Tony and Michelle Gibson have a love of life and a thirst for adventure. Michelle tells us about one of their creative projects – the renovation of a 1950s Sunliner caravan, fondly christened ‘Hoot’ …
Please tell us a little about yourselves …
Tony and I are an outgoing, fun loving and adventurous couple who embrace life and enjoy it. We were both born in country Victoria and moved to Port Macquarie in 2000. We are both employed by the Government in Kempsey and have commuted to and from work for many years.
On weekends we love to renovate and have successfully renovated two heritage homes in Victoria, followed by a major renovation in Port Macquarie. In 2010 we relocated to Kempsey because of Michelle’s new employment in the welfare industry, which involves shift work. We then purchased a beautiful red mahogany home on the banks of the Macleay River. We are kept busy every weekend with our renovations and at present are building an outdoor summer kitchen. We often relax after a big day of renovation gliding down the Macleay River in our kayak.
What prompted you to decide to buy an old caravan?
Because of our interest in bringing life back to heritage homes and our lifetime spent renovating, we decided to look for a vintage caravan to do up as a hobby. After researching several varieties of vintage caravans, we decided to purchase a 1950s teardrop fiberglass van that we found on eBay and organised for the van to be transported from Brisbane to Port Macquarie.
Interestingly, the caravan brand was a Sunliner and originally manufactured at a factory in Forster.
When the caravan arrived, it certainly was a shock to us acknowledging the work that needed to be done, but at the same time it was exciting to take on the challenge. The inside was truly dilapidated, and unfortunately we could not salvage anything. It had to be rebuilt from scratch.
What did you have to do to renovate your caravan … it must have been a very labour-intensive process?
Our caravan was a labour of love; although, at times we were disappointed with the progress, as nothing was straightforward due to the age, manufacture and design of the caravan with its rounded corners.
Over some two years, we saw our efforts evolving in a positive manner, which produced so much inspiration for us that we were determined to keep going until such time as we ‘got it right’.
Now our van is very modern, with black and white flooring, a pressed tin splash back and a black curved couch with white studded buttons. We have high quality bedding with a crisp white and black dooner. And the décor is finished with some unique art work and white Venetian blinds.
What was your ultimate goal upon overhauling the caravan?
Our goal was to have our van finished within 12 months but that goal was long gone, as the two year period comes around so quickly. Given our spirit and love of life, our dream was to enjoy our lifestyle and experience travelling around this beautiful country – our aim being short 1 to 2 hour trips up and down the east coast.
What trips have you been on so far?
Our maiden journey was to Bellingen. My daughter was home from the Northern Territory and we decided to have a quick overnight trip and spend the Saturday at the Bellingen Markets.
I had never towed a caravan, little less backed a caravan, and we both left Kempsey after I had finished work late afternoon. We arrived at the Council Caravan Park at Bellingen. It was so dark, and we’d had a lot of rain. We were determined not to get bogged and ended up parking on the track for the night.
After celebrating our first journey with a lovely bottle of champagne, we decided to find the amenity block; however, to our surprise, all was locked up and there was no overnight manager. Hence, we had to find alternative means! My daughter had cooked lentil curry and we were feeling hungry, so decided to heat our dinner up on our new gas stove. We went outside and turned on the gas, then tried to light the stove – not knowing that there was a special button to turn on first, before gas would come through. Ummm … after lots of rolling around with laughter, we decided to go with plan B: cashew nuts, more champagne, finished by chocolate. So decadent! The music was playing and the scented candle was burning and the LED lights were actually working, so all was not lost.
Around 11pm we hopped into the cozy bed. We both were woken at 8am by roosters crowing and live chickens clucking. We both sat up and looked out the window, to find that we were actually parked at the horse stable area and right under our nose an organic fowl, fruit and vegetable market had started – cars and people everywhere!
More laughter occurring, we decided to leave the showgrounds and get some coffee and a hot breakfast before attending the Bellingen Markets … A memory mother and daughter will tell to friends and family forever.
What have your friends and family thought of your renovation project?
Our family thinks it is a great project and images our personalities. Renovating teardrop caravans is becoming very popular, and I accessed many web sites of other people’s experiences doing the same thing as us for ideas.
Our caravan is definitely a conversation piece, and many people stop and ask us if they can look through our van. When the van is unattended, people take photos and leave notes on our windscreen to tell us they are putting it on Facebook etc.
What’s the process behind taking off on a trip – is it a very planned process, or more a case of last minute load up, call the dogs, jump in and set sail?
Most weekends we are renovating our home, but we need to take some time off now and again to enjoy life. We often just take the van up and down the east coast on short trips, just to get away. We have two puppies that go everywhere we go, and they love the van. Being spontaneous is the way we usually organise to go away.
Where do you plan to travel next?
We have travelled to the Fringe Festival in Adelaide, the Hunter Valley vineyards and our next trip will be to Seal Rocks.
Our gorgeous van is self sufficient, environmentally friendly and provides us with a sense of freedom, tranquility, space and fun.
We are so impressed with our end result that we purchased another tear drop van from Wauchope recently. It’s not fiberglass, but an old vintage bond wood van. We are currently doing it up for our daughter as a wedding present.
Interview by Jo Atkins.