Steve Potter: Living The Dream

Steve and Stella Potter and their kids Darcy and Raine left their home in the small country WA town of Boyanup to embark on their idea of the family dream – travelling around Australia in a 51 year old caravan. Steve takes up the story.

I awake and part the orange coloured curtains of the van to inspect another new morning in paradise, hoping for another clear day.

Paradise can take a number of forms while travelling. Sometimes it’s a beach vista, sometimes a lush green forest, sometimes a desert. On the other hand, when free camping on a roadside truck-stop, the view of paradise may be the side of a truck trailer next to a busy highway.

It is usually our four year old daughter Raine who wakes first and I hear her each morning as she chatters away to herself in a whisper, playing with her toys at the other end of the van behind the curtain.

I often lie there and listen to her as she creates make-believe worlds, her soft toys as the characters. She will often tiptoe up to our bed and clamber between Stella and me, usually with freezing toes, smothering us in kisses and cuddles, with the primary objective of waking us up and getting us out of bed.

It is, however, the opportunity to have moments like these that made us leave in the first place.

Although we always had an idea in the back of our minds that we might do a trip like this one day, a number of factors aligned which caused us to feel that the time was right to turn our dream into reality.

Stella and I were both busy working flat out, the kids were growing up way too fast and we felt that time was disappearing and the chance may pass us by.

We also felt that the ages of our children, four and six, was perfect. Old enough to be out of nappies, young enough to be flexible and go with the flow.

In the end we made the decision to go. Within three months we were on the road, having obtained a period of leave from work and emptying and renting out our home. The adventure had begun.

One of the factors enabling us to get going reasonably quickly was that we already owned a caravan. Although prior to this trip we’d only taken it on a number of one or two-week holidays not too far from home.

We were a bit apprehensive about taking the van on such a long road trip and even considered getting a different one – mainly due to its age.

It’s a 1962 plywood clad “Raven” which we bought about five years ago when I spotted it online on the Trading Post. We weren’t even in the market for a van at the time, however fell in love with the old girl at first sight and found ourselves driving her home the next day.

Once Stella and I discussed it, we decided that buying a new van wasn’t an option; not only did we need the funds for the trip, but in our hearts we knew that the trip wouldn’t be the same without her. For better or worse the van was coming around Australia.

Prior to leaving we did undertake a few jobs to make the van a bit more comfortable and roadworthy. This included mounting an internal curtain to separate the kids’ end of the van, replacing bearings and tyres, re-painting the A-frame and installing an aluminium storage box on the front. We also resealed the roof with an epoxy-based paint and pulled out the old gas fridge which was replaced by 240 volt electric one. Still pretty basic, but ready to go.

In terms of the car, once again we weren’t too sure about our old Commodore with 260k on the clock. We handed the keys to a mechanic mate who replaced everything he thought it might need to get us back home. We also installed a dual battery and once again put on new tyres.

We thought the lack of 4WD might be an issue, but as it’s worked out, we haven’t had time to see all the places we have wanted to see on the bitumen so far, let alone the off-road stuff. Besides, there’s always the next trip (and the one after that) to see the places we might not get to this time around.

So, how has it gone so far? In a word: unbelievable. It is not often in life that experiences live up to one’s expectations, but in this case it has proven to be true.

Each day is different and we get to enjoy our kids all day every day, seeing them from first thing in the morning until we tuck them in at night.

When Darcy asks to kick the footy or Raine wants to play Barbies, we invariably have the time and head space to join in. We feel as if this trip has given us the opportunity to get to really know our kids better than we could at home, simply because we have ample time to spare.

People often ask us about the kids’ schooling. They are enrolled in SIDE (School of Isolated and Distance Education) through the WA Education Department who send us packages of schoolwork as we travel about which are returned for marking once complete.

Admittedly, we are always behind schedule (sorry Mrs Davitkovska), however justify this by telling ourselves that the kids are learning a number of things on the road that could never be taught in a classroom.

At the time of writing we’re in Coffs Harbour, taking a week’s R & R after our first few months of fairly constant and regular moving about. We are hoping to follow the warm weather as we head north to Queensland and back over the top to W.A., where I am due to return to work in October.

Although we thought the old van might raise a few eyebrows along the way, it has been amazing the amount of interest we have had.

On an almost daily basis people are coming up for a chat and have even had people taking photos from the roadside as we drive on by.

Quite often it is the oldies that appreciate her the most and we have heard many a story of family holidays in old plywood vans from a time when life was simpler.

The personal memories and emotions the caravan evokes in others have shown us how special she really is.

Our family has learnt a lot about life on the road, and ourselves, as we have undertaken this journey.

If I could presume to provide one bit of advice to any young families out there it would be this: if in the back of your mind you have a dream of doing something similar, then it is up to you to make it happen knowing that it may take a certain level of sacrifice. An extended road trip is not a sensible financial decision and there is nothing to show at the end of the day except a bunch of photos. Life on the road is at times difficult and sometimes uncomfortable.

However, if you dream of driving on wide open roads, hiking through rainforests, cooking marshmallows with sticks over camp fires and creating family memories and bonds that will last many lifetimes, I would highly recommend doing whatever you can within your power to make it happen.

You don’t need the most expensive car or caravan to do so and we have met many young families doing their own version of the dream in various levels of comfort, depending on what they can afford. What you do need is the will and motivation to make it happen.