After 24 years on her feet, hairdresser Tamara Clark and her partner, Joey Wright, who has spent the past 20 years working 12-hour shifts at a winery, knew there was more to life.
“We just needed to make a change … a big, brave move,” Tamara said.
So they did what lots of retirees do. They decided to hit the road — even if it was a few decades earlier than most of the nomads traveling Australia.
The couple sold their home in the picturesque Murray River hamlet of Nichols Point, just south of Mildura in north-west Victoria, and pulled their — nine-year-old Suri and eight-year-old Meadow — out of school.
After spending more than 12 months designing the perfect off-grid caravan, they set off.
But moving a family of four from a large home into a caravan has its challenges — Joey standing at 2 meters tall being just one of them.
So far the family, each of whom has only packed the bare essentials, is learning to live a far simpler existence.
Going off-grid, in comfort
The family’s caravan was specifically designed to meet the family’s needs and took more than 12 months to be built.
Upgrades include raising the roof by five centimeters to allow Joey to stand at his full height, and off-grid elements that provide 600 hours of battery power from roof-mounted solar panels.
“It’s the little things that make the most difference, with extra-thick mattresses, interior styling, full bathroom facilities.
“They were at the top of our list. We needed to be comfortable.”
The solar-powered lithium battery system runs their full-size fridge, electric outdoor kitchen, and mini washing machine.
“There’s a place for everything,” Tamara said.
“Our USB chargers are strategically placed for easy access to pouches for our laptops and camping guides.”
Going off-road is not an issue with a hydraulic, raised suspension system that is lowered and leveled for camping.
Even outback dusty roads have been considered with a positive-pressurised cabin system to prevent dust getting into their off-road home.
The caravan also extends into an enviable outdoor kitchen with both gas BBQs and electric cookers on offer, leaving plenty of bench space inside for the microwave and cafe-style coffee machine.
No turning back
Tamara says the difficult decision to take her children out of school and away from their friends and home was an emotional rollercoaster.
But she adds there is no turning back.
The decision to sell their home and travel was easier for Joey.
“I’ve worked with a lot of older men throughout the years who talked about traveling after they retired, but by the time they stopped work, they got sick and they never got to hit the road,” he said.
Despite their initial concerns about taking Suri and Meadow out of school, the couple feel confident that the benefits of their adventure will far outweigh the drawbacks.
Joey has taken on the role of teacher while the girls are homeschooled during the trip.
“The kids will learn heaps of life skills,” he said.
“It’s something that will stay with them forever.”
Rising fuel prices a challenge
The cost of towing a massive caravan is a concern for the couple.
But Joey says being able to survive completely off-grid will give them the freedom to live inexpensively and find work if necessary.
After working 12-hour shifts in the wine industry for more than 20 years, Joey is ready for a change and plans to use the time to complete online tertiary study with the aim of landing a more senior role when he eventually returns to full-time work.
“I’m studying project management [and] compared to what I usually do, it’s a whole new ball game,” he said.
“I’m hoping this opportunity to study will let me step up a few more notches in the industry.”
Caravan turning heads
The family’s caravan is gaining quite the following with other nomads and caravaners dropping by to take photos and have a peek inside.
“They are full of questions about the towing modifications to our LandCruiser right down to the Lovells GVM 4.2 towing upgrade. They’re so interested.”
Fellow caravanner Ken, who is based in Melbourne but is a veteran nomad of 40 years, was impressed by the amount of thought that went into the design of Tamara and Joey’s caravan.
Despite their initial fears, Joey and Tamara say they are now able to breathe and cannot wait to head north to Darwin and enjoy some warmer weather.
“Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith.
“It has been an emotional roller coaster — definitely not easy [but] I know it’s definitely right.”
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