Project: Cut-Loose



After 30 years living and working in the Top End of Australia we both felt the need to explore what the the rest of the country had to offer -  if for no other reason than to perhaps confirm the wisdom of the choice made back in the 1970s to just simply 'go and live in Darwin.'

The decision to 'cut loose' for a while, has not been an easy one, and required a deal of soul searching in addition to wrestling with sizable logistics involved - considerations about the children and how to keep adequately in touch with them - the survival of friendships built up over the years - the possibility of becoming footloose (grey) nomads -unable to settle down again?

Cutting loose was eventually rationalised as simply a strategy to explore the rest of the country and maximise the fun doing it.  To rekindle the spirit of adventure which had previously seduced us away initially from the grey numbness and adolescent baggage of Melbourne to the bureaucratically predictable Canberra and then on to the tropical anarchy of Darwin. 

Finally, we felt that there were probably more amenable places than Darwin to live in retirement and we wanted ample time in which to evaluate them.  We eventually agreed on criteria for identifying a suitable retirement 'bolt-hole' and these will be rigorously applied to all likely candidates as we come across them.  Of course, there remains the very real possibility, that we'll not find anything better than Darwin and simply retire there.


The upheaval to our lives was expected to be dramatic and not necessarily all that pleasant.  However, when we it finally hit home that we were about to abandon our home for at least a year, a host of issues arose that required extensive research to determine the best option(s) for ourselves.  Of course, there were friends, with advice a plenty - based on their own or acquaintances' experiences - but in the end we had to decide for ourselves.  We were after all about to embark on no normal holiday of  fixed duration but instead an indefinite tour of possible lifestyle/sea change destinations which required a unique set of strategies to be put in place.

The House - to sell or to lease? 


In order to maximise our options we decided to lease it as we had heard many first hand accounts of real heartache caused through premature 'bridge burning' and felt that given our home's central location in Darwin - it would always remain a relatively easy property to sell; if we found something better elsewhere.

Household Contents (36 Years Worth)  -  the cheapest option after researching the costs of  commercial furniture removalists, U-Store sheds, purchasing our own 20 ft sea container, packing it ourselves and having it stored out in Darwin's industrial area was to simply use the downstairs (4th Bedroom/Bat Cave) room in our own house.  We have not stored anything precious out of fear of damage - these 'jewels' have all gone to friends while key personal documents have been lodged with the bank.  There were some ticklish insurance problems to overcome for this 'storage' room.

Mode of Travel - now this posed some really interesting choices and one which we spent alot of time thinking about:

  1. Hiring a Rig: we could find no economically sound leasing or buy-back scheme that would suit a 12-24 month period

  2. Motorhome (including 5th Wheelers): high capital cost, mid-size one would provide all imaginable creature comforts, would enable us to tow a small boat but we would be restricted in where we (the Motorhome) could go (the bitumen and caravan parks) and very high running costs

  3. 4 x 4 Hightop/Pop Top Camper (eg Troop Carrier): Affordable capital and running costs, only basic creature comforts, would be  cramped and you would be forced to take your portable home with you whenever you went for a drive.  Could go any where and tow reasonable sized boat

  4. 4 x 4 Camper Trailer: could be readily towed behind 4x4 vehicle and could go just about anywhere, lacked most creature comforts (not much better than a good tent) and any boating would be restricted to a car topper or hire boat.

  5. Conventional Vehicle and Rented Bungalow/Onsite Van Accommodation: could still tow a reasonable boat but would have to launch it from non 4x4 sites. Short-term accommodation rentals would no doubt prove too expensive over a 1-2 year period.  Too geographically restrictive.

  6. Motorbikes & Camping : fun and cheap for a short trip but the privations would probably prove far too tiring over an extended period.  Boating would once again have been limited to hiring boats. 

  7. Slide-On Pop Top Camper: could be accommodated on a Toyota Landcruiser, Nissan Patrol, Holden Jackeroo or Ford F250 4x4 Flat Tray Ute, affordable capital and running costs, superior creature comforts to those offered in 3, 4 & 6 but not as good as those in 2 & 5.  Could go anywhere and could tow reasonable sized boat.  One unique advantage it has is that one can separate your home from your vehicle for day and overnight trips  eg leave the Camper in a caravan park and take the vehicle, boat and tent and go fishing in some remote location for a couple of days.


As keen Top End campers and boat owners, the decision was pretty predictable and it will now be known that we cautiously settled on Option 7.  Now this option would not suit  everyone, especially those who are not prepared to rough it a bit and who do not care as much about boating and fishing, as we do.

The Boat

As we intended to do a little bit of fishing during our wanderings, it was reasonable to assume that we would want access to a boat at pretty regular intervals.  If we were to rely on being able to hire a boat we would be severely restricted in where we went.  As we were already committed to doing quite abit of off road exploring it was doubtful that the requisite boat hire facility would be on hand.  Accordingly, we decided that our rig should include a reasonable boat capable of being safely and comfortably  used on rivers, estuaries, bays and billabongs.

Given the inherent hassles associated with towing anything, I was mindful of the need to ensure that these were minimised by ensuring that the selected craft was not too large and could be readily handled by Maria and I without busting a gut.  We settled on a 4.2m aluminium boat with a 35hp motor.  We then had it modified by the addition of a side console.

To ensure that the boat could follow us over all terrain, we decided to rebuild the trailer to incorporate a new heavy duty axle, springs and the same sized wheels as our vehicle.  We also included a 4x4 Treg towing hitch and an extra stud axle mounted on the draw bar to enable the boat to be rolled down a sandy beach for launching. Finally we had a tight fitting cover fitted over the boat and motor to ensure that the gear that was to travel in the boat remained dust free - well that's the idea.

We began assembling our rig in September 2003.  First the vehicle, then the Slide-On (involved some quick footwork from friend Bill in Geelong and a quick trip to Bendigo) and then the boat.  Thereon followed a period of studious modifications ('bullet proofing') to vehicle, camper and boat.

The Wait - OH WHAT A WAIT!

Project 'Cut Loose' had to wait for the sale of Maria's Laundrette which was not finalised until March 2005.  However, this period was not altogether a waste of time as it gave us lots of time to think through with friends the various scenarios we were likely to encounter and how the equipment would work in each.  During this time, we supplemented the core of our rig by the addition of a stiffened suspension system for the vehicle, dual 12 volt battery system and wiring loom for vehicle, assembling a comprehensive tool kit with all necessary spares, new set of 10 ply  'All Terrain' tyres, installation of a Treg 4x4 Towing Hitch, a 12' x 9' tent plus annexe (extra living space), an additional 2 burner gas stove for use in the annexe, a 12 volt air compressor, 1/2hp Airconditioner, a heater (just happened to be on special in Darwin - I wonder why?), a 2kva (very quiet) Honda generator to supply 240volts in bush camps and a 185 litre (240/12volt) 2 door WAECO Fridge/Freezer to keep all things cold.

We ended up with a rig comprising a kitchen/storeroom/bedroom and a boat to transport our  separate living/dining area. 

As can be seen - there was plenty to do and think about.  Many, I am sure, felt that our delayed start was symptomatic of us developing cold feet about the venture.  Be assured those intervening months were spent productively albeit with a feeling of frustration over the delayed departure.


I decided to learn how to develop and publish our own Web Site to make it easier to share our travel experiences, photos etc with family and friends.  Once mastered, it should be far simpler and effective than trying to communicate through Email and or a mass dispatch of diary pages. Well that's the theory and I will not know for sure until I master the difficulties involved in gaining regular access to a telephone line on which to update my web pages.  May well have to endure the decadent comforts of a motel room every now and then!

Other technological aspects included switching to a CDMA mobile phone not only for its extended coverage but also to use it for limited mobile internet access, email etc and we swapped the PC for a Laptop computer.  We have the maritime C Map navigational software saved as well as the NATMAP  Australian roadmap software both of which are capable of  interacting with our portable GPS.  Having experimented with a digital camera during my adventure holiday bringing a boat back to Darwin from Fremantle in April 2004, we were hooked and decided that we should purchase another which had a lot more  optical zoom and pixels.


Whether to have one or not?  We have done alot of reading and listening to others' tales and we know of a couple of places we definitely want to visit but initially we will just head west, get familiar with our equipment and plan as we go.  As time and money do not appear to pose any major constraints - our only real concerns will be to avoid popular places in school holiday periods and negative weather patterns.

Initially, before heading off, our natural bias lies in favour of the less populated places in WA, SA and Qld.  Nevertheless, we are determined to explore inland Victoria, NSW as well as revisiting Tasmania.

Lets see how we go.


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