Originally published on couriermail.com.au and reproduced here with permission.
They are ‘The Leyland Sisters’, travelling all over the countryside and touring the veterans’ golf circuit.
Queensland siblings Nola Cowie, 81, and Ruth Kingston, 76, spend up to six months on the road in a 21-foot caravan emblazoned with their moniker.
They have toured around so much over so many years that they were long ago labelled the Leyland Sisters in a nod to Australia’s legendary outback television presenter brothers.
“[Friends] kept saying, ‘You’re either coming or you’re going’,” Mrs Cowie said. “It’s really lovely, a lot of people come up to us in the parks.”
The retired sisters are among the growing population of grey nomads criss-crossing the regions.
Caravan and campervan registrations have climbed steadily from 556,684 in 2014 to 772,598 in 2021, a rise of almost 40 per cent, according to the ABS Motor Vehicle Census and the Caravan Industry of Australia.
The latest figures from the industry group put the sector’s value at $23 billion - but it is not just the economic benefits. Academic research has found the health of these older adventurers improved with the nomadic lifestyle.
Back in Hervey Bay, the sisters often leave their Fraser Shores Retirement Villages home for weeks or even months at a time – but with the peace of mind of knowing it’s not left unattended.
This was one of the key factors that drove their decision to choose retirement living in 2004.
“We came to a retirement village so we didn’t have to move [again] and we could travel and do the caravanning,” Mrs Cowie said.
“We don’t have to worry about the house because it is looked after. The gardeners mow and if you want anything done, they are really good. It’s suitable because we don’t have to worry. Our neighbours are good too, they keep an eye on us.”
Lucky, too, because theirs is a busy and active life.
A lot of time is spent on golf courses across regional Australia, on the Australian Golf Veterans’ tour. Mrs Cowie takes to the course with Mrs Kingston as caddie.
“You go right up to Cairns and you start and you play,” Mrs Cowie said. “It’s full on. You play Monday and Tuesdays, you have Wednesday off, then you play Thursday and Friday. Then you pull up and you move to the next place. It comes all the way back down to Hervey Bay. Then we take off and we go back south.”
Being on the tour means experiencing the beauty of small towns such as Millaa Millaa near Atherton, and Cardwell in far north Queensland, and regional NSW towns Tenterfield, Narrabri and Uralla.
They usually leave at the start of May, and don’t return until September or October.
Mrs Cowie said they are able to travel so much as they have the security of the village. Village staff collect their mail and offer to send it on, and their home is safe and secure.
“We just love it, we wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
When they’re back at home at Fraser Shores, they park their caravan in a specific section for caravans.
“They’re lovely homes here,” she said. “We love our home. There are all the amenities, there is a pool, a spa, a gym, a library. You’ve got everything here.”
Fraser Shores comprises two villages - Fraser Shores 1 and Fraser Shores 2 - which are both owned and operated by Blue Care. Mrs Cowie and Mrs Kingston are at home in Fraser Shores 2.
“It’s really good. We really, really enjoy it. We’ve got some great friends. Everybody knows everybody, they all talk to you. It’s very friendly.”
Caravan Industry Association of Australia General Manager of Marketing and Communications, Keelan Howard, said the sector had yet to return to its pre-COVID popularity in terms of overnight stays but the trend was positive.
“Regardless of COVID, caravanning and camping was trending up,” he said. “Then with COVID, lots of people who had never considered it – for many reasons – gave it a go. We had a whole group of new people coming in.”
He said many retired caravanners and campers tended to make fewer trips a year, but their journeys were longer. After Easter many retirees in the southern states started their travels north, something that has been deferred in recent years.
Mr Howard also pointed to research that highlighted the social benefits of getting out and about camping and caravanning.
The Real Richness Australia report found an overwhelming 96 per cent of campers believed camping could make you happier, while 94 per cent agreed camping gave a greater appreciation of nature, it generated lasting happy memories, and “recharged your batteries".
Mrs Cowie wholeheartedly agrees. “If you keep moving and doing things, you are fitter. We try to do as much as possible."
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