This Couple Made A Caravan From Scratch To Drive Across The Outback
What have you done today?
As far as DIY projects go, this one is a few steps above weaving your own macrame plant holder. Sydney couple Carly Farrugia and Liam McManus decided to embark on a month-long journey across the Outback. Naturally they needed somewhere to sleep, and a tent wasn’t going to cut it. Liam, a carpenter, and Carly, an industrial designer, already had a workshop at their finger tips – a creative space they jointly run called The Assembly in the Sydney suburb of Marrickville. They set themselves a deadline for the trip and decided to make a caravan from scratch to call their home on the wide open road. And she’s an absolute thing of beauty.
Building a portable house for two takes time. “We started working on it eight months ago but had a break of four months over the summer. We’ve worked solidly for the last two months – every weeknight and every weekend. I think if we’d worked on it full time it would have taken three or four months.”
Despite the long hours, the construction method sounds surprisingly simple when described by Carly. “We bought a custom made trailer base which is literally just a frame with wheels, then we put the floor down and put the wooden sides on – the same as a house. We added slats that go across the width to bend the copper top over. Once that was applied, we had a shell with a door which we fitted with circular windows.”
And just like that, something that passed for a caravan appeared. But looks can deceive. Carly explains: “The inside fit out was the most work – it looks like it happens fast because you’re like, ‘Whoa, there’s a caravan!’ but really, it’s just an empty shell shaped like a caravan. The fit out took probably the last two or three months.”
The caravan’s interior was equipped with a curated collection of found and donated objects. The kitchen sink is a repurposed old fridge crisper, the walnut kitchen bench top was sanded back from a tree that fell down on Liam’s dad’s property in Brogo, the sliding kitchen doors are American Oak offcuts from one of Liam’s jobs and the ventilators are bits of sink pipe left over from plumbing jobs that have been stuffed with fly screen. Crafty friends chipped in by sewing curtains from old tablecloths.
“We just started collecting all of the bits and pieces from op shops.We got the stove at a garage sale for $10, for example, plus lots of things were just what we had already. We’d say, ‘What should we use here?’ and then just look around the workshop and some people’s spaces to see what we could use,” Carly says.
One of the smartest features is a pop-top roof that serves two functions. As well as being a remarkably refreshing sunroof, the liftable hatch is also fitted with solar panels which were scored from eBay for around $120.
“After we bought the panels, we realised we could make them pop out to become a skylight as well which means we can angle them towards the sun,” Carly says. “They hook up to a big battery pack which is fully charged after only a couple of hours of sunlight. It lasts around five days to charge a few necessities – a light in the kitchen, a light in the bedroom, the fridge (which uses the most amount of power) and a little outlet to charge phones. We can last on a little bit of sun for a good few days.”
Through resourcefulness, repurposing and so much elbow grease that they could have comfortably slid to the Outback, the labour of love came in at a fraction of the cost of a purchased caravan. And it’s about 100 times more awesome. “I think we did it pretty well,” says Liam. “It cost about $1000 for the base, $1000 for the frame (the plywood and copper), $1000 for the cladding and $1000 for the solar system, so roughly $4000 in total.”
Once the caravan was nearing completion, it was time to find a vehicle worthy of towing it. “The cherry on top was the car,” Carly says of the Triumph 2500 they scored for cheap on Gumtree. “The car didn’t have a tow ball, and it was hard to find given the old model of the car. We saw the tow ball we needed online and called the shop and they said, ‘We haven’t seen one of those for 25 years.’ We said, ‘We saw it on your website,’ so they checked out the back and there was one just sitting there on the shelf. We were able to go and get it fitted that weekend.”
The caravan is currently turning heads on its debut in the Outback, en route to Alice Springs. “It feels really great,” Carly says. “It’s such a conversation starter, someone in Mallacoota [Victoria] even took photos for the local paper. They said there were no promises that it would be on the front page, but the week before the front page was drawings from the local kindergarten, so who knows?”
(Photos: Taryn Stenvei)