How we came to get a Troopy

Sunday, Dec 02, 1990 at 15:37


In the Beginning: Early Travels and how we came to get a Troopy

Everyone has a travel history – where they have been, the vehicles they have driven, and the accommodation they have tried while on the road. Over the next few months we plan to set down some of our earlier travel stories before fading photos and memories are totally gone.

Mostly it is a story of the last 20 years when we have been increasingly adventurous in our Troopy, now venerable, and mostly but not always dependable. Maybe we are a bit unusual in that we have had one vehicle for so long, so it is also the story of how we have evolved the vehicle set-up to suit our ever-changing travelling needs.

To start; not quite at the beginning. Over 40 years ago we were living at Armidale, NSW. Just before the first of our 3 boys was born we bought a block of beachside land on the NSW north coast. This provided our holiday and recreational experiences for the next decade, along with a lot of hard work as we slowly built a small holiday cottage. About once a month we made the 3hour trek (not all the road was sealed then) down from Armidale to enjoy a weekend or more of sun and sand.

Towards the end of this period, about 1977 we hired a camper trailer for three weeks and towed it behind our 144 Volvo doing a big loop of inland and coastal NSW. We took in Old Sydney Town in searing heat, were nearly blown away at Sawpit Creek where we had an anxious night with one boy down with tonsillitis. After a play in snow we headed down the Alpine way, inland to Deniliquin and Griffith. We arrived at Griffith on what we thought was a Thursday, with no cash left and the camper needing repairs. We found to our great consternation that it was actually Friday and there was no prospect of getting a top up of cash until Monday when the banks opened. It was a very strange feeling being in a strange town with no money – fortunately John knew a work colleague there who kindly came to our rescue. From there we headed home to Armidale via the Parkes radio telescope, Dubbo, where smallest child fell in the river, Siding Springs Observatory and the Warrumbungle National Park.

All that changed when a work transfer saw us move to Canberra where we started work on house building all over again, this time a full sized house on a few acres. The beachside cottage stayed with us for another 30 years, though rented out permanently so not available for holidays.

With a mountain of building work and John’s full time job, travel for holidays wasn’t high on the priority list. Still we did manage a few short trips, mostly to the coast. We travelled in our family sedan (later an Urvan to fit the boys’ long legs), using a basic tent and airbeds – which were cold but we persevered and learned how to be comfortable and warm in them. The boys sometimes used small pup tents. We had a gas stove and gas lantern, a folding table and director’s chairs and a fold up kitchen stand. Other gear was stowed in cardboard boxes. For short trips this arrangement worked quite adequately. One memorable trip took in the Myall Lakes where at Mungo Brush a dingo escorted her litter of pups past our camp, then on to Diamond Head near Laurieton where we spent about a week in what was then a delightful undeveloped camp right behind the beach.

Eventually the boys grew up and pursued their own lives and interests and we were on our own to travel to the extent that our 2 full time jobs would allow. We got to thinking that a caravan might suit our dimly perceived needs.

So one Saturday morning we decided to go to Fyshwick (one of Canberra’s industrial suburbs) just for a look. I don’t recall actually looking at any caravans. Driving past the Toyota yard we saw this big brown caravan sized vehicle. Now that looks like a functional vehicle, we thought. Lets stop and have a look. Inside the back there were bench seats and a massive amount of room. I wonder what its like to drive …. let's take it for a test drive. Fateful words. We had hardly seen a Troopy before, let alone driven one but after driving this monster beast for a few kilometres we were hooked. This was the vehicle we were looking for – we both knew it!

After pondering a possible purchase overnight we said yes and negotiated a price with aircon added in.

What had we got ourselves into? John had only driven a 4WD very occasionally and Val not at all. But the big motor, power steering and excellent visibility made it feel easy to drive, and for a rugged, tough looking vehicle it seemed surprisingly comfortable.

So this is what we got: a 1987 model beige Troopcarrier with 3F petrol motor and about 90,000km on the clock, all in good condition. Leaf springs, long-range tanks, bull bar and tow bar, split rims. Air conditioning was added. It had been a police vehicle and if you looked closely you could see where there had been a big “36” decal on the bonnet. There were also a lot of holes drilled in the inside of the back where a cage had been fitted, and there was an aerial mount in the centre of the roof. Just about the strangest caravan you ever saw.

Now came the question, what do we do with it?

We did some exploratory trips down to the south coast and gradually learned a bit about using 4WD. One trip took us down the escarpment through Wadbilliga NP and via forestry tracks to the north western side of Mt Dromedarry. Finding a walking track we climbed to the top through beautiful but damp southern beech forests, marvelling at the tenacity of the old miners who lived in these tough conditions, hauling heavy equipment up the steep mountain side.

We stayed at Mystery Bay and felt the ground beneath us tremble as the heavy ocean swell pounded into the cliffs below us. We drove into isolated spots then walked through coastal forests. Once we saw big scratch marks on the track and followed them until we found their creator, a huge monitor lizard close to 5 feet long.

We explored the Green Cape Lighthouse, Saltwater Creek and Bittangabee Bay in the Ben Boyd NP – there were tiny ferocious ticks, and seals sunning themselves on the rocks.

Other trips took us north towards Jervis Bay, often seeking less used tracks through forests and national parks. Probably some of those tracks are no longer in use. Once we rented a cabin on the Beecroft Peninsular and explored that area. At night on a black and white TV we watched as the Soviet Union crumbled.

Venturing further a-field we spent a week in winter in a very cold cabin near Mallacoota. We did a boat cruise upriver from Gypsy Point where we watched sea eagles catch fish thrown by the skipper of the boat. We explored Point Hicks and with our limited paper maps came close to getting lost driving around some of the forestry tracks in that area.

There were also trips north to our “weekender” to do maintenance. As a travelling toolbox a Troopy has few peers, and can easily tow a trailer loaded with bags of cement, spare furniture, ladders and heaps of junk. It can even tow said trailer through the fog of the Barrington Tops NP and find a damp campsite beside a delightful mountain stream.

Another trip took us back to Diamond Head. It was very wet when we left headed north through Oberon and the Bylong Valley. Many creeks were in flood. Imagine our consternation when we arrived at the river just south of Sandy Hollow only to find the bridge washed away! It took a lot of backtracking and avoiding other flooded crossings before we could make our way further north.

But our 4WD skills were improving, not that we really put them to any serious test. Improvements to Troopy included the addition of a UHF radio and a big heavy winch. The winch was so big that the bulbar had to be extended forward quite a way. Both it and the UHF are still there 15+ years later and fully functional. The UHF has had lots of use; the winch has only ever been used once for serious purpose and that was only 5 years ago. The extension to the bullbar however, has proved invaluable for carrying firewood in remote areas.

The seats weren’t brilliant, but not too bad either; they were improved considerably by the addition of seat covers, mainly because the covers stopped you slipping around on the seat.

About this time we decided that it would be good to be able to sleep in Troopy rather than down on the ground in the tent. Being inside the vehicle would be warmer and drier, and the bed would be made up ready to use at the end of the day. So the rear seats came out and John fitted a platform just below the level of the rear windows. The platform is in 3 sections, with the front and rear sections being hinged so they can be lifted up to improve access to gear stored underneath.

Initially we used the air mattresses as they fitted in quite nicely, and we developed a way to make the bed so that it stayed tidy. Eventually after much trial and error we found a system of struts that would hold the platform sections up when required. While these struts have long since been replaced by gas struts the bed base has worked well ever since it was installed. As we almost always bush camped privacy was not an issue, and if the moon was too bright we just draped our towels over the windows. Fresh air came in through the sliding windows – if there were mozzies or rain we just closed the windows.

So with some experience and a few creature comforts it was time to venture further afield and try some real 4wding. Fraser Island, here we come.
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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