History of the A’van Club of Australia Inc.
Joan and Brendon Smith, co-founders of the A’van Club of Australia Inc., outline the history and the activities of the Club.
Joan was the first President of the Club, stepping down after 11 years in 2009; she then held the position of Immediate Past President for three years until standing down completely from the committee. She was re-elected to the committee for one year in 2015. Brendon has been the Secretary of the Club since its inception – until 2016.
At the AGM of the Club in May 2016, both Brendon and Joan retired from the committee; and their dedication and hard work for the Club over many years was acknowledged with sincere appreciation. They are Life Members of the Club and will continue to take part in the various activities and gatherings of the local groups and national gatherings.
Beginnings – The Club began after we bought our first Aliner and because of the unique shape we happened to ask Jeff van Baardwyk, owner of the A’van Campers, if there were a Club for Aliner owners. He said “No!” but he would certainly support such an idea.
A couple of months later – perhaps in a moment of madness! – on Jeff’s request we drafted a letter to owners of Aliners to ascertain their interest in forming a club; the mail-out being provided by the company. We anticipated we may have a club of 30-40 people interested but were overwhelmed to receive over 300 replies expressing interest from all around Australia.
We realised that a large club would need to be formalised so sent an invitation to people who had responded to attend a discussion meeting at our home in Yarrambat, to the north of Melbourne in May 1999.
Twenty people phoned their acceptance but we were quite amazed on that Sunday afternoon when over 60 people arrived – one couple from Adelaide and several others with their A’vans! So enthusiasm was certainly present right from the beginning; and as we couldn’t fit 60 people in the house the meeting had to be held in the garage! At that meeting the owner of A’van Campers Australia Ltd (Mr Jeff Van Baardwyk) gave permission for the name “The A’van Club of Australia Inc.” to be used.
A Committee was formed, a constitution drafted and the first gathering held at Anglesea in October 1999 where the constitution was accepted. Since 1999 the Club has continued to grow with members from each state offering to be state and/or group coordinators and playing a leading role with organising weekends and activities for their members.
Aims of the Club – Included in the Constitution are the Club’s three main aims:
- To encourage friendship and co-operation amongst people interested in A-shaped A’van folding campers;
- To share ideas of common and mutual benefit; and
- To publish a Club newsletter (The A’vanner)
The Club’s development and success – Much of the Club’s development and success comes from the fact that all members have the common bond of owning a unique shaped van. The Club also has a committed committee who make a great contribution using their differing talents to support the Club in a wide variety of ways.
We have wonderful people who have volunteered to be state and group coordinators and these people are the impetus to any success that the Club enjoys – and are indeed the “backbone” of our club. All groups are very welcoming and many members include in their itinerary a visit to other groups’ gatherings as they travel around Australia.
There seems to be a positive interest in the Club where everyone feels welcome and there are many optional activities from which people may choose. Some members prefer to participate in the smaller group activities while others like to come to the bigger gatherings.
Friendships that have been formed through the Club are extremely important and we are continually encouraged by the support shown by Club members to others in need, especially when facing ill health issues or bereavements.
The Club calendar also motivates people to use their van more than they would do if they didn’t belong! It certainly encourages them to get out and see more of our great country. Again, people are very supportive of each other and members who may need a little extra help are often invited to tag along with others as they travel – even helping others put up their van, awnings, annexe, etc.
Another important reason for our success is that the Club is not a forum for members’ complaints! If there is a problem we seek to offer positive advice but members are always told that any concerns must be taken up directly with the agents.
How do A’van owners find out about the Club?
Criteria for joining the Club – This is quite simple! For new members to join the Club they must own an A-shaped folding camper manufactured by A’van Campers Australia Ltd.
Branches of the Club in various States – There is at least one group in each state as well as the ACT Region. Currently there are twelve A’van Club groups in operation around Australia but members are free, and indeed, are encouraged to form a new group in any area if they think there is sufficient interest.
Current membership of the Club – Almost 1000 vans involving almost 1,700 people in all states of Australia.
Activities of the Club – Club activities are advertised in our newsletter – in recent years there have been over 50 activities throughout Australia each year. These are mainly weekend gatherings but some groups will have picnics or an occasional speaker. Sometimes there are week long events, town visits or tag-alongs organised for special purposes – again all activities are listed on the Club’s calendar.
Once a year we hold a National Gathering which includes the AGM. This usually attracts over 200 A’vans from all states and people attending have a wonderful weekend of social activities including speakers, a dinner, market and entertainment.
Future growth of the Club – While we don’t have a ceiling on membership there is a natural attrition each year so with a membership of approx 1,000 A’vans we may have already reached our peak. Unfortunately many of us get older each year (!!) and over time many members have had to resign, or sell their van, usually because of health concerns. However, with over 120 new van memberships annually this more than balances the members who have had to resign for a variety of reasons.
Is there support for the Club from the A’van Camper’s company? Yes, A’van Campers Australia Ltd certainly supports the Club by being a major sponsor at all our Annual Gatherings. However the Club has no direct connection with the manufacturer and operates as a completely separate entity – this approach is of benefit to all parties.
The future of the Club – The Committee gets very positive feedback from our members and we hope it will continue to provide a great source of fun and relaxation as well as create new friendships and interests for our members.
Is there a connection with the A’van Club in the USA? Yes, we were delighted to assist the initiators of the Aliner Owner’s Club of USA when they made contact on reading about our Australian Club on the internet. We assisted by sending information on how our club began, membership forms, state organisational ideas, newsletters, Members’ Directories, etc., with the result that the USA club has been established along very similar lines. We share all newsletters. And, a few members from Australia have visited Aliners Owners’ Club gatherings in the US and one of our US “cousins” has attended a gathering in Australia. The Aliner Club also has members in Canada which further extends the interests and activities of Club members with mutual benefits to all involved.