For a print magazine to last 600 issues is an incredible achievement. Since 1970, Caravan World has catered to a growing tribe of RV enthusiasts who love nothing more than hitching up and hitting the road to explore Australia.
Many factors contribute to Caravan World’s stamina — a core, loyal readership of grey nomads and family ’vanners; steady editorial direction and expert contributors; on-the-pulse technical information; inspirational travel pieces; and solid industry backing through advertising.
Although you can now find many stories online and via social media, Caravan World’s print editions remain strong sellers, no mean feat in an industry where physical mags are falling by the wayside.
Here we take a retrospective look at the mag and chat with some of those who have helped make it a success.
A TRIP THROUGH HISTORY
Caravan World was founded by journalist Gwen Haslar, who had been working on Keith Winser Publications’ trademark automotive magazine, Australian Motor Manual. Winser was one of the first people to publish plans for DIY caravan builders, and Haslar was producing a caravan section of the mag.
When Winser sold his titles to The Age, Haslar moved with them, and after a few years pitched the idea for a stand-alone magazine. The publishers didn’t go for it.
“I was told there would never be enough interest in a magazine just for caravanners,” says Haslar. “So I left my job, borrowed $3000 and started a one-woman caravanning magazine — Recreational Travel.
“Within six months my former employers realised I was on to a winner and coaxed me back to The Age to edit a similar publication for them. They agreed to take on my subscribers, but they didn't like the title. The magazine was renamed Caravan World.”
The first issue was 44 pages, offered three van reviews, industry news, a technical piece on brakes, features on layouts and annexes, a travel piece on the Victorian ski fields, as well as a report from the Melbourne Boat Show which had a “disappointingly small” display of caravans.
This content mix has been the mainstay of the magazine ever since, with the addition of more regular sections such as events, products and Readers’ Rigs, as well as columns and increasing numbers of reviews, features and travel pieces as the page count grew.
Haslar was editor for an impressive 19 years before handing over to 4X4 journalist and travel writer Joan Green, who was editor for 13 years. She joined at a time when caravanning was in a lull thanks to the recession.
“By the late 1980s caravanning was out of favour,” Green says. “The caravan industry was suffering and CW was doing it hard; circulation low, advertising greatly reduced, severe budget cuts to staff and other expenses.
“It had become a one-person publication — the editor also had to be the sole reporter, photographer, sub-editor, typist/filing clerk, layout artist and even at times the advertising salesperson.”
During Green’s time at the helm fortunes shifted as the magazine was bought by Australian Consolidated Press and managed under the Trader Group titles including Unique Cars, Trade-A-Boat and 4X4 Australia.
Editor Ros Bromwich took over in 2003 after working with Green as a sub-editor, passing the baton to Max Taylor in 2007, and then to Laura Gray in 2013. It was during Taylor’s tenure that Bauer Media, a subsidiary of German media company Bauer Media Group, took over the suite of Trader titles.
In 2016 Caravan World was sold to a newly-created niche publisher, The Adventures Group, headed by CEO Rob Gallagher and Head of Operations Matthew O’Meara and staffed by Gray and the existing CW production team. Now rebranded as Emprise Group following a merger with Hema Maps, Adventures also bought Trade-A-Boat, Camper Trailer Australia and TradeRVs.
“Caravan World was the 'jewel in the crown' of the assets we acquired from Bauer,” says O’Meara. “With its extensive history, longstanding credibility with readers and the market and strong commercial credentials, Caravan World remains a key brand within the Emprise Group.”
Rob Gallagher says the magazine’s rich history and reputation were huge factors in the decision to create a new publishing company.
“Caravan World was 46 years young when we took over, yet we felt there needed to be more focus on the status of the title in the market and so we sought to empower the content team to focus on credible, independent reviews.”
INTEGRITY OF REVIEWS
Of course, the mainstay content of the magazine is caravans. Long since dubbed the ‘bible’ of the caravanning industry, Caravan World has from the get-go included reviews, industry news, reported on controversial legislation, and showcased emerging manufacturers and design trends.
Trusted reviewers including Gwen Haslar, Malcolm Street (who began writing in 2003 and soon after became Field Editor), Peter Quilty, Max Taylor and current Editor At Large John Ford contributed to the magazine’s integrity and popularity with readers.
Editor Laura Gray says dependable faces are the mainstay of niche publications such as Caravan World.
“It was really important to have people like Malcolm Street, who readers have got to know over the time he had worked for the magazine,” she says. “He was well trusted and respected in the industry and that really translated through the magazine as well.”
Gray says there has always been an entwined relationship between the magazine and its advertisers — namely caravan, camper and motorhome manufacturers — and that has sometimes been a complex path. But, despite the commercial relationship, the editorial independence of CW’s writers, editors and reviewers has remained a top priority.
“I think the magazine’s strength was always its editorial integrity and I think that’s something that attracted me to it and something that I strived through all those years to maintain, which did get increasingly harder as the media landscape changed and businesses changed and custom content became a thing,” she says.
“Balancing that with giving the readers a fair and honest and true account of the state of industry and things that were happening was always a strength that the magazine had over its competitors.”
Under Bromwich’s editorship the reviews began to include breakouts called ‘What we liked’ and ‘What we would have liked’ which have now become ‘pros’ and ‘cons’. The introduction of the Best Aussie Vans competition in 2013 also stepped up the critiquing of caravans. CEO Rob Gallagher says the event was the natural extension of reviews, and solidified the magazine’s credibility.
“The confidence of Caravan World to call it as it is and work collaboratively with manufacturers to improve and rectify issues with their products is the cornerstone of why the brand holds its position in the market,” he says. “While this does create some tough phone calls post-event, it is essential in preserving the brand’s status as the market leader.”
The caravan industry has not escaped controversy, and Caravan World has been at the forefront of the debates. Bromwich recalls a period when European imports had Australian manufacturers in an uproar.
“Probably the most controversial thing was when they started to import vans from Europe which caused massive amounts of consternation,” she says. “It was always the balance of our advertisers and what they wanted and what we wanted to do for the readers. We did always carry reviews of these new vans and honestly and fairly review the vans and tried to ignore the rumblings from the industry.”
Caravan World’s staying power owes a lot to its suite of writers, from reviewers to travel writers and technical experts, says former Editor and now Managing Editor Tim van Duyl.
“The heart of CW is its people,” he says. “The style of content, be it reviews, travel and tech, only happen because the team is so diverse and capable.
“We have writers who effectively live on the road supplying us ideas and stories and an in-house team close to the heart of caravan manufacture in Melbourne.”
Lionel Mussell has been a contributor since 1988, first penning reviews, then technical articles and finally a column, On the Wallaby, which was a convivial collection of travel tales, advice and his seemingly never-ending encounters with Murphy’s Law while travelling in his Windsor Caravan and Nissan station wagon.
Mussell says it was a huge change when the magazine switched from black and white to colour.
“My first colour article was titled, ‘Was Don, Was Good’ and featured a Don Caravan that had been used to attend the first RACV Caravan Club rally before WWII,” he said. “It originally belonged to the grandfather of its then-owner, who had put a modern axle and wheels under it before doing a trip to Queensland with his family.”
Anita and Mike Pavey are lifelong campers and caravanners and began writing travel pieces in July 2011 while on their Big Lap of Australia in a 4WD and Track Topaz offroad hybrid. They started writing product tests before Anita was approached by Taylor to write the ‘On the Trails’ column, initially called ‘On the Tracks’.
She brought a very down to earth flavour to the suite of contributors — as well as an additional female voice — and the couple now contribute as a team.
“We wrote about anything of interest to the RV tourer,” they told CW. “This included best off-grid camp spots, sharing the road, being a courteous camper, educating about long drops and chemical waste, setting up your RV for touring, understanding your van and its off-grid potential, how to make conversation at happy hour and more.
“We’re still writing about the places we want to go and the speed bumps we’ve encountered along the way.”
LET’S GET TECHNICAL
The technical aspect of caravans is an incredibly niche topic, and former contributor Tom Oltoff led the charge for safety advice for many years, contributing features and advice through the instigation of ‘Caravan Clinic’ (now ‘Tech Talk’) and a column called ‘From My Perspective’.
An automotive engineer who founded caravan towing techniques company Tow Safe Training Australia and later his RV consultancy, Caratech, Oltoff approached Gwen Haslar to write technical how-to features which he felt were missing in the magazine.
“I wrote to Gwen Haslar the editor and asked why there were no articles of a technical nature,” Oltoff recalls. “The simple answer was ‘we have no-one to do them but if you want to give it a go you are welcome’. And as they say, the rest is history.”
The trend towards bigger vans is something Oltoff was critical of during his tenure on the magazine, particularly how it related to legislation, towing safety and consumer education.
“If caravan manufacturers were really interested in safety and ease of towing they wouldn’t keep making them bigger and heavier,” he says.
Towing has, unsurprisingly, been a mainstay of technical columns in Caravan World, and its contributors have been among the first to cover changes in technology and safety equipment.
Oltoff says readers of the magazine came from all walks of life, but needed advice on all the same topics.
“I always used to say that caravanning was a great ‘leveller’, meaning that in a caravan park there were people from a wide range of professions but they all had a common interest,” he says.
Other tech writers include Malcolm Gray, Lloyd Junor, Phil Lord, Malcolm Street and Tim van Duyl.
THERE AND BACK AGAIN
Of course, where would Caravan World be without its travel inspiration? Over the years the travel component has grown to include tales of trips to national parks, coastal getaways, reviews of caravan parks and the exploration of more off-grid destinations as vans became more offroad-ready.
One of the strengths of the magazine has been in its depth of travel writers, caravanners who are out on the road, living the dream and experiencing destinations first-hand. Writers such as Malcolm Gray, Ron and Viv Moon, Tony and Denyse Allsop, and Ali Millar through to the current crop including Catherine Lawson and David Bristow, Chris Whitelaw and Colin and Prue Kerr.
The Allsops contributed a travel article each month for 14 years and Denyse, who is a doctor, wrote 76 medical columns too. The couple travelled for six to eight months a year from their home in Mackay, Queensland, penning stories while adventuring in several rigs, including a Cub Camper Off-Road model, pop-top vans and a custom-built Roadstar.
“In our early days, our first trips were over thousands of kilometres of dirt roads, places such as the Nullarbor, West Coast, Port Hedland to Broome, across to Halls Creek, Flinders Highway, all dirt; many roads were a hazard to travellers,” Tony says. “They are all sealed roads now, making it much easier to travel.”
Like many contributors, technology changed the way the couple worked, with digital cameras dispensing with the traditional 35mm transparencies; eventually they found themselves filming destinations to supply footage for the magazine’s emerging online presence under editors Max Taylor and Laura Gray.
“One thing I was very proud of was our pics,” he says. “Other travellers could see what we saw. If it was wet and miserable, that’s what we put in our pics. We never used any images we did not take ourselves.”
Tony recalls for the 400th edition, they helped whittle down 40 top destinations so readers could vote for their favourite — Broome, Darwin and Cairns/Daintree made the top three; Cairns won.
CATERING TO THE MASSES
The introduction of themed issues, including offroad, budget and family vanning have allowed Caravan World to both cater for a diverse audience and offer specific advice to free campers, offroaders, grey nomads, family ’vanners and more. Former Editor Anji Bignell introduced several new themed issues, including sustainability, ANZAC and Indigenous history and a gourmet/luxury issue, to reflect changing reader interests.
“It's important to realise that the demographic for caravan owners has broadened significantly in the past five years, so having many different themes provides fresh perspectives on a much talked about subject matter, and that more people can relate to,” she says.
“The Green Issue focuses on sustainability, which I thought was an important issue to address within the caravan industry — what are we doing to change the standards within the industry so that we can be leaders in this area?
“The idea behind the luxury/gourmet theme, was to help put the focus on our regional producers and boost local tourism, while the ANZAC/Indigenous theme highlights our rich Australian history, and what brings us together as a community.”
Current Editor John Ford has also expanded upon CW’s themes, this year introducing a Great Migration issue for travellers planning a northern winter sojourn.
LOOK AT ME
The design of the magazine has changed dramatically — it has even had different titles. Known for many years as Caravan World & Outdoor Life, the latter referring to a pull-out travel section in the middle, as well as Caravan World and Camper Trailering.
Its masthead has changed through the years as well, reflecting various trends (for many years sporting an earthly globe as the ‘o’ in World), and the cover has transitioned through phases of ‘busyness’ showcasing single striking images to multiple inset photos and cover lines and back again.
And, of course, it has gone from a black and white publication to the full-blown glossy colour beauty it is today.
SPIN-OFFS AND ONE-OFFS
Caravan World has always been a monthly publication, but it has never been ‘alone’. In the early days, Gwen Haslar produced 13 issues including a Christmas special, a Tourist Parks Guide, a quarterly Caravan Buyers Manual and a Hints and Tips for Caravanners.
Since then, there’s been the introduction of the annual Yearbook, compendiums of caravan tests, buyers guides and two spin-off magazines. Motorhome Guide and Camper Trailer Guide began as quarterly publications under Ros Bromwich, becoming the bimonthly Motorhome World and the monthly Camper Trailer Australia in 2005.
Motorhome World lasted until 2008, while CTA, now known as Camper Australia, is still powering along under the Emprise umbrella.
Field Editor Malcolm Street, a motorhome enthusiast at heart, recalls his time spent working on MW with fondness.
“I thought it was a good magazine, targeting campervan and motorhome owners but unfortunately there wasn’t enough circulation to keep the magazine going and that was a bit disappointing,” he says.
When it folded, motorhome content morphed back into Caravan World, although there was some grumbling from caravan purists. Street says the caravan versus motorhome debate is “frustrating”.
“The question is usually phrased ‘which is better, a caravan or motorhome?’ but that is really the wrong question, which should be something more like ‘what suits my mode of travel better?’” he says.
“I like to see a bit of motorhome content in CW — sure it’s a minority group but as the CMCA demonstrates, there are plenty of campervan and motorhome travellers around and some of the manufacturers are long time survivors in the RV industry.”
Street has had many memorable moments working with Caravan World including as a judge at the Best Aussie Vans event, travelling across Australia and to New Zealand to review vans and attend shows. And there have been some mishaps along the way.
“Possibly my least favourite memory involved my heavy photographic bag (which I had stored in a motorhome bathroom) falling onto the electric foot pump of the toilet whilst I was travelling along,” he says. “The water pump was switched on at the time and I ended up with a very wet motorhome floor.”
A READER’S PERSPECTIVE
For just shy of 50 years Caravan World readers have supported the magazine, and Gray says, as an editor, their dedication to it (and watchdog status) kept the bar high for the team.
“They were fiercely proud of it. So if a mistake was made, they definitely wanted you to know about it so you could fix it and they could get back to loving and trusting the magazine,” she says. “It was really nice to work for a magazine that people love that much.”
Couples John and Cath Burges and Ferg and Chris le Juge de Segrais have been loyal readers for more than 10 years.
“It has stood the test of time because it caters for a wide range of people, whether it be travels, road testing and real life stories,” says John. “It caters for caravanners in parks as well as free campers... It also covers a wide range of caravans, not just top-of-the range.”
Ferg, who regularly writes into the magazine with technical queries and opinions, says the magazine’s success has come partly from being current.
“CW has stood the test of time by moving with the times,” he says. “The caravan scene is constantly changing with many changes in technology and what people expect to take with them on holiday.”
Sharing stories and connecting with other vanners continues to be a drawcard.
“The first thing I turn to is the Postbag as I like to read the letters written by caravanners both new and those well experienced,” he says.
“You can learn a lot from those who’ve trodden the path before you but on the other hand you can offer advice to those who are either new to caravanning or don’t have technical knowledge.”
Current Editor, John Ford, brings a wealth of travel and caravanning experience with him but recognises the challenges of being relevant in an age of digital media. Keeping in front of a savvy audience takes constant attention, so he is grateful for the talented team working in the background expanding the magazine’s social media and online presence.
He says that despite the current restrictions on travel, prospects for the magazine and caravanning itself look bright.
“As we head into an immediate future without overseas travel, caravanning is destined to become more popular,” he says.
“Caravan World has long been the default resource for reliable information on vans and the best places to visit. Looking forward, we plan to keep delivering on that and to expand the range of vans we review to include some of the innovative niche builders who deserve more recognition.
“Part of our role is to support Australian manufacturers but at the same time to keep pushing for advances in technology, build quality and improved warranty delivery."
Look out for a special 50th anniversary edition of Caravan World in September.
FAST FACTS ABOUT CARAVAN WORLD
- The first issue was published in September 1970
- The magazine cost 30c per issue when first launched
- It has been called Caravan World & Outdoor Life, and Caravan World and Camper Trailering
- Spin-off magazines include Motorhome World and Camper Trailer Australia
- There have been 10 editors (plus one acting editor) in its 50-year history
CARAVAN WORLD EDITORS IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER
- Gwen Haslar
- Joan Green
- Ros Bromwich
- Max Taylor
- Laura Gray
- Tim van Duyl
- Kirstie Bedford
- Cathy Anderson (Acting Editor)
- Jane Hutchinson
- Anji Bignell
- John Ford
Why has Caravan World been so successful? We asked those who have been directly involved for their opinion.
- “I think it’s mostly a consistency of product which changes with the times and one that is put together by knowledgeable editors and contributors, always the backbone of any magazine.” — Field Editor Malcolm Street
- “Possibly because of its niche nature. It does the job for people — they want travel advice and they want pictures of caravans. You would take it on holiday and plan your next trip.” — Former Editor Ros Bromwich
- “The magazine has always respected its audience. The Caravan World audience is extremely knowledgeable about this lifestyle and Caravan World has always put a lot of time and effort into producing content that not only entertains them but provides them with accurate, factual information.” — Emprise Head of Operations, Matt O’Meara
- “CW has always been a quality magazine. It has had quality writers, quality paper, good pictures and articles that appeal to travellers and those who are about to buy a RV.” — Travel writers Tony and Denyse Allsop
- “It’s unashamedly targeting mature readers and the language and style fits perfectly in that pocket. There’s diversified content to appeal to owners across camper, caravan, offroad and on-road interests.” — Columnists Anita and Mike Pavey