made by Francis Gerald Rhead in 1955 as a motorised van, converted to a towed caravan 1962, used by the Rhead family for holidays in New South Wales until 1979. Click to enlarge.

Home-made caravan

Made
This caravan is a tangible reminder of the immense popularity of caravanning beach holidays in Australia in the 1950s and 1960s. Originally constructed in 1955 as a motorised van on a Model A Ford truck chassis, it was converted to a towed caravan in 1962 by Francis Gerald Rhead and used by his family for holidays in NSW until 1979. The van still contains the original fittings, furnishings, cutlery and plates, cleaning equipment, and caravanning necessities from its use up until the late 1970s.

The idea of the mobile home in Australia had its beginnings with the primitive covered wagons drawn by bullocks or horses which opened up vast outback areas during the early nineteenth century. The covered wagon was also seen on the goldfields and later as part of the drover's outfit trailing behind a mob of sheep or cattle. It is unclear who built Australia's first caravan, but during the first decades of the twentieth century they were used by Ashton's Circus.

Homemade caravans used for holidaying appeared in Australia in the 1920s. Caravanning was cheaper than staying in guest houses and more comfortable than camping in tents. With the upgrade of roads and increased car ownership in the post-war period, local councils built caravan parks at beaches and coastal towns; these parks became very popular for inexpensive family beach holidays, especially in the 1950s and 1960s.

The commercial caravan industry really took off after the Don firm, established by Don Robinson in Victoria, began making caravans as a backyard business in 1934. By the early 1950s there were many manufacturers in several states. Competition was keen and the original plywood vans soon disappeared as sleek aluminium-clad models took over. However, at this time it was probably more common to build a caravan than buy one. The cost of buying a van was beyond the average worker, and any handyman could put together a comfortable caravan to suit his family's needs, with the help of one of the comprehensive publications on the subject that were available. Before the spread of television, there were more 'do-it yourself' enthusiasts with time to spend building vans.

The first caravan show in Australia was held in Melbourne in 1954. There were 22 stands as well as an amateur builders' competition. The show proved so popular it soon became a regular event. By the late 1960s commercial production of caravans by a few large companies was booming. Streamlined production methods, lower cost of the caravans in relation to the average annual wage, and an increase in the popularity of caravan holidays featured in this new trend. Local production peaked in the mid-1970s. Compact caravans developed from the late 1970s, with companies such as Windsor introducing the 'pop-top' to capitalise on interior space.

In the middle decades of the twentieth century, caravans were not only popular with holiday makers but served as retirement and weekend cottages; cheaper 'homes' for itinerant workers; emergency accommodation in time of natural disasters; mobile offices, units and homes for mining and other industries; extra farm accommodation for seasonal workers; mobile laboratories, workers' living quarters and mobile offices for Government departments and commissions; as well as mobile offices, studios and homes for film production crews.

Caravanning went through a decline in the 1980s and 1990s but by the turn of the twenty-first century they regained popularity when large numbers of 'grey nomads' (retired baby boomers) began to tour Australia by van.

Ardini, Ted & Jean, Caravan Handbook, Caravan Life Publications, Willoughby, NSW, 1972.

Caravan Almanac, The Age, Keith Windsor Publications, Melbourne, 1968.

Simpson, Margaret, On the Move : a history of transport in Australia, Powerhouse Publishing, Sydney, 2004.

Margaret Simpson
Curator, Science & Industry
April 2008

Summary

Object No.

B2596

Object Statement

Caravan, full size, home-made, and internal fittings, wood / glass, made by Francis Gerald Rhead in 1955 as a motorised van, converted to a towed caravan 1962, used by the Rhead family for holidays in New South Wales until 1979

Physical Description

The caravan was designed to accommodate four people and has the registration number TJ 7556. It has interior free floor space of 7ft (2.1 m) x 5ft 6in (1.7 m) and is 13ft (4m) in length. (The average length of caravans in the 1950s was 10ft (3 m) to 12ft (3.6 m). The caravan is of Queensland-style construction comprising marine ply-wood which has been painted, covered in canvas and then repeatedly painted; it is finished in cream with blue over the wheel boxes. To protect the caravan from flying stones a curved aluminium sheet, with a blue painted centre panel, extends from the base at the front. A green canvas blind, which can be rolled up or down and secured with wing nuts, protects the two front windows from stones or sunshine. A towel rail is attached along the front of the van and two reflectors are fixed to the aluminium sheet. The tow bar features a jockey wheel, handbrake to apply when the caravan is parked, and a drawbar coupling to fit a 1 7/8 inch tow ball. The braking system is a mechanical drum operated manually from the car. Each corner of the caravan is supported by levelling jacks. The exterior right-hand side of the caravan has two windows, each with flyscreens and handmade channelling of split tubing to divert rainwater, and a water outlet from the sink.

The left-hand exterior side features: a further two windows; a doorway with channelling above; a door with a door catch; a retractable front step which can be pulled out for easy access or pinned in under the floor when travelling; a power plug; and clips for the attachment of an awning or tarpaulin (6 clips at the front side and 7 along the rear side).

The roof has a retractable ventilator (hatch), fitted with a flyscreen and side flaps to prevent rain from being blown in. Also in the roof is a pop-up chimney to exhaust steam from within the van; this was directed from an exhaust fan in the ceiling made from a Philips personal fan. The rear exterior has two windows with channelling; a number plate holder; reflector; and rear lights.

Inside, the caravan still has the original fittings, furnishings and equipment, including a small timber table which can be folded into a single bed with red cushions against the front inside wall. Under each seat, cupboards contain washing and cleaning equipment, buckets, an electric cord to connect the van to a powered site, a home-made portable toilet (sani-lid type), water tank funnel and winding handles for the jacks.

Along the right interior wall of the van are: cupboards containing saucepans, a tea tin, cork placemats, pepper and salt shakers, condiments and plastic containers; an Electrolux refrigerator containing a one-pint bottle; a Vulcan stove (bench-top model with griller/hot plates); a storage compartment providing vertical storage for plates (containing plates); a spirit level for levelling the caravan when on site; a plastic sink and water pump; a cupboard under the sink containing washing-up equipment and a slops bucket to empty from the sink (the caravan has a 10-gallon (8.3 litre) capacity water tank); a towel rail along the length of the sink above it for tea towels, dish cloths and for the storage of fishing rods; drawers containing cups, cutlery, matches utensils, bean peelers and a variety of sink plugs of various sizes for use in caravan park amenity blocks; and a cupboard containing a bread box, the lid of which served as a bread board.

Along the rear interior wall of the caravan is a lounge which converts to a double bed or family dining table. The cushions and supports can be pulled forward to make a bed. There is also a storage area under the lounge and side compartments for bedding and camping equipment including a spade, hose, ropes, shocks, wire, and a 12-volt battery to power five lights.

Against the left interior wall is a fold-away shelf with mirror; a full-length wardrobe with a shelf for hats and compartment shelves. These currently contain dusters, rags, deck chairs, maps, a full-length mirror (to which a receipt was attached from the Ocean Beach Caravan Park); and drawers for clothing.

The interior of the caravan is finished in pastel-coloured paintwork. The cupboards are blue, tables yellow, walls pink and the ceiling is white. The bench surfaces have yellow laminex and the floor has linoleum with a scatter rug. A box contains spars to hold out the front window, a plate cover to place over the stove top, a liquid and food heater (Birko) and an alarm clock. A spare wheel with a tyre is included. The caravan is fitted with two lighting systems, one operated by electric power (running two lights) and the other battery power (running five lights, one of which as two wattages). The windows have pelmets, curtains and roller blinds. The caravan has a low ceiling height and is designed for occupants under 5 ft 9 in (1.75m) in height.

Caravan battery was removed in 2016 due to corrosion

Dimensions

Height

2300 mm

Width

2100 mm

Production

Notes

According to Keith Winser, noted Australian author on cars and caravanning during the 1960s, caravan production in Australia had its origins in 1928 when R.J. Rankin, a young Sydney businessman keen on the outdoors, built his own caravan. The vehicle was so successful a workshop was set up in the Sydney suburb of Newtown, on Missenden Road, with commercial production beginning at the end of l929. By 1934 Rankin had a hire fleet of 25 vehicles and had founded the company Carapark Ltd. Production soon commenced in the other states but was terminated during the Second World War. When peace returned it was a few years before caravan production resumed.

Another pioneer was John Jennison, an engineer, who in 1932 built the Jennison Road Cruiser. Later Jennison changed the firm's name to Nomad Caravans and it flourished until the Second World War. Other pioneers of the industry included Propert, Ambassador, Southern Cross and Castle. Between 1950 and 1953 there were at least 60 registered caravan manufacturers in Australia including Viscount and Millard in NSW, Franklin and Coronet in Victoria, Chesney in Queensland and Tru-Line in Western Australia. By 1969, Viscount Caravans of Liverpool was said to have the largest production line in the wsouthern hemisphere incorporating many technological innovations beyond the capability of the small, home builder. Competition was strong, with each company trying to produce better vans. Soon the bond wood vans disappeared and aluminum clad vans took over. The interiors altered dramatically, with ice boxes and oil stoves giving way to gas and electric refrigerators and stoves. Electric lighting also quickly became standard.

This caravan was built by the donor's father, Francis Gerald Rhead in 1955 for his family's own use. It was initially built as a motorised van, constructed on a Model A Ford chassis, with manually-operated trafficator and column gear change; it included a Coleman petrol stove, home-made ice chest and a battery lighting system. The motorised van was converted to a tow van in about 1962 and was simultaneously converted to run on electricity, powering two lights, a stove and the refrigerator.

The van was not built to any particular design, other than featuring the 'Queensland' style of construction comprising marine ply and painted canvas. The design is an amalgamation of five previous caravans constructed by the builder, as well as design features observed in other people's caravans.

History

Used

  • 1962-1979

Notes

This caravan was used for family holidays, to places such as Long Jetty in New South Wales, every year up until 1979 and also accommodated two honeymooning couples. It was presented to the Museum in 1984 by its maker's daughter, Mrs L. Dalrymple.

Source

Credit Line

Gift of Mrs L B Dalrymple, 1984

Acquisition Date

30 October 1984

Cite this Object

Harvard

Home-made caravan 2021, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 14 April 2021, <https://ma.as/213452>

Wikipedia

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