Joining a 4WD club was once a rite of passage. Today, the popularity of 4WD clubs has weakened, but by not signing up to a club, is the new generation of 4x4ers missing out?
According to Brian Tanner from the Toyota Land Cruiser Club Victoria (TLCCV), becoming involved in a 4WD club is the best way to tour this beautiful country.
“It is no secret that many newcomers to the 4WD scene do not fully understand the concept of 4WDing, nor the why and wherefore of when to engage low or high range gears, how to prepare for a big trip, or even small mysteries such as what is a centre diff lock,” he said.
It’s important for drivers to learn the capabilities of their vehicles and the best techniques for various offroad scenarios. That’s where Brian said clubs can play a big part.
“By joining a 4WD club, you have the opportunity to gain all the skills required for safe 4WD touring, as well as mixing with a like-minded group of people seeking the maximum enjoyment from their vehicle and recreation.”
Matt Foley, programme co-ordinator of Cross Country Jeep Club, agreed: “I had just bought a Land Rover and I had no idea how to use it, so I joined the Land Rover Club of Victoria because I didn’t know about any of the other independent clubs. “I’m not with them anymore but I’ve stayed in clubs because I’ve enjoyed the family-based environment that it brings.”
IN THE BEGINNING
4WD clubs took off in the late 1960s; about the same time 4WDing became a popular recreational activity, using what were basic 4WDs to access the bush and visit remote areas.
The Land Rover Club of Victoria claims to be the longest established 4WD club in Australia, forming in 1963, with the Cross Country Jeep Club of Victoria establishing shortly after in 1967 and then the Toyota Land Cruiser Club in 1969.
Back then, there were limitations in 4WD choices, with the Land Rover, Toyota BJ/FJ and the Nissan G60 Patrol among the more popular vehicles, none of which focused on driver comfort. When clubs started to form, they were based on two sets of criteria – brand and locality. Today, there are more than 90 clubs affiliated with 4WD New South Wales and ACT, about 80 with Four Wheel Drive Victoria, 50 under the Queensland Association’s banner, 40 clubs under Four Wheel Drive South Australia, 30 with WA 4WD Association and three with Northern Territory’s association. The choice is extensive and clubs continue to pop-up all over the country.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE CHALLENGE
When the Green Movement came into the play, clubs started to work together to ensure the protection of their right to access parks and lands. The Australian National Four Wheel Drive Council (ANFWDC) was formed in 1984 to enable state 4WD bodies to work together in the fight against possible restrictions to parts of the country. Brian, who is also the founding chairman of ANFWDC, said, “The formation of the ANFWDC was a major step forward in promoting and legitimising the recreation of 4WD touring. For the first time, we were able to put our message for fair access to a national audience resulting in successes that all 4WDers can enjoy today.
“As a member of a 4WD club, you are part of the 4WD movement and are kept aware of issues and legislations affecting the recreation. Members are able to contribute to the future development of the 4WD movement through promoting and practicing responsible 4WD touring.”
While it seems there is a vast number of clubs out there for folk to join, the future of these clubs is questionable – thanks to the new gen of 4WDers. As the retiree generation begin to call curtains on their travels, clubs need this new generation to step up to the plate.
Matt said this is a massive challenge. “You are getting a lot more people who want to do their own thing and they want to avoid the politics. There’s more politics involved now than there used to be, but it’s not at an unreasonable level. At the end of the day, we’re all like-minded people who want to do the right thing by the bush.
“About 50 per cent of the memberships at the Cross Country Jeep Club is made up of retirees, or close to it. We’re now trying to heavily rebuild and get a new generation of 4WDers to be part of the club, which is a challenge in itself. They don’t see why they should spend $150 a year to be part of the club when they can access the bush [by] themselves.”
4WD clubs offer much more than regular meetings and group tours. They cover insurance, permits, and the opportunity to travel with experienced drivers. Clubs are even considering embracing soft-roaders, AWDs and the like. With all this in mind, it’s curious the newer generation hasn’t caught on to the benefits on offer.
Nevertheless, Brian believes that the future of 4WD clubs is strong and vibrant, as long as clubs adapt to the changing ways of vehicles and trends. “As electronics and traction control devices continue to evolve, there may come a time when mainstream vehicles may not feature a low range transmission, yet still retain offroad capability. Clubs will need to adapt to changing trends of vehicle design and continue to evolve.
“Through partnerships with government land managers and strong peak state 4WD organisations, clubs can, and will, continue to deliver effective driver training, group touring opportunities, equipment advice, social activities and the opportunity to make new friends through shared experiences,” he said.
Matt added, “For clubs to survive, they’ve got to be happy to adapt to new technology and the younger generations. We’re struggling to get involvement from younger members because it doesn’t interest them, but without them it will fold. The older members don’t want to change, and generally resist it. Clubs need to embrace change and welcome it; otherwise, ultimately, they will fail.”
WHY JOIN A CLUB
It’s not just about 4WDing, it’s about the community. “The principle activity of clubs is the organisation of 4WD trips of varying duration to interesting and challenging locations, driver education and social activities,” Brian said.
The advantages of joining a 4WD club are endless. With most clubs offering a family focus, it’s a good way to take the kids out to see our beautiful country with other families to keep them entertained and form life-long friendships.
“I joined because I was looking for a family-based club that was focused on getting out there and having fun. Our club is also fortunate enough to have its own property, which is a big bonus,” Matt said. “The membership cost also covers insurance so if someone gets injured, which has happened, it costs them next to nothing – if anything at all. It also covers permit costs and park fees.”
With social events and functions, competitions, club equipment and libraries, knowledge from experienced drivers, discounts and more, the membership costs are minimal in comparison and well worth looking into if you’re serious about travelling off the beaten track.
SIGNS YOU SHOULD JOIN A CLUB
If you have just purchased a 4WD vehicle, consider these questions...
- Do you know how to drive it?
- Do you know how to make the best use of your gears?
- Do you know the different techniques needed to be able to drive competently in sand, mud, and other terrains while maintaining traction at all times?
- Do you know how to drive in the best interests of the environment and other bush users?
- Do you know basic recovery techniques?
- Are you thinking of putting some accessories on your vehicle? Items such as driving lights, tyres, bullbar, winch, UHF radio, HF radio or suspension?
- Will your choices be the best for your vehicle?
- Do you know how to read a map, or use a GPS device?
- Do you know what to do in an emergency when your mobile phone does not have a signal?
- Do you know how to prepare and plan for an extended 4WD trip?
If your answer is no to any of these points, then a 4WD club is your best answer to getting into the 4WD scene safely and responsibly.
HOW TO GET STARTED
Key websites around Australia to help get you started:
- 4WD - NSW & ACT
- 4WD - Northern Territory
- 4WD - Queensland
- 4WD - South Australia
- 4WD - Tasmania
- 4WD - Victoria
- 4WD - WA
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