How to live the off-road life - and get paid for it
Every man woman and child who loves the bush has always dreamt of packing the bags, pulling up stumps and heading off into the great unknown until fate or finances see them within coo-ee of civilisation again.
The problem is that for the majority of people it seems like something unachievable, a one-day plan, maybe if I won the lotto.
The truth is there's a lot more options available to lock in the hubs and get paid to do it than you'd think, or at least do it on a Tuesday while everyone else is on the tools still.
To kick things off we've decided to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. We don't want you to tag along on a quick weekend trip with us, or comment on a photo or two, we want you to make the outdoors part of your everyday life, not just something you do on the weekends after you've done your chores.
Whether you want to spend Friday arvos crawling the rocks, or head bush for a year at a time, there's something here that could change your life forever.
Try these jobs for size:
The Media Mogul
4WD crusader, bush mechanic and video star Roothy tells us the ins and outs of how he got to be where he is today, and how you can do the same.
THE GIG - If you've got the gift of the gab, know which end of a camera to look into and don't immediately think of a 1980s Casio when someone mentions a keyboard, a career in 4WD Media might just be for you.
There's a few roles you can take on that'll see you running a winch line before breakfast. Anthony Warry is Roothy's LowRange's gun photographer, so he's on just about every trip we do; the other bloke you're probably more familiar with is Roothy. He's a word-slinging, track-finding, beard-wearing bush genius. Although he'd rather go with the term 'Milo Pilot', we've been told presenter is also appropriate.
HOW YOU'D SPEND YOUR DAY - If you're in front of the camera for a gig like LowRange you could be winching through thick mud on a Tuesday, camping on the beach on a Wednesday and cruising through salt flats by Thursday. "There really is no such thing as an average day for us," Roothy says. "They're all fantastic."
That said, you don't need to be the main man to earn a keep off-road. There's plenty of jobs out there writing copy for magazines, putting together website and Facebook content for 4WD Companies and even making press releases for the big manufacturers.
THE GOOD - Putting brand new V8 Cruisers through their paces on photo shoots go hand in hand with heading to some of the most remote corners of the country. "Crossing the Simpson in a heat wave with the family in a 35-year-old truck is one of my best memories," says Roothy. "The real adventure was learning the Handbrake and my boys can take almost anything and still think I'm OK.
"I've had one weekend out of the last eight at home with the family and we spent that camped up the beach on Bribie Island. My retirement plan consists of exploring the bush in an old Toyota and camping out somewhere different every night. Hmm, that's what I do for a living..."
THE BAD - There's no magical transporter to get you out to these far-off places. So that means a lot of time on the black top and fire trails to get where you're going. "Three weeks is about the average we're away from home, often longer," he says.
You'll get dusty, dirty, very familiar with the inside of your swag and so used to sleeping under the stars your mates might think you've actually gone bonkers. Although if you ask Roothy he'd say the hardest parts are admitting to Gleno they're out of chilli.
HOW DO YOU DO IT? - A journalism, photography or media degree would definitely be a head start, but it's not essential. The most vital ingredients are being passionate, committed, and not taking no for an answer.
"I forgot most of what I was educated in except for two things, reading and writing," Roothy says. "Everything else was learnt along the way - a day without learning is a day wasted. I go to bed with a book most nights, even in the swag, although sometimes it's one of Kenno's picture books."
If you're dead set on heading down this path Roothy's got one last piece of advice. "Don't be scared of anything in life, treat everything in life as a lesson to be learnt and used in future and don't burn your bridges. Oh, and practise writing by doing a lot of reading, practise mechanics by fixing things and practise driving by doing heaps of miles."
The Wheel Man
Corporal Tim Kusters spends his days in the scrub training Army drivers how to steer Unimogs and Mack Trucks.
THE GIG - You can do just about any job you can imagine in the Defence Force. But if getting dressed up in camouflage and doing accounting doesn't tickle your fancy you might be better off heading towards the School of Transport.
Corporal Tim Kusters not only spends every day at the school, he's one of the instructors. His official title is Operator Specialist Vehicle - Driving Testing Officer, which in the real world means it's his job to teach all the new recruits not only how to drive a Military Spec Land Rover, but everything else from Unimogs right through to Road Trains, and how to steer them through the bush.
HOW YOU'D SPEND YOUR DAY - Tim doesn't just teach though, he's a wheel man himself. So on any given day he could be piloting a formation of Unimogs through the bush, showing the new recruits how it's done, or behind the tiller of a Road Train running supplies from Broome to Sydney.
It's not all fun and games though, and don't expect to spend hours by the campfire telling yarns. There's a lot of tactical training, digging pits, learning the ins and outs of how the vehicles work, and how to operate them in an active war zone. Not to mention the nitty gritty of military logistics like loading trucks, and learning to double clutch a gearbox that has no interest in doing what you tell it to.
THE GOOD - Whether you're the trainer or the trainee you'll see a whole side of Australia that most people never get the chance to see. From hauling tanks through the middle of the outback to jumping on ferries and heading off to remote islands off the Great Barrier Reef. Stick around long enough and you could even find yourself deployed overseas behind the tiller of an armoured 76 Series LandCruiser - probably need to bring your own rollout awning though.
THE BAD - Nothing makes you want to head bush with your friends and family more than doing it for work and not being able to soak it all in. Corporal Kusters reckons in some years you could be clocking up a huge 11 months out of the year away. If you're a family man this probably isn't the gig for you. But if you're single and keen to see Australia through the windscreen of an off-road semi trailer with an M1 Abrams tank strapped to the back, this just might be the gig for you.
HOW DO YOU DO IT? - Sold on the idea? Well there's a few options to head this direction. If you just want to put your tippytoe in to test the waters, one path in is as a Reservist Driver Specialist. If you're looking at full time almost any member of the regular Defence Force can go into the Transport Corp and get behind the wheel of one of these trucks. Although to get into a position like Tim's you'll need a lot of experience and a lot of patience. "It does take a while," he says.
The Gear Head
THE GIG - Your average mechanic spends their days spinning spanners on Camrys and changing wheel bearings on taxis. But Glen Hadden isn't your average mechanic, he's the brains behind Roo Systems, one of Australia's most successful 4WD workshops. While there's probably not going to be an opening in Glen's job anytime soon he's gone down a path perfect for anyone mechanically minded with ambition and a solid work ethic.
HOW YOU'D SPEND YOUR DAY - If you're scared of a little grease on your hands you might want to scroll down to the next bit. While you're doing your mechanical apprenticeship you'll be changing a lot of LandCruiser diffs, HiLux head gaskets and Patrol… what does break on Patrols?
Get in at a specialist like Roo Systems though and you'll be doing all the fun stuff, fitting turbo kits, tuning 4WDs, and most importantly, testing them. "All my cars are 4WDs," Glen says. "I test them on the road and on the tracks, constantly fine tuning when it's needed and develop new gear through the use of them. I spend a lot of time managing the business, marketing, and living the dream… my dream."
THE GOOD - You'll live and breathe 4WDs. Tuning, building, repairing and modifying them. You'll work on 4WDs, talk 4WDs on your lunch breaks, go wheeling just about every weekend with the guys from work and eat a lot of sandwiches with grease on them - ask us how we know. For Glen the best parts all came from working to make his own dream happy. Starting his own business, building Roo Systems into the diesel tuning giant it is and starting his latest project, LowRange. "It's living the dream on steroids," he says. "I love it!"
THE BAD - Step 1 is an apprenticeship. So expect at least a few years of doing all the grunt work, getting lunches, coffees, doing the jobs the other blokes don't want to do. Once you're up in the higher positions it can eat into a lot of your free time as well.
"Being away from the family is definitely the worst," says Glen. "But that's why I get away with the family as much as possible when I'm not at work, it's a lot more special. My office is on the tracks, out testing products, so actually going into the office sometimes is a pain. Eating Roothy's cooking can be a hazard as well. It's bloody brilliant, however does absolutely no favours for my svelte body."
HOW DO YOU DO IT? - For Glen, his path started way back when he was 14, working in a 4WD workshop on his school holidays. After finishing his trade he started his first business doing engine upgrades and power ups which eventually morphed into Roo Systems after a lot of hard work.
"Apart from my technical training, running the business was and still is all learn as you go," he says. "It's been a hell of a ride and would I do anything differently if I had the chance? No way! In the hard times, you just keep going. When someone says it can't be done, you just keep going. When someone says it's impossible, you just keep going. Never lose site of the end-game, your goals."
The Bush Ranger
THE GIG - Stacey Ciriello has been a Ranger & Customer Service Officer at the Royal Botanic Gardens down in Vic for over 6 years now. It's a varied role that sees Stacey spend her time patrolling the 363ha site behind the tiller of
a 70 Series, keeping an eye on things.
HOW YOU'D SPEND YOUR DAY - Much like most National Parks, the Royal Botanic Gardens stick to a strict regimen. The day kicks off by collecting the 'Cruisers and giving the grounds a once over before the visitors turn up. After a quick recording of weather stats to update the Bureau Of Metrology (BOM) the Rangers have a morning brief for the day's work before jumping on the quads, back in the 'Cruisers or lugging it on foot to patrol the grounds and keep things in order.
Various programs run throughout the days as well. On any given day you can expect some teams to be in the middle of the bushland, clearing fallen limbs and doing controlled back burns while other areas will be hiking on foot for hours to manage feral animals and invasive plants.
The Track Maker
THE GIG - Ever driven along a bridge through the middle of thick scrub that crosses a massive drop down to a rocky river? Surveyors are the lucky blokes who get to find that path, before the concrete highway goes through. Jereme Lindsell has been heading bush with a theodolite and a brush hook (laser) for the best part of 18 years and has seen it all. From surburban lots and high rise construction right through to guiding power lines through 4WD paradise.
HOW YOU'D SPEND YOUR DAY - This is the kind of gig where you could be on the one site for a long time. Once the big wigs have their preferred highway route through the bush you'll jump in the 4WD and set to work, plotting every rise and falls and recording the exact lay of the land to later be 3D modelled and handed over to the engineers. On any given day you could be using your 4WD as a bulldozer, jumping on foot and hiking to the top of a cliff or lugging a rooftop dinghy into the scrub to cross a river hundreds of Ks from anything resembling a boat ramp.
THE BEST PART - For the real adventure nuts, rural boundary marking and power line surveys will get your blood pumping. Think kicking your day off by airing down, throwing some lunch in the fridge on the back seat and setting off into the bush for hours at a time, sometimes days. "I often find myself plotting boundaries that are up to 5km long over undulating ridges and gullies," Jereme tells us. "You just can't get in there with a 2WD."
10 other off-road careers
Not the bloke building fences, the one working in an off-road shop putting solid axles under Pajeros and building sliders for Unimogs. There's jobs out there like this, you've just got to make yourself the best candidate.
2 RFS VOLUNTEER
Sure you're not getting paid to be out there, but how many of your mates get to jump behind the wheel of a 10 tonne 6WD truck?
3 SALES REP
Working a dead end job slinging used cars? Put your skills to use at a 4WD shop or supplier. Someone needs to be selling 33" mud tyres, it might as well be you.
4 SOCIAL MEDIA SPECIALIST
See the FaceBook feeds of big Off-Road companies constantly full of insane content that has you champing at the bit? There's a bloke responsible for that, and it could be you out there creating content.
5 DRIVER TRAINING
This one's a no-brainer really. There's a heap of companies offering 4WD driver training all across the country, give 'em a buzz and find out what it takes to get on staff.
There's only a few lucky buggers who get paid to shoot photos of 4WDing Monday to Friday, but there are opportunities every direction you look for 4WD or nature photographers on a freelance basis.
7 POLICE RESCUE
These blokes work damn hard and earn every bit of respect they get. But when their training involves loading up the 4WD and spending the day abseiling it's easy to see why this would attract a few applications every year.
We like the old term of lumberjack, but either way modern loggers spend all week hours out of civilisation with nothing but a bunch of mates, a couple of chainsaws and a few 4WDs.
9 TOUR GUIDE
You're never going to be the next Kerry Packer, but when a busy work day includes loading up a tour bus and jumping on the barge to Fraser, things like that don't seem to matter so much do they?
10 MECHANICAL ENGINEER
Want a university degree, a heap of cash and to still head off road? Get an engineering degree. After all, who do you think designs new tyres, suspension and winches?