The First Australian Caravan

Who built the first Australian caravan? Not who some Australians might think.


An early Australian caravan built in c1932 by W.H. Willshire of Adelaide (Source: Our Touring Past)

Records of pre-WW2 RV manufacturing in Australia and New Zealand are limited. Sometimes a single source is all historians have to go on, with much reliance placed on the integrity of that source.


The scarcity of information provides ample opportunity for modern RV manufacturers with a long history to make claims about their past that can neither be proved nor disproved. So if a company claims they have been making caravans for 100 years, who's to know that for the first 30 of those years they were making, say, wheelbarrows?


Was Caravan Park the First?


Such is the dilemma with an Australian caravan manufacturer called Caravan Park. Most written histories of the Australian RV attribute the earliest manufactured caravans to an Australian company called Caravan Park, with a starting date of 1928. As this blog demonstrates, that claim is unlikely to be accurate. So if Caravan Park was not the first Australian caravan manufacturer, who was?


We must be careful with terms here. Self-building and small-scale manufacturing of tent trailers with folding canvas sides and/or roofs took place in Australia in the late 1920s. The Folding Fly-Proof Trailer was one example. It was made from about 1930 by Eicke and Provis of Adelaide and used by artist Hans Heysen in 1932. But even though many early Australian caravans had canvas roofs, it was not what we would call today a caravan. So let's define a caravan for now as a leisure trailer with solid walls.


One candidate for Australia's first caravan is the solid-walled, lantern-roofed caravan made by the Tivoli Garage in Perth in 1932. Modelled on a UK Eccles design, it was advertised for hire in local newspapers. It appears only one was ever made and there are no images to date of it in use.


Paramount Caravans, Adelaide, SA


In the same year of 1932 an Adelaide man by the name of W.H. Willshire built caravans in his spare time. Willshire was the night watchman at the local abattoir. One of Willshire's caravans was exhibited at the Royal Adelaide Show of 1932. There was sufficient interest in Willshire's caravans to go into small scale manufacturing. Towards the end of 1933 he launched what one newspaper called 'the Famous Paramount Streamlined Trailer Caravan'.


Later to become known just as Paramount Caravans, these were oval-shaped, similar in appearance to UK Winchester caravans and were produced in three different sizes.


W.H. Willshire's 1932 caravan (Source: Daily News Perth, 8 Jun 1932, courtesy Trove)

Willshire was a keen follower of UK caravan trends. Reports of his caravans appeared in the UK's Caravan magazine in 1934 and 1935 prompted by letters from Willshire. He also received a patent for a floor-lowering mechanism. Sales continued at a modest level until 1938 when Paramount Caravans went bankrupt. It is likely that the company fell victim to intense competition from larger Australian caravan manufacturers in the late 1930s.


Windmill Car Trailer Company, Melbourne, Vic


Another early Australian caravan builder was George Moreland’s Windmill Car Trailer Company. The company was based in Melbourne and claimed to have been in the caravan business since 1923. However, Australian RV historian Richard Dickins believes this date probably referred to the manufacturing of other Windmill products such as luggage or tent trailers, and that caravan production only commenced in the early 1930s. Windmill advertised that they would build caravans to order from late 1932, just a few months after Willshire of Paramount, but no Windmill caravans of that period have yet come to light.

Windmill Trailers advertising 'caravans to order' (Source: Melbourne Age, 15 Oct 1932, courtesy Trove)

By 1937 Windmill was producing a staggering thirty-four different caravan models including the Swallow and the Moreland Cruiser. Windmill caravans had a contemporary design and included multiple roof hatches, wide front windows and even baths in some models. One of their slogans was ‘half the weight of others and 75 per cent less in selling price’. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, Windmill went into liquidation in 1940. Moreland started making caravans again under his own name in the 1950s.


Conclusion


Apart from Paramount and Windmill, there are other Australian caravan manufacturers such as Roma Caravans claiming caravan manufacturing histories of almost 100 years, but it is hard to substantiate these claims without written or photographic evidence.


So, for the time being at least, rvhistory.com believes that Paramount Caravans of Adelaide should be credited with the title of Australia's first caravan manufacturer. This is based on written and photographic evidence of W.H. Willshire's caravans being built in 1932, several months before Windmill Trailers were advertising (as yet undocumented) caravans 'to order'.


rvhistory.com would be pleased to receive any additional information which either strengthens or weakens this view.


The history of many pre-WW2 Australian caravan manufacturers can be found in the excellent 'Down History Lane' section of the Vintage Caravans forum.


Andrew Woodmansey

September 2021