I braked to a sudden halt on Saturday when I was driving past this field just out of Kaiapoi, near Christchurch. A caravan for sale! Not that I want to buy one I hasten to add. There was just something about the sight of this caravan sitting in the wide expanse of a green field that jolted every one of my nostalgia buttons.
Okains Bay, Banks Peninsular I grew up with a mother who was obsessed by caravans. She loved them and dreamed of owning one. She/we never did own a caravan – we never even holidayed in one; and it was not until I was much older, an adult myself, that I realised how lucky I was to have even known something of my mother’s dreams. Without wanting to digress too much, I think we too often fail to see our mothers (and fathers) as ‘real’ people with ordinary ambitions, ordinary desires and ordinary dreams – as fallible human beings with their own sets of yearnings that go way beyond our childhood perceptions of them as providers of food, warmth, love, security comfort and protection.
Kaikoura Wanaka So for me, caravans are thoroughly entwined with memories of my now late-mother. I cannot see one without thinking of her, without considering how she may have felt about never realising that particular dream. But I take heart in the fact that for many, the caravan is as deeply entrenched in the New Zealand holiday psyche as the seaside bach is. It is an iconic marker of summer, beaches, holidays, long hot evenings and the annual laying down of memories with friends and family.
We have a soft spot for caravans that goes way beyond the technical specifications, or even the history of their development. In Europe they have been tracked back to the Romani gypsies and the first caravan clubs were established in the United Kingdom in the early 1900s. In the United States they’re more commonly known as travel trailers, or, in their modern guise, as recreational vehicles – hence RV’s; and interestingly, they never really took off anywhere other than in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
Okains Bay, Banks Peninsular Here in New Zealand, they appear to have been superceded – more’s the pity – by the slicker, more convenient camper van. You don’t see nearly as many caravans on the roads these days; although they do still have their place as permanent fixtures in coastal settlements and around the shores of our lakes. I even found one in a garden last week – now used as a sleep-out for visitors; and I’ve photographed dozens of them pulled up and marooned behind farm sheds and in back yards. But there are the diehard fans, who will never give up on their caravans – they haul them for hundreds of miles to their favourite holiday spot and happily spend weeks squeezed within the tight confines with simple comforts. And I recently read of a group of 30-somethings who had bought old caravans and restored them for their own use. Maybe they grew up with a caravan-owning mother and know that there is much to be said for the simple, ‘nomadic’ holiday that ends up on a near-perfect strip of New Zealand’s coastline.
I spent a chunk of my teenage years living in a caravan. My father had retired from the military and he and mum opted to buy a big car and tow a big caravan around Australia, my sister and I in the backseat with our distance education school lessons.
Looking back, my sister and I consider ourselves to be incredibly privileged to have enjoyed such an experience. Meandering the country roads, moving from town to town at leisure, seeing some magnificently beautiful landscapes.
My sister, now 40, is searching for a small caravan to go back to that dreamy existence. For us the caravan symbolised freedom and independence, free of the societal ties that bind us to just one place.
I consider that a privileged childhood indeed! You must have some amazing memories. Riddled with envy :-)
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