“I didn’t really see my eldest son for the first two years of his life. It was awful,” says Jarrod Hancock, publican of a busy watering hole in Brunswick, in Melbourne’s inner-north. “I was working 60 hours a week, four nights a week, and getting home at 3 o’clock in the morning.”
After starting two pubs from scratch, and with two young children aged two and four, Hancock and his partner Julia Egerton, both 43, knew something had to give.
“It was time for a change,” Mr Hancock said. “I was ground down. We’d worked really hard and were burnt out from running a small business. You’re on call 24/7. If something goes wrong, it’s on me. I’m responsible for it all, there’s no escape.”
Loosely inspired by Mr Hancock’s own travels as a child (in the 1980s, his mum and dad packed up their four kids and travelled around Australia for a year), Mr Hancock and Ms Egerton decided to hand over management of the pub, rent out their house and pack up the kids.
They set off on a grand, open-ended adventure around Australia, hugging the rugged, limestone cliffs of South Australia then following the stunning turquoise-beach coastline of the Indian Ocean to Broome and beyond.
It took them four months and about $22,000 from making their decision to being kitted out and ready to roll. Their rig was a $17,000 second-hand Jayco Swan camper trailer with two pop-out bed ends, an awning, and a three-way fridge, towed by the family’s Hyundai Santa Fe.
The staff chipped in and bought them a Weber Baby Q for all their cooking, and they bought a solar panel/battery combo (about $2000) so they could dodge the van parks and access remote, unpowered campgrounds in national parks.
Day one of the trip and they discovered Ms Egerton was pregnant with their third child, son Ollie. “Quiet”, is how Mr Hancock described the drive out of Melbourne as they digested the news. “She couldn’t even give me one night,” he said, with a laugh.
So began six months of glorious, unfettered time. Time spent by freshwater lakes, fern-shrouded waterholes, in red-rock gorges and on white-sand beaches. Time spent swimming with dolphins, diving with gropers, snorkelling, reading, walking, fishing, and hanging out with the kids.
“You were a different person on the road,” Ms Egerton said of Mr Hancock.
“There was no stress,” he said. “The only stress is where are we going to go next, and what are we going to have for dinner tonight? Do you want a beer, or would you prefer a wine? It was great.”
Mr Hancock fished all the time but said he caught nothing. “I got lots of bites. One rod snapped in half in South Australia. I looked like a bloody hero walking through the campground with a rod snapped in half.”
“I just loved the outdoors thing,” Ms Egerton said. “To open the doors and say, ‘run, play with sticks, play with rocks’. The kids loved it. There was just so much natural beauty.”
Next time round, Mr Hancock said they would take a 4WD to get more off the beaten track. But the couple has also recently completed a live-aboard sailing course – so they might join the cruiser contingent soon.
“Since the round-Australia trip, I’ve re-evaluated my life,” Mr Hancock said. “I’m too old to keep working nonstop. I’ve got to have a life or what’s the point of living?”
Would they do it again? “We’d go tomorrow,” Ms Egerton said.