The History of Millard Caravans

Article by · 9 October 2018 ·

There are few people in the history of caravanning that have had as much influence on our pastime as John and Peter Darlington – the two brothers who ran Millard Caravans through its heyday years. And there are few products that have been so enduring as the Millard, versions of which are still plying our highways, decorating our back paddocks or minding spots at our favourite coastal caravan park. Millard vans have found their way into nearly all aspects of popular culture and its products have played a tremendous part in shaping how we use caravans today.

Like so many of its contemporaries, Millard had a humble start in the late 1940s when Jim Darlington looked at the US trailer (that’s American for caravan) lifestyle and guessed it had a future in Australia (boy was he right!). He started building a small amount of vans from a tiny factory in Mortlake in Sydney’s inner-west, but in less than a decade had outgrown the site and so moved to a bigger factory on Wicks Road in North Ryde.millard caravans history

It was around this time that Jim was joined by his eldest son – John – who allegedly saw caravans being built by Caravilla Caravans while he was painting their factory and thought he could do it better. Not long after, Jim’s youngest son, Peter, joined the business as an apprentice, eventually working his way to production manager, the position he held when the company was eventually sold to Viscount in 1979.

Those twenty-five years under John and Peter’s leadership were phenomenal for Millard, which established itself as the second largest manufacturer of caravans in Australia. Bruce Binns, who has spent more than 50 years in the industry as owner of the RV manufacturing giant, Avida (formerly Winnebago and Freeway), remembers John as an astute business person, and actually worked for Millard briefly before starting Freeway in the early 1960s.

β€œI worked at Millard for a short period of time. A couple of months to see what was happening in Australia compared to what I could see in the factories in America,” says Bruce. β€œWhen I came back I wasn’t sure exactly how they were doing it here, so I worked at Millard for a month-and-a-half or something. It wasn’t a long period of time, but I learnt what they were doing and I could adapt what I saw and progress it from there.”millard caravans history

β€œJohn Darlington was still aggressive, as far as the industry was concerned, in his way of going about it,” he tells me. β€œThey were all path-makers – they had their ideas and everything and they started pretty small and grew.”

β€œIt’s a shame that no one went and got the history from all those fellas – John Darlington and John Carr (of Viscount) and Robbo (Geoffrey Robertson, founder of Franklin) in Melbourne and so forth. Most of them have passed away now and it’s difficult to get that history,” laments Bruce.

Millard is one of those β€˜right place, right time’ success stories, and the manufacturer was embraced by the Australian public when caravanning and road travel was the ticket to freedom people were looking for as Australia’s fortunes grew. As industry stalwart, Ron Chapman recalls, β€œBack in those days Millard was part of the β€˜big five’. That was Viscount, Millard, Franklin, Chesney and Coronet. They were the big five manufacturers in Australia, and when I say big, all of them were making over 100 caravans a week – some a lot more than 100.millard caravans history

In a video-recorded interview with Gary Burnham, who was the General Manager of Millard during the 70s, he recalls the company building 74 caravans in single day. β€œIf you can imagine standing at 6:30 in the morning and looking at a raw chassis and at 4:30 in the afternoon, that chassis was a complete caravan,” he tells the interviewer.

One of the company’s biggest feats was transporting 63 Millard caravans across Australia by train with 500 yards of carriages. According to reports, John Darlington would have liked to send an extra 35, but the NSW rail authority didn’t have enough carriages spare.

Ron Chapman recalls that it was Millard who pulled the industry out of the basic designs from the 60s and forced it to develop much more modern products into the 70s. β€œThey were switched on from the point of view of bringing caravans out of the 60s and into the 70s, by revolutionising, mainly, the colour schemes and by putting good quality curtains in, rather than the rubbish we used to use, and brightly coloured, coordinated interiors,” he says. β€œThe most notable thing I remember them doing in the 70s is when they brought out a new caravan called the Series 80, and they revolutionised the interior colour schemes and designs of caravans. I think most of that was done by John Darlington’s wife, June.”

As the story goes, June was never all that happy with the way caravan interiors were designed by men, so took it onΒ herself to add a feminine touch. Her touch worked wonders, as we now see.

Millard also set its product apart by manufacturing its own windows, recalls Chapman, who worked for Chesney caravans at the time. β€œThey started manufacturing their own windows. They had these multi blade hopper windows, whereas most of us were using single blade windows or double hoppers. They had these wind-out multi hoppers, so that gave them a bit more style that no one else had.”millard caravan history

Millard also manufactured a range of more basic caravans under the York name, between 1969 and 1979. Set up as a lower-specced van than the more up-market Millard, York carved a niche in the market and proved a business model that many copied over the following decades.

But Millard’s fortunes didn’t last for ever and it was more bad luck, rather than bad management, that forced the Darlingtons to sell their assets to Viscount in 1979. At the time, the two companies were so big that the government reviewed the proposed merger, before approving it.

Again, according to Gary Burnham, the caravan market dropped out from underneath Millard almost overnight. Alongside the petrol shortage of the late seventies, and sky-rocketing petrol prices, Austrailians were in no mood to buy big cars and tow caravans. At this point, Millard Caravans had over 300 vans in storage at their factory. At the same time, a giant hailstorm hit Sydney, damaging hundreds of units which had to be basically rebuilt. The financial burdon was just too much for the company – and it was only because John Carr swooped in and saved it, that Millard still exists today.

Ron Chapman tells me, β€œIt was really at the end of the 70s when that started. We had what was known as the fuel crisis – that’s also what lead to the start of pop-top caravans because there was a theory that pop-top caravans would use less fuel because of less wind resistance. But that was never conclusively proved, and isn’t to this day.”millard caravans history

β€œViscount Caravans just simply bought the asset as I seem to recall. Millard had gone into receivership, or something like that, and Viscount just took them over to run another brand. They were one of the first people to run two brands, apart from Millard.”

After John and Peter left the caravan manufacturing business, John headed north to Coffs Harbour and established the Darlington Beach Holiday Park which, now owned by the NRMA, is still there today. Ron Chapman tells me, β€œAfter they got out of the caravans, John went and built Darlington Park caravan park, north of Coffs Harbour. It’s main feature – you used to drive in and there was a massive bird aviary just as you went in. It was an industry leading park when John built it. He built it and ran it.”

millard caravans history

NRMA’s Darlington Beach Holiday Park was established by John Darlington

Peter started his own business manufacturing manufactured homes on the central coast, but did eventually find his way back into the caravan industry, selling a small amount of vans under the York name in the early 2000s.

Of course, Viscount’s fortunes eventually ran out, and when the business was sold to the Gazal family, Millard went with it. When Viscount finally ran out of steam, the Millard name was saved by Gary Willer and the late Stan Edwards (Stan’s sons, Steve and Michael run the Paravans Caravan World dealerships in Windsor and Newcastle, NSW) who bought the manufacturing assets of the Gazal family, and were given the name by the Darlingtons.millard caravans history

Today, Millard is a boutique custom manufacturer of caravans and tray-back campers from its factory in Ingleburn, NSW. Instead of mass producing caravans for a ravenous buying market, the modern Millard builds a premium product, much of which has an off-road, or semi off-road bias that it can tailor to the needs of those who buy it. The company manufactures its own chassis and even rolls its own cladding.

Significantly, Millard is one of the longest enduring names in the industry. It’s had it’s ups and downs, and changed face a time or two, but still goes about delivering good quality caravans to Australian travellers and likely will for many more years to come.

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Do you own an old or new Millard Caravan? Tell us about it in the comments below.Β 


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


  • comment-avatar

    Laurie Fog

    We have a Millard Pinnacle
    21 foot van
    Purchase in 2013
    We spent 2 years just recently doing the big lap ( 40000 kms )
    Did not have any problems
    Best van ever

  • comment-avatar


    We own a 20′ 2015 Millard Longreach Seabreeze caravan, full off-road with independent suspension. Perfect caravan, tows like a breeze and we love it. Aussie made. Couldn’t ask for anything better. And we haven’t seen anything we like better than ours. Its horses for courses though. One very happy cuustomer. ?

  • comment-avatar


    Hi we just brought a 1960s Millard Florida. Was hoping someone could give us info re the chassis number to confirm the year it was made, so we start the registering process?

    • comment-avatar


      The chassis number of the early models should be welded onto the top side of the draw bar in plain sight. Although the manufacture date should be on the Compliance Plate, not the weight. Info from Quensland Transport Dept indicates the chassis number was not included onto the compliance plate until around 1988. Cheers

      • comment-avatar


        Compliance Plates were fitted to Caravans from 1988 as per Transport Regulations

  • comment-avatar

    David dodd

    I have just purchased a 1970 16ft millard was wondering if it was aluminum frame thanks

    • mm

      Brendan Batty

      Most likely. Easiest way to tell is to unscrew the fridge vent on the outside and have a look at the frame there.

  • comment-avatar

    Les Jessen

    We have a 1978 millard 14ft pop top.
    It doesnt have any weights or plates apart from chassis number.
    Is there anywhere i can get weights?

    • comment-avatar


      Take it to a weight station

  • comment-avatar

    G Godkin

    Purchased new 17ft York 6 berth complete with annex still have it, still registered and still using it. Chassis no. Y6752

  • comment-avatar

    David Young

    Just bought an early sixties Millard Safari can’t seem to find any build number anywhere, looks like the original draw bar. Does anyone know when they started numbering?

  • comment-avatar


    Just finished restoring my ’79 Millard micro, relined & decked her out “boho lux” style in only two weeks, alot of problem solving & a bit of swearing but she came up a treat! First trip was 1000km round tassy fishing for Xmas, even had room for Murphy the cockatiel to have his first road trip! It’s great to tow & easy to back in & it’s amazing how many people want to look inside! I love driving past big new Mc’mansion vans, I just smile, they may have flushing loo, but my little rippers “outta date” & outta debt”!

    • comment-avatar

      Stephen Weir

      I hear ya! We have a ’76 York and we also get a lot of interest but also a lot of high brow Mc Mansion vaners looking down their noses at us. I am with you in the fact that we didn’t have to re-mortgage our house to buy our caravan. Also I am of the opinion that the modern vans have no soul they’re so clinical inside they remind me of an operating theatre

  • comment-avatar

    Hi. We have a 1978 York micro poptop van. I absolutely love it and am looking forward to doing a revamp on it. Past owner took out water tank, for whatever reason, however everything else is in great shape. We hope to reinstate water supply. Going to give it a facelift so my grandchildren can enjoy using it.

  • comment-avatar

    Hi,just bought a Millard pop top camper,trying to find out when built,chassis no T1016,my help would be greatly appreciated,thank you Geoff

  • comment-avatar


    Hey Mazza, don’t worry about trying to replace van water tank, I explored every inch of my Mirco & trust me that’s a job U don’t need. I pulled out my sink & diverted pump tap under chassis to draw bar to wash me hands after I,ve been fishing! I use 20 litre collapsible water container’s from Bunnings $4 each & carry them in my vehicle, even converted one into a portable shower tank! Keep it simple & smile! As long as the four corners of the pop top & floor inside door & under fridge are free from water damage it’s easy sailing, mine was 1 winter away from the scrap heap with water damage & now she’s relined floor, walls & all!

    • comment-avatar


      Hi Juanita
      Ive just bought a 78 Micro & would love to see photos of your work on your van ! Are you a member on the Millard owners FB site at all ?

  • comment-avatar


    Hi can anyone help me please?
    I bought an old Millard but I’m having trouble finding what year it is. It’s exactly, colour and all, as the van picture in the story above.
    And I found the plate, M 48791

  • comment-avatar


    Hi can anyone help me please?
    I bought an old Millard but I’m having trouble finding what year it is. It’s exactly, green colour and all, as the van picture in the story above.
    And I found the plate, M 48791

  • comment-avatar

    Stephen Weir

    We have just finished a restoration of what we are lead to believe is a 1976 York 16 footer. We’ve decorated it in 70s style decor . We had to replace some parts underneath the van which involved a lot of grinding and welding, but this should keep her in good stead for anothe 10-20 years

    • comment-avatar

      Gee Kay

      Hi Stephen.
      We just purchased our 1976 MILLARD M33366.
      Seems original.
      Would be happy to see your renovation pictures if you have any to share and any tips and issues with the renovation project….Gee.

  • comment-avatar

    Michael Kirkpatrick

    Hey it’s Michael I bought a Millard monsoon 17.6 footer pop top great van been all over South Australia and We
    stern Australia in it solid as a rock really well built in 2000. Everything still works as good as new for 20 years old. Only alteration I have done is put a queen bed In and removed the twins. We just sold it and upgraded to a Silver Valley brand called Barossa which is an excellent van with all the comforts but I still miss the Millard.

  • comment-avatar


    The van would be between mid 1975 to early 1976.
    Colour band prob mission brown or bright blue. Few later ones were green or yellow

  • comment-avatar


    I have a millard has no plate.
    I went to millard no help in regards to matching year of manufacture to serial.
    If somebody has close to number that will give a general age. I think mid 1980’s.
    Serial 19983
    Anything would be good.
    This van has never been towed or registered as was permanent set up in a van park. The draw bar had been cut off to allow laundry on front end. Thou it still was with the van tag had disappeared.

  • comment-avatar

    Fran Gratwick

    We have a Series 80 16ft in Denmark WA… on-site while we build ours house.

  • comment-avatar

    Bradley McKenna.

    Hi all you caravaners,my mum grew up behind the shops in Pittwater Rd Gladesville,next door to the Darlingtons She said she remembers them making the first Millard caravan in their very small backyard.

  • comment-avatar

    Rhiannon Howbrigg

    We think we have a millard but it needs a new vent & we cannot source one. Did Millards have a rounded edge logo on them at one stage?

  • comment-avatar

    Macca Louise

    Hi, We have a 1981 Millard Safari 13′ Pop Top. We are in the process of renovating. We are curious, did the original build have a 12 volt power supply or similar?
    2nd question, is there a picture someone could share of the original “Safari” Signage (Label/Sticker) that was on the outside of the van, to the left of the entry door? We would like to reinstate the label or something similar. Thanks in advance, Anna

  • comment-avatar

    Michel Tudhope

    Hi, I am a glutton for punishment…. I have a 1979 Millard 80s series 14ft full caravan in original condition (perfect) and also a 2002 Millard 17ft with twin beds and combo shower and toilet. Bought the 2002 recently and was going to sell other one, BUT cant part with it is is so good and light weight fully loaded 900kg, went over weigh bridge. the 2002 is 1600kg fully loaded. Love both of them

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