When it comes to the outback, Aussie Outback Tours operator Lloyd Junor has seen it all.
“I think the greatest lapses of knowledge [among novice caravanners] relate to legal towing limits,” Lloyd says. “Different towbars have different capacities. A person may buy a used car, see that it’s got a towbar on it, and then find out the hard way that it’s not sufficient to pull a two or three-tonne van.”
To help clarify the ins and outs of caravanning, Lloyd has written and self-published The Australian RV and Caravanner's Guide, which tells you what to look for when you're purchasing an RV, and covers many topics including electrical systems, refrigeration, brakes, suspensions, wheels and tyres.
“The bulk of what is in the book is based on the questions that I get asked on tour. People have simple questions like ‘what kind of van should I get?’, but there are so many variables. There’s no simple answer, really.”
Click here to win one of five copies.
THE OUTBACK EXPERIENCE
As any experience outback tour operator knows, hauling 10 rigs across outback roads has its risks; trouble-shooting breakdowns is part of life. If you’re lucky, you might get only one or two blown tyres during a 10-day trip.
Lloyd’s convoy came to a halt recently when a petrol leak sprang from a poorly fitted aftermarket tank on one of the party member’s 4WDs, south of Darwin.
“It sagged, creased then cracked. He was losing fuel, but the question was how do you repair a tank when there is every chance that the thing will explode in your face?” Lloyd says.
So Lloyd tapped into his network of contacts to locate an engineer.
“Over 25 years, you get to know who and what is around the district,” says Lloyd. But outback travel requires more than just knowledge: “You have to be prepared to make changes, be flexible because circumstances can change quite dramatically within 24 hours. If a wheel fell off your car, there’s no point getting agitated – you have got to take the outback on its terms.”
And then there’s the weather.
“We were travelling late coming into Innamincka, SA, when I noticed that a front was coming. I just knew that things were going to change quite quickly.” Lloyd made an unpopular, yet potentially lifesaving decision, forcing the convoy onward.
“I knew that we could not afford to stop. I knew that as soon as it gets a bit of rain, the roads would become impassable – and in those low areas, once it becomes impassable it can remain that way for a week. Most people don’t have enough provisions on-board to sustain themselves for that length of time.”
“There are some people who have been with us half a dozen times,” says Lloyd. Indeed, travelling in a tour group has its appeal.
“Our travellers enjoy the companionship and get to experience remote regions in the safety and security of a group. We’ve had a number of people who, for whatever reason, were simply not able to travel to these areas by themselves.”
Usually, Lloyd likes to travel with groups of about 20-25 people.
“I like to limit it to about 10 rigs; after that the len165gth of the convoy gets too far between the head and the tail, and it makes communication difficult – if you are in dusty country, you are already spread over 15km. We don’t often go on main roads; we are less of a nuisance on the inconspicuous routes. Strangely enough, because they are less travelled, they are often in better conditions. I check with locals before I go because some of these roads are just a dirt surface, and they can be washed away.”
Lloyd says remote towns like Moulamein, NSW, and Innamincka, SA, have a lot to offer if you are prepared to scratch the surface.
“They are generally places like Milparinka, NSW, which have almost all been bigger at one time or another. The history doesn’t confront you as you enter, maybe it had a lot of paddle steamers at one time or lots of settlers, but the farms may have only lasted five to 10 years. When you visit Milparinka, where Sturt’s party was marooned for six months, you can put yourself in their position 165 years ago. The party could not move away from the area, because it was the only place that had water for many, many miles – it was so hot that the lead in their pencils ran.”
Lloyd says it’s worthwhile learning about a region before you go.
“It becomes so much more interesting. Sometimes you find that one of the travellers is highly knowledgeable about a region. It really adds something to the group.”
In fact, Lloyd asked one of these travellers, Ned Wilson, to record his memories. The result was a book called A Dogger’s Life.
“You could see that he was sitting by himself all the time, so I started talking to him. Ned was deaf in one ear from firing his rifle,” says Lloyd. “He had lived in the bush by himself for 35 years, and was close to self-sufficient. I wondered why he joined us on our tour.”
Ned explained that he knew where to find water by observing the behaviour of birds.
“It took him six months to articulate how; it was just knowledge he’d acquired. He noticed so many changes between the terrain – it was really a bit of a wake up call for me.”
NOW AND THEN
Lloyd admits that travelling to the outback is much easier today than it once was. He remembers having to stand on the roof of his Land Rover to locate the road. Visiting the Dig Tree once meant crossing the treacherous (and now off limits) Coopers Creek. Today, it’s accessed via a bridge.
“You were working from maps and just a magnetic compass; these days you have GPS gadgets. Mining has made quite a difference in the outback, too.
“The roads are made, the signposts are there, and you’ve got terrific communication. It’s getting more difficult to get lost. And the reliability of vehicles has changed enormously, particularly the speed at which they can safely travel.
“At one time, you might have allowed a week to get to one place to another. It’s now possible to do that same route in three to four days. Some tracks were just a moving bog haul – you were frequently mending punctures – but now with tubeless tires, it’s just so much easier.
“It gives us the chance to see more towns, more places.”
Lloyd’s rules for outback safety
- Don’t panic. If something goes wrong, assess your options and don’t make a rash decision.
- Stay healthy. If you have real health risks, stay close to places of assistance, such as towns.
- Travel with a companion vehicle rather than going solo. That way, you can share carrying the resources and help is at hand if your vehicle breaks down or is otherwise incapacitated.
Visit our Downloads page to grab extracts from Lloyd's book.
1. Our earliest commercial tours were with tag-along 4WD groups. This photo is circa 1982.
2. Visits to the Dig Tree in earlier says were only possible by fording Cooper Creek near the Dig Tree. These fording exercises required preparation as the depth of the creek was unknown until the first vehicle made the crossing.
3. In 1986 we undertook east-west crossings. This photo teken onthe Ann Beadell Track - we had to make our own way after severe flooding had obliterated the track. This trip was made more interesting by talking with Len Beadell via radio on alternate days.
4. Caravanning group on the Wakka clay pan en route to Cameron Corner 1993.
5. We were camping trailer people for years. At one time we had a factory and built camping trailers as a business. Here we are, with a rooftop tent for parents and trailer for our children, camped beside Victoria River in NT circa 1986.