Around Australia - The Expert Tips

Story and Photography by Patrick Hayes

Pat Hayes asked Outback travel experts for advice for Australians who want to enjoy the freedom of touring their remarkable country.

Bigger Might Not Be Better

In his years as publican of the Birdsville Hotel, Brett Fort has welcomed many travellers who have just completed a crossing of the Simpson Desert that starts just out of town.

He has also heard every possible good luck, bad luck and hair-raising tale about the desert crossing.

His tip for people travelling in the Outback is not to assume that sheer power will get them out of sticky situations.

A well-balanced outfit with a normal engine, he says, can often outperform a heavier, more powerful vehicle.  And don’t forget, he says, that letting some air out of the tyres is the first and best tactic when floundering through soft sand.

Double-up On Water Supply
Laraine and Mal Leyland, probably Australia’s most famous Outback travellers, are still urging all of us to get out there and see its wonders for ourselves. They are also taking their own advice and going travelling as often as they can. Although the Outback is a much safer place than it used to be, they warn that there are still dangers for the unwary.  

Their tip is to be sure to carry enough water, about 20 litres per day for two people.

That water should be carried in at least two containers like robust plastic jerry cans. If one container leaks, there still the water in the second one. If your water containers have taps make sure the taps won’t break if knocked or turn themselves on when jolting over rough roads.

Caravans and motorhomes should have two, separate, water tanks with separate pipefittings. Then, if one tank leaks or is filled with unpalatable water the other one is still available.

See Australia At Its Best 

When Tom Harding is not helping people fit out their rigs for comfortable and safe touring, or giving advice at seminars at caravan and camping shows, he and his equally knowledgeable wife Doreen are out there exploring Australia.

We thought Tom’s tip would be a piece of advice based on his technical background. It wasn’t. He had just returned from an Outback trip, and his advice to everybody contemplating a big trip is: Do it now.

Tom says the recent rains have turned the Outback into a wonderland of green.

He says: “If you’ve got the opportunity, take it. You will be seeing Australia at its best.”

He says the effect of the rains will be there to enchant us for some months to come.  Even better, Tom said there has ben extensive extra grading of Outback roads to repair the damage caused by the rains and floods. The result is that the tracks are smoother and many are suitable for two-wheel drive vehicles.

(But remember to always check with the authorities before setting out.)

Beware Those Bad Vibrations

Ron and Thora Schafer have just finished writing a book called Caravanning In The 21st Century. It is a really interesting collection of tales, advice and information for people who want to do some serious caravan touring.

Ron and Thora have lectured on round-Australia travel at caravan shows all over the country.

Their tip for On The Road readers is to beware the vibration that can occur inside a travelling van, especially if it is on gravel roads.

One result of this is black marks on the sides of saucepans and other cooking utensils. That can be avoided by packing cooking gear separately in plastic shopping bags or pillowcases.

A worse result is when cans of drink (yes, the precious beer supply) are stacked side by side. In a remarkably short time the vibration will wear a neat slit in the side of each can and when you delve for a drink they will all be empty.

Check also that heavy items like the refrigerator have not become loose in its mountings. A wobbly fridge has been known to wear its way right down through the floor of a van!

Caravanning In The 21st Century is available for $13.95 plus $4 packing and postage from Thora Schafer, 530 Pineridge Road, Coombabah, 4216.

Don’t Take Too Much Along

Rob and Judith Heaslip are the manufacturers of the innovative and tough-as-old-boots Heaslip camper trailers. They make sure their gear works by making frequent trips into the Outback.

Their advice to travellers is to take only what they need on the trip. Carrying extra items “just in case” can cause more trouble than those items would solve if they are ever needed.  Extra weight on a vehicle will affect its braking and handling and cause breakdowns that might not have occurred with a lighter, better-balanced load.

Rob suggests taking along some basic spare parts but not a mobile workshop.

“Other travellers will always help out if you get into trouble,” Rob says.

Take Time to Enjoy It All

The Jasper family, Trevor and Donna and eight-year-old Bianca and four-year-old Melinda, were six months into their 18-month adventure when On The Road  caught up with them. And they are having a great time.

The children, in particular are enjoying the trip and Bianca is keeping up with her schoolwork by playing games devised by her parents while on the road.  

Donna advises fellow travellers that while a plan is essential it should not be set in concrete.

“Don’t travel flat out or you’ll miss out on a lot. Stop along the way to enjoy the scenery.  Don’t push yourself. Just because you decided at breakfast where you’d like to finish up for dinner doesn’t mean that you absolutely have to get there.”

Donna also has advice about travelling with children: “We should remember to do things for the kids as well as for ourselves.”

Donna’s two children have their own walkmans and their own music so they can listen to music that suits their own tastes without disturbing others.

Record Your Adventure

Lionel Mussell, author of The Big One, a book of advice about towing a caravan around Australia.

Lionel stresses the importance of making a record of the journey in a diary, in a photograph collection or with a camcorder video.  

“Whatever you do, record your trip in some way so that you can go around Australia again and again, deep in your armchair.  You can have endless enjoyment afterwards when you look back at all the exotic places you visited and the wonderful people you met along the way.”

A Final Bit Of Advice

Outback artist, explorer and writer, Jack Absalom, ends his book, Safe Outback Travel, with this yarn:

“I was sitting by a campfire one time with an old drover. We were yarning about this and that and he asked me what I considered to be the most important thing to carry in the bush. I thought for a while, and then answered that it would be water.”

“No lad you’re wrong,” he said. “A pack of cards is more important.’

“I felt bewildered. “Why?”

“Well,” he replied, “when your vehicle breaks down in the bush, just get out the cards and start playing patience. Within 10 minutes someone will put his head over your shoulder and say: That black 10 goes on the red jack.  Then you can ask him for a drink of water’.”

(Jack Absalom’s book is published by Five Mile Press and can be ordered through any bookstore.)