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2004/43/1 Caravan, Propert patent folding 'Overlander', No. 176, timber / aluminium / glass, made by Propert Gold Seal Products, Vaucluse, New South Wales, Australia, 1953-1960, used by Vic and Cheryl Perry, Hornsby, New South Wales, Australia, 1970-2001. Click to enlarge.

Propert folding caravan, 1950s

This folding caravan was designed to fill a niche in the caravan culture that flourished in Australia after World War 2. Its light weight and low wind resistance made it suitable for use with less expensive, lower power cars. An excellent example of a locally-built product from a firm which had an fine reputation, it served at least two families over many years.

The Propert 'Overlander' folding caravan was built after 1952 by the Propert family business, Gold Seal Products, of Vaucluse, NSW, a firm that had formerly built bus bodies. It was purchased second-hand in 1979 by the donors, Vic and Cheryl Perry, who used it for weekend trips, for extended holidays to places such as the Snowy Mountains, Victoria and far north Queensland, and as a temporary on-site home while they were building a holiday house.

Following the end of wartime petrol rationing, the 1950s was a time of increased car ownership in Australia. Many Australians had access to a motor vehicle for the first time, and they had the disposable income and leisure time to enjoy it. Although caravans had existed in Australia from the 1920s, it was not until the 1950s that a family caravanning culture became established.

While the newly released Holdens and powerful American cars were able to cope with the weight of large caravans, these cars were beyond the financial reach of many during that era. For many families who could only afford relatively low power English and European sedans, folding caravans and vanettes were a means of taking part in the trend for cheap, self-contained holiday travel. Many of the folding caravans of the period were little more than tents on trailers; in contrast, the cleverly designed Propert folding caravan offered large van security and comfort in a compact form.

Additional significance is attached to this object as the Perrys also donated an esky (insulated box for keeping food cool) that they used on caravan trips and a photo album that documents some of their trips. The photos are complemented by hand-written captions and anecdotes.

Margaret Simpson
Assistant Curator, Transport
November 2003


Object No.


Object Statement

Caravan, Propert patent folding 'Overlander', No. 176, timber / aluminium / glass, made by Propert Gold Seal Products, Vaucluse, New South Wales, Australia, 1953-1960, used by Vic and Cheryl Perry, Hornsby, New South Wales, Australia, 1970-2001

Physical Description

Caravan, Propert patent folding 'Overlander', No. 176, timber / aluminium / glass, made by Propert Gold Seal Products, Vaucluse, New South Wales, Australia, 1953-1960, used by Vic and Cheryl Perry, Hornsby, NSW, Australia, 1970-2001

This trailer-mounted folding caravan is made of wood and metal. With a single lift, its length and height can be virtually doubled. The caravan comprises three main parts: section one is the floor base and sides; section two is the inner cover with an open front end and a door in the rear; and section three the outer complete shell cover. In erecting the caravan the front half of the caravan roof is slid over the back end. Four black locking brackets, two on either side, are located on the outside of the van in the thin space between the front and rear sections. Twelve wing nuts (kept in a red drawstring bag), secure the black locking brackets to the outside, six on each side. Two long wing bolts, also in the red bag, secure the black brackets from the inside through holes on either side of the walls. The yellow, blue and white chequered curtains (in the larger calico drawstring bag) are then placed over the side windows. These can only be hung once the caravan is set up and must be removed before dismantling the van.

The caravan weighs 5 cwt (254 kg) and has Volkswagen windows, 13 inch (33cm) Holden disc wheels, Allis Chalmers tractor bearings, a one piece drop type axle, and a drawbar under the rear of the steel box section with a ball and socket hitch. A spare wheel and tyre are affixed to the 'goose-neck', which has been lengthened to allow the caravan to be used while still connected to the tow vehicle; this was not possible with the original short neck as the caravan body, when unfolded, would strike the back of the tow vehicle. The tow hitch takes a 1 7/8 inch (47.62 mm) tow ball (current standard is 50mm). Two fold down supports are on the sides, at the rear, to support the caravan when it is disconnected from the tow vehicle.

Seven windows, including a skylight, illuminate the interior of the caravan. Access is by a rear door. Athough the caravan was advertised to sleep three, it only held two comfortably. It is fitted out with a raised area at the front end on which are placed two fabric-covered foam mattresses. A drain board and small sink with a Shields "Jetflame" two-burner gas stove sit on a bench against the right inside wall of the van. A cover surfaced with red "Laminex" is provided for the sink to convert it into extra bench space. A removable rectangular water tank with filler hole handle sits behind the stove. Against the opposite wall a side bench area converts, with the addition of an extra piece of timber, to make up the base of a small single bed. There is storage space under the bench, double bed area and sink.

A black and white painted NSW registration plate "TA.4596" is affixed at the rear, to the right of the door. Tail lights, brake lights, blinkers and reflectors are fitted at the rear.

The donors painted the trailer light blue on the body and dark blue on the base (it had originally been white on a lime green base), added linoleum in about 1980; they also added a power point and a small fire extinguisher, which is fitted to the back wall inside the door on the right.


A metal identification plate is fixed to the caravan body, to the left of the door at the rear. The plate contains the following information:
"AUSTRALIA 156.007/ 2/10/52/ GREAT BRITAIN 744.650. 24.9.53/ NEW ZEALAND 114831. 30/8/53/ U.S. AMERICA (APPL.) 377580. 31.8.53".
In a circle beneath "PROPERT" and before "FOLDING" is an image of a goose flying left to right, in an engraved circle, with the word "Overlander" inscribed beneath the goose.



2415 mm


1970 mm



The Propert folding caravan was designed in Sydney and patented in Australia on 2/10/1952. The manufacturer's plate on the back of the caravan gives the patent dates as late as 31/8/1953 although it is not known exactly when the "Overlander" Propert folding caravan was built. It was manufactured by Propert Gold Seal Products or Propert Trailway Products , 765 and 771 Old South Head Road, Vaucluse, NSW, telephone 37 2692. It bears the serial number 176 on the maker's plate screwed to the rear of the caravan.

The Propert family arrived in Australian from England in 1877 aboard the "Samuel Plimsoll". Over many years the family designed and manufactured a wide range of products, including wine barrels, truck bodies, folding caravans and eggbeaters. Thomas Propert (1889-1969) founded the Propert Body Building Works in Sydney in 1910. For twenty years the company built car bodies for imported chassis but, partly in response to the economic downturn and changes in the car assembly industry, it moved into caravan building in the 1930s. Today the firm manufactures bathroom and kitchen scales.

Several other collapsible type caravans were being made in Australia in the 1950s, including the "Foldvan" by C.T. Woods of West Preston, Vic, and the "Smal-a-Van" in Unley, S.A.



The Propert folding caravan was built after 1953 and purchased in 1979 second-hand from a family at Hornsby, NSW, by the donors, Vic and Cheryl Perry. They were given strict instructions regarding the care of "her" (the caravan) by the former owner and used it for many happy holidays and weekends. Holidays included camping with a Nissan Patrol and small outboard boat on Lake Burrendong in 1980. In 1986 the Perrys bought a block of land at Ilford, NSW, and built a holiday house there, camping in the caravan while it was under construction. In 1988 they took the caravan to the Snowy Mountains and Nimmitabel, accommodating four people and a dog. The caravan's longest trip was undertaken in 1992, a three-month trip to Queensland including Harvey Bay and Airlie Beach. At Airlie Beach the jockey wheel on the caravan collapsed during the night, causing the van to partly fold up with the Perrys inside. Luckily, they were able to escape through the half door. The Perrys were delighted that the caravan managed the trip all the way to the Daintree Forest and, apart from a flat tyre and the jockey wheel needing to be welded, there were no other mishaps. Wherever the Perrys went they were the centre of attention over their curious little caravan from other campers and holidaymakers. At the Yamba caravan park twenty people arrived as they were setting up, so they had to repeatedly demonstrate the caravan's folding and unfolding procedure. They regularly received offers to buy the caravan on the spot from strangers. The Perrys' last trip in the caravan was to Victoria in 2001 along the Murray River through the Grampians and along the Great Ocean Road.

Between the wars rail travel and hotel accommodation were too expensive for the average Australian family. Motoring made holidays possible for a much larger percentage of the population. The 'motor gypsies', as they were called, cooked on the roadside and camped in tents. The first camping ground for travelling motorists was established at Woodend in Victoria in 1924. Permanent sleeping cabins soon began to appear in the camping grounds, to be followed by motels ("motor hotels"), caravan parks and roadside eateries. Homemade caravans, which first appeared in the 1920s, made it possible to have touring holidays that were cheaper than staying at motels and more comfortable than in tents. With the upgrading of roads, local councils built caravan parks at beach resorts and tourist towns.

The caravan industry really took off after the Don firm in Victoria began making caravans as a backyard business in 1934. By the early 1950s many other caravan companies had emerged, including Viscount and Millard in New South Wales, Coronet and Franklin in Victoria, Chesney in Queensland, and Tru-Line in Western Australia. Competition was keen and the original ply-wood vans soon disappeared as sleek aluminium-clad models took over. Interiors became more sophisticated, with ice boxes and two-burner Shellite or kerosene stoves giving way to gas and electric refrigerators and ovens. Electric lighting quickly became standard, and caravans became larger. Local commercial production peaked in the mid 1970s. Compact caravans again came into vogue in the late 1970s, with companies such as Windsor introducing the 'pop-top' to capitalise on interior space. Caravanning went through a decline for some years after that, but in recent times has gained in popularity, with large numbers of 'grey nomads' (retired baby boomers) now touring the country.


Credit Line

Gift of Vic and Cheryl Perry, 2004

Acquisition Date

9 March 2004

Cite this Object


Propert folding caravan, 1950s 2021, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 14 April 2021, <https://ma.as/319939>


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