The rise and fall of Franklin

Article by · 27 May 2017 ·

Australians have Geoffrey Robertson to thank as one of the great innovators who made caravan holidays affordable for the masses. For the first time, the Franklin Caravans founder reveals how not taking a holiday led to the company’s demise. 

They say necessity is the mother of all innovation and in Geoffrey Robertson’s case is was a need to put food on the table and a roof over his head that prompted him to build his first caravan.

It was 1947 and life seemed not all that promising for the talented 17 year old from Ballarat. He’d just lost his first job and was relying on hunting rabbits to make a quid. To cheer him up, a mate suggested taking a Christmas beachside holiday in Lorne.

Not exactly flush with funds for accommodation, but with time on his hands, he thought, “why not build a caravan”.

Never mind the fact he’d never built anything before or had any experience as a tradesman.

Family and friends weren’t overly confident the timber and Masonite creation young Geoff was slowly putting together would amount to much.

But he soldiered on, proving here was a fellow not be underestimated.

The finished caravan made it safely to Lorne and back on rough 1940s roads in one piece. Geoff and his mates had a great holiday and word quickly spread.

“After we got back from Lorne everyone started asking to borrow it, so I thought, why not build another?”


He set to work on a slightly bigger 14ft van and a few weeks later hit the road to find a buyer.

“I heard there was a dealer in Melbourne, Les Gough and Sons who owned Hawthorn Caravans and sold caravans on consignment.

“So I went there and found Les was a grumpy old bloke, although his sons weren’t too bad. They walked around it, looked it over and after a while Les said he thought it looked alright.

“We went back to his office and sat down and he asked me what was I going to call my caravans. I was just 18 and a bit of a kid at the time and I had no idea.

“The first thing that came into my head was our old family home was called Franklin and I thought, why not that.  Les said ‘Righto, that’ll do, we’ll give you a call when we sell it’ and then he kicked me out.

“Well I wasn’t all that hopeful, but I got back to Ballarat to get the message he’d already called, the van was sold and he wanted to know when could I get them another one.”

Working in a shed behind his father’s Ballarat pub, the business started slowly with Geoff turning out a new caravan at the rate of one per month.franklin_factory1

After building and selling the first fifteen caravans on his own, he started hiring workers and the emerging Franklin company moved to its first official factory based in a former Ballarat funeral home.

Robertson says the key to Franklin’s success was always staying ahead of the latest technology.

In the 1960s the company had great success with simple and affordable lightweight aluminium caravans.


By the 1970s Franklin dominated the Victorian market and the company moved to a sprawling new complex on the outskirts of Ballarat. Almost every component required was manufactured on site and new sections were continually added to the factory building that eventually covered several acres.

Franklin became only the second caravan company in the world to start manufacturing vans from lightweight polycarbonate and aluminium “sandwich” panels.

It was when Franklin was at its peak in 1974, employing 500 workers turning out more than 200 caravans a week, Robertson was to make a decision that was to eventually bring about the company’s demise.


Link: Read the feature in Issue 14 of Time to Roam


About Time To Roam

Australia's premier magazine focused on the people and culture of caravanning and camping.


  • comment-avatar

    Graeme Battle

    I purchased a 23 foot franklin caravan in 1982 from Hudson’s
    caravan sales in Bunbury WA and I believe it was the second
    last Franklin to be sold in WA.
    I think I paid around $11 thousand for it and we traveled
    around Australia for 2 years in it and eventually sold it in
    Cairns Qld. for $8 thousand and it was a fantastic van.

  • comment-avatar

    Rod barton

    620 Employee,s of Franklin Caravans through Geoffrey Robertson raised their families and enjoyed a stabled life style in beautiful Ballarat.

    • comment-avatar

      Lyndsay Copeman

      Meant to say Rod I enjoyed your company even if you did barrack for Redan

  • comment-avatar

    Lyndsay Copeman

    I worked for this man for 20years best boss a man could have when he sold up and left so did I it was never the same
    Lyndsay Copeman

  • comment-avatar

    Dixie & Susan Lee

    We bought our 21’6″ XFactor from Kratzmanns in 2015 and have been on the road since. We took our van all the way to Cape York last year (2019). Some minor mods were needed to handle the corregations. Because of the Corona Virus we are waiting to have a new awning fitted as the current one is on its last legs. Currently travelling Vic and living the dream….LONG LIVE FRANKLIN..

  • comment-avatar


    Good morning all,

    I recently finished my 4.5 metre; single axle; 1979 Franklin ‘Hunter’ Caravan refurbishment and makeover which took me from October 2019 to January 2020. My wife and I took it to Pottsville NSW Caravan Park (North) for its maiden voyage and along came the Corona-virus lockdown. ‘”Stayed at home” on Gold Coast ever since. Very much awaiting the opportunity to take it away again, this time a longer distance. Good luck to you all and stay well

  • comment-avatar


    Bill posters is innocent

  • comment-avatar

    Paul Whiston

    Great Guy, remember him from The Royal Victorian Motor Yacht Club, Had the biggest Boat “ILUKA”.

  • comment-avatar


    Does anyone remember Graham Gathard from franklin caravans

  • comment-avatar

    Trevor Tagliabue

    My father Frank Tagliabue and l, Trevor Tagliabue used to work there in the 1970s. Dad was an electrician and l worked on the line fitting laminex to the oven unit cupboards etc….

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