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Ground zero for grey nomads

Saturday, 23rd May, 2020

(From Left) Tanja and Jurg Jucker (Switzerland) and Joan and Simon Mansell (UK), stand proud alongside their European camper trucks at the Broken Hill Racecourse. PICTURE: Annette Northey (From Left) Tanja and Jurg Jucker (Switzerland) and Joan and Simon Mansell (UK), stand proud alongside their European camper trucks at the Broken Hill Racecourse. PICTURE: Annette Northey

By Annette Northey

Two very gracious international couples have spent the nine weeks on the camping grounds at the Broken Hill Racecourse wagering their long-awaited departure dates on the whim of two state premiers.  

Couples Simon and Joan Mansell, from the United Kingdom, and Jurg and Tanja Jucker, from Switzerland, found themselves stranded at the Racecourse camping grounds after all council camping grounds in NSW were ordered closed to travellers. 

Having no fixed address in Australia, they were deemed eligible to stay where they were. Now, nine weeks on, they are holding out for the Premier of Western Australia to open his state’s borders and for the Premier of New South Wales to allow travellers to roam freely within her state again.

The couples, unknown to each other, left their respective countries to travel extensively around Australia and met while camping in Broome, WA. They each have their own purpose-built camping truck which is conveniently parked near the Gary Radford Pavilion. 

Jurg and Tanja shipped their truck from Germany to Fremantle, arriving in January, 2019, and have since travelled anticlockwise around Australia. They only have the Nullarbor Plain (Adelaide to Perth) to do before they return to Switzerland.

Simon and Joan’s truck left the UK on October 18, 2018 and arrived in Port Kembla (Wollongong) by ship in the second week of December, 2018.

“So, basically from there we’ve been on the road; we’ve done 37,000-38,000 kms. 

“The plan was to go home probably August time (2020) because the truck is on an International Carnet de Passage, which is an international customs document which means we can have the vehicle here for an agreed period of time with the Australian Customs so that we don’t pay import duty,” Simon said.

“And as long as we then export the vehicle out within the time frame, then we’re fine.

“The problem we’ve got now is there are very few ships going from Australia back to Europe. So, we think we’ve found a ship going at the end of July, subject to us being able to get on a flight; we were probably going to go (back to the UK) around the second week of August.

Simon and Joan are fortunate that they’ve already achieved most of what they set out to do in Australia. 

“We’ve already done our big lap; the only thing we haven’t done is Tasmania, we didn’t get there,” Joan said.

“Jurg and Tanja did Tasmania in January/February this year.”

“We met them in Broome, got on well with them and met them again in Katherine, then in Darwin - then in Brisbane, and that’s the last time we saw them before we met up with them in Wentworth, which was the first week of March (2020).”

The plan for them all was to go back to Western Australia because they’d had a reasonably good wet season there. But when they were in Adelaide the announcement was made that the WA border would be closed in two days’ time and there was no way they could make it in that time. So, they decided they’d cross into NSW because Joan has relatives here. 

Jurg and Tanja decided that they would go along with them into NSW and both couples arrived in Broken Hill on March 23. On March 25, the Police arrived with news that all camp sites would close, but were luckily given permission to stay because of their situation.

“So, we thought we’d only be here a couple of weeks, and here we are,” Simon said.

“We’ve had two celebrations; we’ve had Simon’s birthday, my birthday, we don’t want to do Christmas,” said Joan.

“And I’ve been to the hairdresser’s twice!”

“But we have to say that Wayne and Cheryl (caretakers) have been unbelievable,” Simon said.

“To give us the keys for the pavilion. We have the use of the refrigerator, a table set up in the kitchen and have use of the bar fridge (byo),” Joan said.

“It’s much warmer in the kitchen when the oven’s on. But we were outside when we first arrived.”

The travellers have made the most of their extended stay in Broken Hill, making friends with the local wildlife. A stray cat visits every day for a meal, and the Apostle Birds come every afternoon for Joan’s offerings. Joan and Simon have set up quite an elaborate barrier to keep the kangaroos from taking over the area, to no avail though. Simon said he can hear them bumping their heads underneath the truck at night. They have also put up some netting around the roses to protect them from being decimated by the kangaroos.

Both couples are quite fit and active and have ridden their bicycles around town a lot and done lots of walking, even trekking out to the Sculptures and back, cross country.

Simon and Joan are feeling the time has come to move on now, but don’t regret any of their time in Broken Hill.

“Everyone in town has been wonderful. We’ve had a lot to do with Ricky at the bike shop. He’s helped us do some repairs on the bikes and he’s been very friendly.

“And I had some metalwork done, some steps done (for the trucks), at Nejaims Steel. They were fantastic, did a superb job for us.

“We’ve tried to support all the coffee shops, done the rounds,” Simon said.

“Unfortunately, Tanja got knocked off her bike (on the Bromide Street roundabout) and has experienced the hospital.

Tanja sustained two fractures of her spine, L1 and L2, but is stable enough now for her to move around freely. 

“In the beginning they were talking about flying her Adelaide for back surgery,” Jurg said.

“But I’m very lucky,” said Tanja.

“(There is) No problem with the feeling in my legs and my nerves. It’s all OK, I just have to wait for it to heal.

“It’s painful, but I take painkillers and then it’s OK,” she said.

“Luckily it’s not more.”

“We had to stay here anyway because of the borders being closed,” they both said.

“Everybody treats us so nicely here. The management here of the racecourse, wherever we go, the police after the accident - the people here are so nice we can’t believe it. Nothing compares Australia to Europe, don’t expect the people to be as friendly in Europe as in Australia,” they said.

“Everybody wants to help us. It’s fantastic.”

“And it’s a fantastic equipped hospital. We have very good service there, they were able to attend to all our needs,” Jurg said.

Subject to Tanja being OK, we are going to head off on June 1st,” he said.

Simon said, Jurg and Tanja are praying and fingers are crossed that the WA border will open so they can get back into WA via South Australia and the Nullarbor.

Although we are truly living in uncertain times, one thing is for certain - the image of our international friends’ colossal camper trucks, not to be mistaken for camper vans, will stay with all who have viewed them at the racecourse, standing perched high upon what could be mistaken for mining truck wheels.

Simon and Joan’s truck is a 4WD which used to be a fire truck in a previous life. It’s a Mercedes 1120AF 1990 model and spent 25 years as a fire engine in Switzerland, which is why it’s a left-hand drive.

“We bought it through a guy we know in Holland who converted it,” Simon said.

“But we designed how we wanted the back (cabin),” Joan said.

The truck requires a heavy rigid licence to drive it.

Joan said that when it was converted, she did some research on its history and found out which fire station it had worked at. She contacted the station and told them what had become of.

“I got an old email back which said they were so pleased that he’s not going to the scrap metal yard: that he’s going to have a new life. Please come back to Benken (Switzerland). Come and see us,” Joan said.

It turned out the station was having a big end-of-year party in June and Simon and Joan were invited as special guests with the truck, with media to boot.

“Funny enough, that was in 2017 and we drove through the village where Jurg and Tanja lived, but we didn’t know them then,” Joan said.

“The odd thing is our vehicle came from Switzerland, and Jurg and Tanja’s truck is actually a Swiss-made truck (a Bucher Duro) but spent life with the British Army,” Simon said.

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