Uke-playing grey nomads enjoyed a Big Lap of note

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Grey nomads playing the ukulele
Colin and Jan had music wherever they went.

When grey nomads Colin Pender and Jan Knight took off on their long-term Big Lap a decade ago, they always knew that they would have music wherever they went.

The couple originally travelled with a guitar and a ukulele before becoming a ‘double-uke’ family … and veritable pied pipers of the open road.

“The guitar was too big to have in the van, so we downsized to a uke which is such a simple, easy-to-play fun instrument,” said Colin. “And it has helped us meet so many people on our travels.”

Although Colin and Jan are originally from Sydney, Colin was running a charter boat in the Whitsundays when he retired in 2010.

“I made a promise to myself that we would see Australia before we did any more overseas travel, as so many of the passengers would ask me ‘what’s Darwin like?’, ‘what’s Alice Springs like?’, ‘what’s Fremantle like?’,” said Colin. “And I was embarrassed because I didn’t know.”

For two years, the couple crisscrossed the country in their LandCruiser GXL ute and 29’ Playmor Drifter fifth wheeler which had two slideouts, a 40” TV, and all the bells and whistles.

They then downsized and continued their adventures in a 4.2L turbo diesel Troopie and a 2012 20’ Dreamseeker off-road van.

“We rarely stayed in van parks and never had any trouble finding a free camp … old road repair stockpile areas are always good,” said Colin. “If you stop and go for a walk down a dirt track off the main drag, it’s amazing what you find.”

And if the pair ever wanted company, it seems all they had to do was get out their ukuleles. “We were once camped on Town Beach at Tocumwal on the Murray playing our ukes when a Mum, Dad and their three daughters arrived in their converted bus,” said Colin. “When they saw our ukes they came over and asked if we would like to have a jam the next morning, which we did – for four hours!”

And that was just the start. The couple played with various groups during a month-long stay in Fremantle, joined a strumming session while camped at King Ash Bay, and had a memorable Happy Hour with guitars and ukuleles while camping at Gregory Downs.

“The list just goes on and on,” said Colin.

A couple of years ago, Colin and Jan decided to put down roots again and found the perfect spot just outside Bowen in Queensland.

However, there was one big problem.

“Once settled, we found Bowen was lacking in something,” said Colin. “A ukulele group!”

Not being the types to hang around, the couple quickly formed the Bowen Ukulele Group Strummers (BUGS), and are now busy organising the inaugural Bowen ukulele festival, the Blowin’ Bowen Ukulele Bluster, in early May. And they hope many ukulele playing and wannabe ukulele playing grey nomads will join them there. Learn more here.

  • Do you make music an important part of your Big Lap adventure? What do you think is the ultimate grey nomad musical instrument? Comment below.

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