‘We had a few good vans, but now we know we’ve found our dream rig’

With a spate of recent accidents re-igniting the old debate about whether caravanners should have to take a mandatory towing course, many grey nomads are looking back at their own travelling histories and recalling some of the lessons they have learned along the way.

John Bennett is one of them.

The 79-year-old who travels with his wife of 55 years, Noeleen, and their 14-year-old Maltese Cross, Missi, says his first experience of heavy towing didn’t exactly go to plan.

“About 55 years ago, my brother was run off the road in his old Morris Oxford and rolled it north of Adelaide so I hired a car trailer and went to pick up the wreck using my Morris Major Elite,” said John. “About halfway home, doing about 45mph, it began to sway and I couldn’t control it and, suddenly, it jack-knifed and the whole rig did a 180 without rolling.”

fifth wheeler

Incredibly, when John pulled up on the verge facing the wrong way, the only damage was a dent on the rear bumper and a stretched towbar.

Since buying their first camper trailer in 1976, John and Noeleen have had a variety of campers and poptops including an Avan Cruiseliner. a seven-berth Sunwagon with an annex, and a 16’ Viscount poptop.

The last proper ‘traditional’ caravan they had was an 18’ Avan Liam II … the first they had had with dual axles.

“I bought a diesel Ford Territory to tow it with as, by then, I had learned about the various legal masses so I had it weighed, weighed everything that went into it, and totted it up on a spreadsheet,” said John. “I calculated the proportion of extra mass on the towball as I had learned my lesson and wasn’t going to be doing any more 180s!”

The Bennetts took the van to Cooktown last year and were looking forward to many more trips in it before fate intervened.

“Our 18’ van was written off by a hailstorm last December,” said John ruefully. “And we didn’t want to rush into getting a replacement.”

With safety on the road high on their agenda, John and Noeleen were extremely keen to research their options carefully once more.

They spent a lot of time tossing up between a motorhome and a fifth wheeler before finally plumping for the ‘fiver’.

“We bought a 23’ fiver towed by a Ford Ranger as a complete rig from a dealer in Perth two months ago, and next year we’d like to do a half-lap from Adelaide north to Darwin and then around to Perth,” said John. “But we’ll see … Noeleen has health issues, so I want to get in as much travel as possible while I have her.”

  • Have you had to learn some safe towing lessons the hard way? Email us here to share your thoughts.

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