The park was originally named Walls Caravan Park, and its reputation in town was less than ideal. In addition to this, we needed a name that would put us at the top of the Yellow Pages listings.
After much discussion the name Austin was chosen, because the owners have a 1927 Austin 7 duck back sports car.
Austin is also a family Christian name, with two of the owners being Martin Austin and Frank Austin. Frank and Chris have a son named Phillip Austin, and he in turn has a son named Henry Austin.
The Austin Tourist Park has been family owned and operated since they attended an auction in Sydney in May 1982 and purchased the Walls Caravan Park on the New England Highway in Tamworth.
Essentially, they brought a bare nine acre block of land, stepped in shape, running from the New England Highway down to the Peel River. The usual services like power and town water were in desperate need of repair or replacement.
One of the first major projects for the new owners was to build an amenities block. Due to a subdivision of land the original block was now located within the grounds of the hotel next door. With one of the owners being a builder, the first block was so well built, it is still standing and being used today.
The first park office and residence was an old van and canvas annexe, where the family lived whilst the amenities, residence, and park office were built. At the same time, a new pool with pump house and a toilet were put in at the front of the park. The next stage of redevelopment was to start tarring the roads around the park. Happily, the local airport was being resurfaced at the same time, and we used any leftover tar for our roads. (The same system was used when we started concreting the roads in 1998.)
Our first accommodation units were two brand new Millard 2000 series road vans. By 1985 box-shaped cabins, with limited mod-cons, were being built by Jayco. Two of these cabins with toilets - no showers - were purchased for the park in March. Within two years, the cabins had progressed to include both toilet and shower, and we purchased two of these to add to our two toilet-only models.
When we first started redevelopment, we brought a small demountable amenities block to service our riverside sites. By 1993, there was a need for a new toilet block with more showers to supplement the old block. Whilst we were doing the work to update the toilet block, more power was added to the riverside sites, as well as a BBQ area and camp kitchen at the side of the new amenities block.
The park is conveniently located close to two of the local concrete plants, and in 1998 we started to concrete our roads using any leftover concrete. Sometimes the concrete arrived just as fast as we could dig out the roads! It has meant we have a lovely patchwork for our roads, and many have small imprints from leaves, animals, or the small hands who “helped” with the laying of the road.
The park has been through two major flood events. The first was in 1984, and there was minimal damage done to the park. The second flood in November 2000 was more damaging and removed much of our riverbank, meaning a major rebuild of the riverbank. After the usual engineering drawings and government paperwork were completed, work started in mid-2001. Using more of the leftover concrete, an erosion control wall was built with three-quarter tonne blocks. It took until December 2013 to put in about 6000 of these blocks and to stabilise the riverbank. We have discovered since putting in the wall, just how much the local reptile population love the block wall and often a lizard or two is found happily sunning themselves.
By 2012, another upgrade of power supply (to 400A per phase) was desperately needed, and we started the groundworks to install the heavy cables from the front of the park through to our top amenities block. From there we have gradually started running more cable across the park to upgrade other parts of the park.
In 2015, work started on a five-year project to upgrade our riverside sites. A dump-point was added, as well as more sewer points along the river edge. The drought then made digging and replacing our grass almost impossible – we have a small bore allocation, but we treat this with respect – so work has stopped until conditions improve.
With the drought making outdoor renovations limited in scope, the decision was taken in mid-2018 to start renovating our cabin fleet (presently we have 23 cabins available), with the bathroom of our wheelchair friendly cabin high on the list. We had been consulting with regular users of the cabin on their requirements, and managed to include all their requests plus a couple of innovations we had seen elsewhere. Next on the agenda was to start painting out many of our cabins, and making tweaks to improve the cabins in small ways. This is still an ongoing project, but it has been great fun adding splashes of colour, not to mention June 2019’s Great Lounge Swap!
Painting around the park also needed to be caught up, so in mid-June 2019, this became another task that our outdoor crew tackled. Starting with the powerboxes on the drive-through sites in the middle of the park, then progressing to the front of the park where they will work their way down until they reach end! Jokes have been made about the park being like the Sydney Harbour Bridge – where once you reach the end, you start again – but we are confident we will see a few years before we need to start painting again!
The drought – like many businesses across the country – has affected the projects we can do, but we listen to our customer’s ideas on improvements to the park. Some take a while before we can find a solution, but we never stop thinking about how to make them work. Another task that will be completed in the next 12 months is some more seating around the park for those who like to wander with their dogs. We have the places, we just need to build the seats using - as is our preferred method – leftover steel from other projects.