An ode to the camper trailer

By: David Cook, Photography by: David Cook

David Cook spills the macadamia nut oil on why we tour with camper trailers.

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How yez all goin’? Come in, sit down and grab a drink while we have a chat. You know, I often wonder why we all bought camper trailers. I mean, camping is pretty neat and all that, but we all, every one of us, were camping before we ever heard of camper trailers, so why buy one?

It’s not as though they are cheap or anything. In fact, you can fork out frightening amounts of cash on the latest and greatest campers these days. You can get every bell and whistle that man’s ingenuity can cram into a space that’s less than the length of your motor vehicle. And they’re not built in some great super-factory in Tokyo or Detroit or Munich by computerised robots, either, but sometimes in a little work-a-day factory in an industrial area by a guy called Des and a sidekick, using tools you could conceive finding in your own garage.

So, I repeat the question: why buy one?

It’s not as though they make travelling that much easier. In fact, get to some little town along the way where you hear they make classy pies or need to top up supplies, and you can drive around the shopping centre for aeons trying to find somewhere within a kilometre that provides space to park both your tow car and the trailer.

Your fuel consumption plunges, it’s another piece of mechanical equipment which must be maintained, manoeuvring around tight switchback turns or in tight spaces becomes a pain, reversing is a dark art and any sign of mud or heavy sand is usually a sure indicator that your progress has come to a halt and it’s time to turn around and go back the way you came.

Anybody come up with an answer to that question yet?

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I thought not. Well, let me answer it for you: it’s because they allow us to carry more stuff. Stuff like your favourite banana chair, or a second fridge, or a big tarp to erect over the top of everything, and all the ropes and poles and pegs that go with that. Stuff such as a second large fold-up table, and a couple of buckets, and more than a single change of clothes, along with rock walking shoes and slippers and bushwalking boots and gumboots and a pair of ‘nice’ shoes in case you want to head into town one night and go to a restaurant, and thongs for the beach and Crocs for the shower.

Stuff like a camp oven – probably two, so you can cook a pudding for dessert after you’ve eaten the roast leg of lamb main meal – and a big metal spike with a large barbecue plate and a frying pan that attaches to the spike and little arms and chains and hooks that allow you to hang billy cans and kettles over the fire. And then there’s the blow torch to make lighting the fire easy – with some spare gas cylinders – and a wire bush to clean everything afterwards, and an old gas cylinder that you’ve cut down into a neat little if heavy and bulky fireplace, and the sleek manufactured version that your wife bought you at the last camping show that stands on legs and has a chimney and a toast rack and warming racks to keep food warm. And don’t forget the big bag of firewood you brought from home, and the fire lighters, and the log splitter and hatchet and bow saw, and the welder’s gauntlets and tongs and barbecue tool and saucepans and… it just seems to go on and on.

And all this is just to make a meal each day, and obviously doesn’t include the cutlery and crockery and all the different cooking utensils like vegetable peeler, and ladles and spoons and can opener and gas lighter and rolling pin and cake tins and cups and glasses and whisk and scrapers and skewers and mashers and so on.

In the old days, you’d buy a bag of ice and tip it into the Esky each day and drop into town once every two days to get more supplies, but now you can carry food, so you do. There are vital things like chips and cabanossi and several different types of crackers and cheeses and pesto and dips and peanuts and that new fangled nibbly that you found at the supermarket last week. And you can’t forget the loaves of French bread and wholemeal and full grain and white bread plus wraps for the tastes of various members of the family, plus butter and margarine and various sauces and mustards for the barbecue and dressings for the salads.

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There will be several pre-cooked meals at the back of the freezer, and a leg of lamb or chunk of beef for the camp oven, and some steaks and chops and sausages cryovacced, plus salad materials and a range of vegetables. There will be packaged foods and probably a few canned goods, just in case, so that there’s always a backup. In the old days of tent camping you never carried ‘just in case’ food; everything was eaten. There will be biscuits and eggs and condiments and spreads for the toast in the morning, plus cereals and rice and cous cous and fruit.

And of course there are the very necessary beers, and wine, and soft drinks plus milk – both full cream and light – as well as teas and coffee in several flavours. Maybe even a coffee-making machine if your camper runs to a serious battery pack and/or you’re going to a campground with mains power available?

Is this camping? It bears little resemblance to the days when you went bush with your mum and dad, with a big canvas tent, sleeping bags and a few orange boxes full of camping impedimenta.

Have you seriously weighed all this stuff? Probably not, because you also have boogie boards, a beach shelter, beach towels, fishing rods and tackle, and a radio and iPod and probably even a television.

How can we own so much ‘stuff’? We must be wealthy to have afforded it. And then we take it all away with us when we go off into the bush to get away from it all. Except we don’t get away from it all, because we take it all with us.

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That’s why we buy camper trailers; not for their comforts or improved access to remote places but to take all that stuff with which we burden our lives today and think it’s all a necessity. It’s consumerism run rampant.

Of course, it has to be better than heading away from home in an old Holden or Vauxhall or whatever it was that your parents owned, your knees up under your chin, the roof rack straining under the burden of a mass of heavy canvas and poles, the boot threatening to burst open and every cubic inch of space under, around and between you and your siblings crammed with what was needed to go camping in a much simpler time.

Builders of caravans and campers that have only 300kg of load capacity have to be kidding if they think they’re providing for the needs of their customers. How can you possibly get by with just 300kg of stuff? That’d barely be enough for food and clothing, much less all those other necessities of life.

Give me a good, large camper trailer with a sturdy suspension and chassis and I’ll fill it with vital supplies. And even if it runs out of space, I’ll add luggage racks and storage boxes and other carrying solutions. There are answers to these difficulties and I will meet them head on.

If you own a camper trailer you know exactly what I‘m talking about. Even those hardened nuts who preach the adage that everything you take camping must meet two purposes otherwise it stays at home will have corners of their trailers loaded with curiosities of comfort or convenience which have no bearing upon practicality or multiple uses. Otherwise, I ask, why else would you buy a camper trailer?

Check out the full feature in issue #107 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine. Subscribe today for all the latest camper trailer news, reviews and travel inspiration.