Phil & Sue

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Grey nomad characters
Phil and Sue

Phil M, 68, and wife Sue, 66, from Victoria have been camping together since they first got married back in 1966 … and they reckon they’ve only just got started! The history-loving couple love to make what was old new again … and that includes rigs to old homesteads.

What rig do you travel in?
When we first married in 1966 we started out in a series two Land Rover kitted out in the back and camped in tents. Recently we have spent several months each year towing a 1970’s Franklin that I have done a lot of work on. It now has solar power and 120AH battery with mod cons like LED lights, Microwave,  BBQ, radio/CD etc. It is towed by a Rodeo Ute that was the farm run about but it got to 12 years old with 60K on the clock so was really about one or two years  old in terms of use,

Grey nomad charcaters of the road Phil and Sue

All ready to roll

it still had the original tyres on it but had no resale value. So I put a canopy on it fitted it with gas and some storage areas and turned it into the travel tug. It pulls the Franklin very well.

Why does your current rig suit your lifestyle?
Until now the Franklin has served us well, but we are in the process of upgrading it. Until this year we have spent 4 to 8 weeks at a time on the road but we are about to make the road our home and the Franklin is missing some of the comforts that we want for long term travelling. We have placed a deposit on an Aussie Wide Bunderra . We were looking for something that can travel off the blacktop with items like shower, toilet, dirt road suspension, 3 by 120AH batteries, 3 solar panels, BBQ, generator, satellite TV, radio/CD player and fully kited out for free camping for longer periods than we can do in the Franklin. There are a lot of brands that fitted the requirements, but Sue liked the layout of this van especially the kitchen and it ticked all of the boxes for me..

How long do your trips generally last?
At the moment 4 to 8 weeks but we take off as often as possible so do several trips a year. We both have a problem when we arrive home; we both get homesick for the road the next day and start planning our next trip.

Where do you like to camp?
When we travelled in the Land Rover we spent most of our time in national parks, but we travel with Chihuahua dogs now so national parks are out, we love bush camping and free camps but prefer it when there are other nomads around. We use caravan parks as a base to explore an area more thoroughly as we don’t like leaving the caravan unattended. We recently stayed in a caravan park in Harrow in western Victoria for a week while we explored the Grampians. We don’t need much from the parks, toilet, shower and a camp fire. A lot of caravan parks are over doing the gimmicks causing high prices. Most of us nomads only want the basics and don’t like paying the high prices for features we won’t use.

Favourite thing about the grey nomad lifestyle?
We have a lot of favourite things. Travelling the country and going to places we haven’t been before is high on the list so we tend to land in a lot of little towns and wander around getting to know the locals. It’s amazing what you can find out and see when you get out of your car and wander into a shop for a coffee and chat with the locals. Last year we were in Rainbow on the edge of Big Desert in Victoria and sitting out the front of the cafe watching several caravans drive down the main street do a U turn and drive out again. Those people will say they have been to Rainbow but they didn’t get out of their car so they missed the delights that the town has to offer that we spent a week checking out with two friends travelling with us. We were there seven days and ran out of time because we were on our way to Wilpena Pound via Broken Hill and had to leave. We are history buffs and like to check out the background to locations and why the settlement was created. Of course one of the most delightful parts of grey nomadding is happy hour, you meet some wonderful people and you can’t beat a relaxed evening sitting around a camp fire chatting with others about anything and everything especially learning of places they have discovered that you haven’t been to yet.

Another of my favourites is visiting historic locations. One such place is located in South Australia. Almost every Australian will be familiar with the words: “I shall return” spoken by General McArthur, but do they know where he addressed the reporters and spoke those words. There is a town called Terowie south of Peterborough in South Australia. The town is virtually a ghost town now since it was bypassed when the national rail was built and was moved to Peterborough but it was once the hub for the different state rail gauges and boasted a large population supported by the rail business. The old platforms are still there and if you take a walk around you will find a plaque marking the spot where General MacArthur made his speech to the gathered press before leaving for Perth to board a ship home.

What don’t you like about life on the road?
Going home is the big one.  We also don’t like travelling all day to get somewhere in a hurry and prefer to plan for three to four hours and be set up in the next location not long after midday. I can drive all day if I need to but dodging kangaroos etc. at night is no fun I would rather be sitting in a comfy chair with my feet up and a coffee or maybe a glass of wine. I’m also not fussed with competing with the road trains for too long, some of them can be quite scary and they are too big to argue with. But those guys are working and I am just cruising so it is better if I get out of their way.

Has your outlook changed since your first trip?
We have been taking trips most of our lives and while it started out as a holiday style. We soon came to love the lifestyle of living carefree and footloose on the road so now the plans are sketchy because we mostly decide what direction we are going and then go until we find something that catches our eye, and then we stop maybe overnight or longer depending on what we discover. Then we move on, but after talking to locals and other nomads we might go a different way, so we don’t usually have any rigid plans to get anywhere in particular. So the big change is that we no longer try to plan a trip too rigidly and leave the options open. If there is no place you have to get to in a hurry you are never going to be late getting there.

Favourite on-the-road meal?
The barby and bacon and eggs for breakfast. Sue however can whip up some great dishes and one of my favourites is her sweet and sour meatballs or chicken. But our favourite pub meal is a good roast dinner.

Do you keep a journal of your trip?
Yes to some degree. I take some notes and take a lot of photos. If we find something that interests us, we take down some notes and will do some research on it later. I am constantly amazed at the courage and endurance of the pioneers that opened up the country and love to learn their stories. What they endured can be quite unbelievable.

Do you have any on the-road hobbies?
We both like to read and Sue likes making patchwork quilts. She does them all by hand as we are travelling. She is a dressmaker but likes to make the quilts with just a needle and thread. We also seek out local history and do some fossicking.

Have you ever worked or volunteered on your trip(s)?
Yes in 2011 we were passing through Rainbow and stopped to have a look at their historic homestead Yurunga which once had a large shade house at the back. It was built to provide shade for the towns croquet and tennis players and was located between the croquet lawn and tennis court. Time had not been kind to it and it was now a pile of rotted timber and wire, so I asked the guide if it was to be rebuilt. I was told they had been trying to get someone to rebuild it or repair it for ten years but no one would take it on. So I told them that if they could find the materials I would do it for them. They got the materials together after doing some fundraising and we returned in July 2012 and spent two months clearing the site and building a new shade house to the same dimensions and thatched in the same way the original was done.

What wouldn’t you be without?
The comfy deck chair, a good book and I need my tools, that is the camera and laptop. That way I can keep a record of our travels and keep in touch with the grey nomad web site and chat with other like-minded people.

Favourite place in Australia to camp?
Not really. Living in Rainbow for so long we started to feel like we were at home and the locals certainly made us welcome. There are many favourite places but we are too busy finding more of them to return to often to the old favourites. We used to spend a lot of time in the high country in Victoria and New South Wales bush camping. We both enjoyed that but the type of rig we have these days isn’t designed for that type of travel.

Scariest experience as a grey nomad?
We haven’t had too many other than road trains and kangaroos. You have to keep you wits about you at times. I had just passed through a town recently and heading out when I noticed a large truck coming at what I thought was excessive speed along a side road and approaching the road we were on. I decided to slow down so he would get there before we did and it was fortunate I did the truck fully loaded sped through a give way sign into the crossing evidently not seeing it, turned right onto the highway swerving off the road came back onto the bitumen heading straight at us but got control of it again to straighten it up as he sped past us. If I hadn’t slowed down we would have met him in the middle of the intersection. While I had avoided the collision, it shook me up so we stopped a little up the road for a coffee.

Advice for other nomads?
Keep you rig well maintained. Have the car and caravan serviced regularly. Some of the roads you will travel on are quite rough to say the least and a well maintained rig will minimise the risk of getting stuck somewhere. If travelling in remote areas have a satellite phone or emergency beacon with you and if something happens don’t leave the rig. Wait for help to arrive it is easier to find the rig than a person wandering in a desert. If you don’t have either of these when going through areas with no or little traffic,  drop into the police station and tell them where you are going and when you expect to arrive before you leave town and when you arrive at the other end let them know that you have arrived safely.

If you are free camping get there early and wait. If no one else shows up to camp then you may be well advised to move on to a more populated location especially if you are close to a town. Drunken youths can be a problem if they find someone that is on their own, but they lose their courage if there are two or three vans in the area. We haven’t had any personal experience of this but have heard of others that have. We have always followed this rule and have had no trouble.

Advice for wannabe grey nomads?
Get out there and do it. Until you try it you will never know. I know of nomads that started out on a short trip for a couple of months and years later are still traveling. (A little bit like Gilligan’s island) Don’t speed through towns marking them off on your map as having been there. If you didn’t get out of the car chat to the locals and look around, then you haven’t been there at all you may as well have googled it. Don’t be in such a hurry that you can’t take the time to smell the roses.
Nomadding is not about getting from A to B it is about exploring a wonderful country and you can’t explore something sitting on your backside at 100 KPH. Australia is not just scenery although it has just about everything you could possibly ask for in that area. It is also about the people and the history and what it took to open it up so people like us can visit and marvel at the wonders of it all. Talk to fellow nomads and the locals in the towns you pass through, you meet some delightful characters on the road.



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