Millard Caravans History
If ever there were a ‘right time, right place’ success story, Millard would be it.
From humble beginnings in the 1940’s, Millard grew to be one of the ‘big five’ caravan manufacturers in Australia (which also included Viscount, Franklin, Chesney and Coronet for those interested!).
Founded by Jim Darlington and his son John, Millard is one of Australia’s oldest caravan brands, and it still plays a role in how Australians enjoy the caravan lifestyle today.
The story began when John and Jim were painting the outside of a factory that built caravans (their job at the time), when John said, “I reckon I can build a better van”. So that’s just what he did. He and Jim built their first plywood caravan in their shed in North Ryde, Sydney, and continued building them for both hire and sale, eventually including John’s younger brother Peter, who was a skilled carpenter.
The name Millard was derived from John’s middle name, Millerd (which was also Jim’s actual Christian name), but was changed to Millard when John formally registered the business.
The business grew exponentially in the late 1950’s, and in the early 1960’s was moved to a very large factory in Smithfield, before another expansion circa 1970, when the business moved to a site in Campbelltown, producing over 500 vans a day!
It was Millard that revolutionised the basic designs of the 60’s, building more modern products into the next decade and beyond. Apparently, John’s wife, June, was responsible for adding a more ‘feminine touch’ to the interiors. Details such as sophisticated colour schemes and high quality curtains gave their caravans a stylish edge over competitors.
Yet another success for Millard was attributed to the fact that they manufactured their own windows. Most brands were using single blade windows or double hoppers, but Millard made wind-out multi hoppers, providing multiple options for ventilation.
Millard decided to manufacture a range of ‘no frills’ vans under the York name between 1969 and 1979. This brand also proved to be very popular, and this business model was copied many times over the following years.
Business was booming however Millard’s luck finally ran out. The petrol shortage brought about a sudden increase in petrol prices which made large cars expensive to run, so people sold their large cars for smaller ones which could not tow caravans. The demand for caravans dropped almost overnight. On top of that a giant hailstorm hit Sydney, damaging hundreds of vans that essentially had to be rebuilt, leaving Millard under financial strain. It was all too much for the business. In 1979 they were forced to sell their assets to rival brand, Viscount. It’s thanks to John Carr from Viscount that Millard still exists today. (An interesting fact is that both companies were so big that the government reviewed the merger before giving the green light!)
After a couple of ownership changes, Viscount’s fortunes also dried up. Gary Willer and Stan Edwards, after being given permission by the Darlington family, resurrected the Millard brand in 2001.
To this day, Millard is still producing premium quality caravans that are much loved by Australian caravanners. We can honestly say it’s been a wild ride for Millard!
Be sure to watch this short interview with members of the Darlington family and Millard’s General Manager for more on Millard’s iconic history -
Our thanks to Michelle Darlington, daughter of John Darlington for the Millard history video and the opportunity to share Millard’s true history.