Updated: Mar 17, 2021
She came to me at Midnight, quite literally just before the clock struck twelve. And whilst not the glass clad carriage that awaited Cinderella, my own pumpkin shaped carriage and perhaps my own folk-tale awaited me.
I'm ashamed to admit I had concealed this purchase from my husband, perhaps due to a mixture of embarrassment and guilt, but I knew due to the 'size' of the delivery, that this was a purchase I could not receipt on my own. Besides, I would need to take over our single garage for an indefinite period of time.
So at some point during that day, I confessed to him that I was expecting the delivery of a 'sizeable item' that I required some assistance with. That sizeable item was an original 1940’s Teardrop Camper, being delivered from Bendigo.
We waited all day and well into the night. The driver had been stopped and was fined at the weigh bridge at Marulan, and would have to find another means of transporting his load. It was a relief to hear the truck finally roll into our street, and as we walked down the street to greet the driver, my husband and I thought how lucky we were that it was a moonlit night, and we were able to see into the darkness.
I have always been like the character out of The Wind in the Willows, 'Mr. Toad'. Always impulsive and completely infatuated by a piece I have become taken with. The rational brain becomes completely overtaken by the emotional, and in that moment, anything is justifiable. It is something I am working on. Because if I am completely honest, this was in fact, the 'second' caravan I had purchased in as many months. The other caravan had been 'stripped' to its skeleton and was resting in a shed in Goulburn. And instead of being grateful for the first, I decided I much preferred the second, and decided to purchase it regardless. Was it stressful? Absolutely!
There have been moments of clarity in my life when I've become acutely aware of how bizarre the situation is I have gotten myself into. This was one of those moments. As I looked up at the teardrop on the trailer, I saw that she had become impailed on a 1970’s vintage gemini during the journey! I saw the damage to the plywood (although I could not appreciate the enormity of the restoration ahead of me). What I also saw though, was how the 'skin' just gleamed under the moonlight! The magic was palpable! And so, I took the old skeleton key and rolled her with my husband down the street and into what has now become 'my' garage.
The next day I inspected my new acquisition. I purchased her from an Olive Grower in Victoria, and I believe the family holidayed with this van in the 80s, but since then it had sat in a shed. It was full of rubbish, and as soft drink bottles and treasures from the seaside had been left inside, it had become a breeding ground for black mould. It was everywhere, and in all likelihood hazardous! However, I could spy some older pieces from the original owner and it was that curiosity that would keep me motivated. This van was originally discovered in Eaglehawk next to an 1880s miners house, with a trove of tools. The man who built it knew what he was doing, and although I had no experience in restoration or ever properly been 'on the tools', his craftsmanship and skill was evident. His work deserved preserving.
And so I began slowly. As most caravans seem to have a 'name', it seemed like a good starting point. I originally chose 'Connie', after an old Super Constellation aeroplane my father loved. And while a small teardrop is perfect for sitting beside a fire and staring up at the constellations, I would eventually change the name. Three years on, my teardrop is known as 'Old Rowley'. I purchased this caravan shortly after my grandmother passed away. She was a tremendously special person. She loved horses and Racing, especially the Melbourne Cup. As a young woman she had a dream that a racehorse 'Old Rowley' would win the Melbourne Cup. In this dream she saw the front page of a newspaper announcing the win at the odds 100-1. It was 1939, and that year, Old Rowley was scratched from the Cup. But in November 1940, Old Rowley would go on to win the cup at the near impossible odds of 100-1, and in alignment with my Grandmother's dream.
And so, the story of Rowley has become a metaphor for my own life, and the challenges in it. In February 2016, I began experiencing frequent episodic bouts of rotational vertigo. Along with a cascade of other symptoms, many months of uncertainty and health anxiety would pass without diagnosis. Suffering would turn into years. As someone who likes to feel in control, these episodes were extremely frightening. I would do small amounts of restoration on the caravan, but finishing it seemed like impossible odds. And as a mother of young children, it felt impossible to get dedicated time to do anything of any real significance towards this project, even when I felt well enough.
During this time however, I joined an online Caravan forum and got as much advice as I could from the expert restorers, and was fortunate enough to meet a few gentlemen in person. It was during these moments, that I had two complete strangers tell me that they 'were proud of me'. Their words never left me, and I knew that they understood the deeper reasons behind this project. And so, what ensued were months and months of relentless, tedious work with little visible results. I would don a beanie and lie on the garage floor under the van in the middle of winter, freezing, or be continually burned by paint stripper after going through 40 litres of the poison. It often felt like madness. It became a mental challenge, a cycle of frustration, fear, uncertainty and impatience. I had invested a lot, and I had to somehow get the van 'back together' and more specifically 'on my own'. There was no one to rescue me. This was my project.
And so unlike Mr Toad, I learned my lessons one by one, burn by painful burn. It is highly unlikely that I will go on and develop his infatuation with motorcars, boats or aeroplanes! (Never say never though!). Although I am still a little embarrassed by the foolishness with which I procured this van, what the project has offered me is an opportunity for learning and self-reflection. It has allowed me to feel proud of my own efforts and glimpsing the finish line has offered me immense satisfaction. Whilst there are a few things I hope to do with this caravan, I hope initially to share the story of this remarkable racehorse. This horse has been described as 'an honest plodder', and truth be told, maybe that is all that is required of any of us? As one reporter wrote:
"he deserved such an important win, if only as a reward for the courage that distinguished him...Of all the qualities...courage is one of the most admirable".
When faced with difficult challenges now, I try to remember that spirited horse. Perhaps the odds at any given time will never improve, but I believe that dedication, hard work, dogged perseverance can absolutely produce results despite the odds. I believe it is especially relevant in an era that seems to value instant gratification and success. For me while the initial risk was folly, there was courage in the attempt, value in self-belief, and 'finishing' will be reward in and of itself.
Now if you'll excuse me, my carriage awaits...