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The height of Webster’s garage

For the first time, Masterton has played host to the southern rally of the Lilliput Caravan Club of New Zealand.

The club, with a membership stretching from Kerikeri in the North to Otago in the South [and two members in Australia], is dedicated to preservation and enjoyment of the unmistakable Lilliput caravans – which were manufactured in Auckland from the early 1960s through to the late 70s.

The club holds six regional rallies each year, with the southern rally held this year in May at Mawley Park, attracting members from Taupo to the bottom of the South Island.

Rally organiser Jude Willis, who lives on the Kapiti Coast, grew up in Masterton and wanted to show her fellow Lilliput devotees “some of the lovely spots I grew up around”.

Lilliput caravans, originally constructed from plywood, are instantly recognisable by their rounded contours, coloured racing stripes, and very low profile [height]. The model was designed by former coach driver Bruce Webster to be lightweight and easily towed by “an average family’s car” – its profile determined by the height of Webster’s Onehunga garage doorway.

To compensate for the low height, the caravan’s floor was secured to the bottom of the chassis rails, allowing owners to step down into the living area and gain an additional 7.5cm of headroom.

Webster named his creation after the country of Lilliput from Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels – an island inhabited by a tiny race of people.

Lilliput owners Bev Evans and Wendy Chung, who also joined the Masterton event, have been club members for 14 years. When they purchased their caravan off the side of the road, they didn’t realise what they had bought.

“My kids laughed when I brought it home. They said, ‘Mum, what are you going to do with that?’” Evans said.

She and Chung didn’t know about the Lilliput Caravan Club until taking a holiday to Awakeri Springs, south of Rotorua. As they were driving, they noticed people flashing their lights at them.

“We thought that was weird. Then we turn into the holiday park, and this woman was running across the field toward us followed by all these people,” Chung said.

“Then we turn the corner, and there are lots of caravans like ours all parked up at the end of their rally.”

The woman running across the field was Therese Cummings, one of the club’s founding members.

“If you see another Lilliput, you gravitate towards it,” Cummings said. “And you recognise people by the colour of the flash [stripe] on their caravan.”

Lilliput founder Bruce Webster ran a successful enterprise until 1976, and was succeeded by John Rolfe. In 1979, the Muldoon government introduced a 20 per cent sales tax on new caravans. Customers cancelled their orders, and the business folded – along with the entire caravan industry in New Zealand.

It was 1988 when Cummings, her late husband Jim, and a couple of other Lilliput owners decided to form a club. “So we put some feelers out to see if anyone wanted to get together in Taupo in February – and over 40 caravans turned up!” Cummings said.

“Bruce Webster turned up to the second rally and was delighted a club had been started.”

Caravan club members own a variety of Lilliput models – some have been refurbished to suit modern requirements, others still look “as good as new” after 60 years with only a new external paint job.

Southern rally event organiser Jude Willis said ownership of a Lilliput caravan is a pre-requisite to joining the club.

“If you didn’t own a Lilliput you wouldn’t want to join,” she laughed. “We’re a very caring group, but sometimes all we talk about is our caravans!”

More information can be found online at www.lilliput.org.nz

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