Builder Profile: Winjana Fifth Wheelers

By: Peter Quilty, Photography by: Caravan World, Supplied

Based in Toowoomba, Queensland, Winjana RV is a ‘spruce’ fifth wheeler operation.

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Manufactuer Profile: Winjana 5th Wheelers

Based in Toowoomba, Queensland, Winjana RV specialises in manufacturing quality, small and affordable fifth wheelers.

Winjana’s fifth wheeler models include the Strzelecki 550, Ormiston 630,
Kalbarri 690 and Cattai 760. All its models are ‘rough-road ready’, designed  and manufactured specifically to suit Australian  road conditions.

Fifth wheeler RVs are growing in popularity in Australia, as their safety benefits and other advantages are recognised by a growing ‘safety conscious’ market. Winjana has traditional and hybrid fifth wheelers: Traditional has the bed up high into the ‘gooseneck’; Hybrid has a ‘caravan layout’ (bed on floor)... Subsequently the ‘gooseneck’ creates more storage – putting the weight where it’s needed. Here, TradeRVs delves into the history of the company, the key people and milestones - and,  more importantly, the product itself – with
Adventure RV – Winjana RV managing director, Andrew Brennen.

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TradeRVs: Could you provide a brief bio (incl. genesis) on the company?
AB: The company was formed in about 2002. We were importing completed fifth wheelers, only 19-foot long, out of Canada and we soon progressed to bringing in flatpack kits and assembling them in Toowoomba, Queensland. The company was split into two: a sales and marketing division and a manufacturing division. Not long after this we built a manufacturing facility where we started building all of the vans from scratch, again in Toowoomba, importing all of the components out of Canada and America using Canadian and American technology and building methods. These vans were built under the name of Venture Vans and in 2009 the company changed its name to Winjana RV.

TradeRVs: Who are the key Winjana personnel?
AB: Key personnel are Andrew Brennen (managing director); Royce Palmer (factory and workshop foreman); and Louise Brennen (director, office manager and admin support). We consider each and every one of our customers to be part of our personnel as well and often they are our greatest salesman at happy hour.

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TradeRVs: What have been the major milestones / watershed moments?
AB: Major milestones were obviously going from imported vans to assembling kits then going one step further and building a production facility to build the vans from scratch to Australian standards. And Winjana RV becoming a stand-alone company back in 2009.

TradeRVs: Could you outline Winjana’s construction methods (incl. insulation properties) and design (internal/external) principles?
AB: Winjana's construction methods are the traditional American and Canadian way of building with a solid plywood roof and a single piece of aluminium over the entire length of the roof - no joins at all. This gives it incredible strength, especially using Canadian spruce as the frame, which is still used today in building stunt planes and gliders. If you know your history, Howard Hughes’ aeroplane, which at the time was the largest aeroplane ever built, was called the Spruce Goose for very good reason. We use a polyester insulation that’s 50mm thick compressed down to 25mm, which gives it a great thermal insulation property. Canadian spruce is very light and flexible as you would need in aeroplanes and has an indefinite rebound life. The design of most Winjana RV’s is done by the customer. We are not limited to any layout, the only limitation we have is you cannot put the toilet, the shower or the entry door over a wheel arch. The biggest thing with the fifth wheeler is how safe they are to tow and there’s no need to have sway bars, load levellers or Electronic Stability Control. In respect of payload, most caravans will give you 300-400kg as a standard; Winjana will give you between 800-1100 kg of payload in each fifth wheeler.

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TradeRVs: How much emphasis does Winjana place on R&D, technological investment etc.? What are some of the more recent developments in this regard?
AB: Winjana places a whole lot of regard on research and development; we’re always looking at the latest and greatest technologies, components and appliances that can be used in our vans. We have a couple of R&D projects on the go at the moment in a composite side van, and the greatest change that was made in the last 10 years is going to the Timbren suspension system which is absolutely sensational. It is virtually the same as a Hendrix walking beam that you would see on a semi-trailer, except scaled down to the smaller fifth wheelers. We have also gone over to using the Hayman Reese hitches in the back of our utes.

Trade RVs: Could you briefly describe the main attributes and intended purpose of the Strzelecki 550, Ormiston 630, Kalbarri 690 and Cattai 760?
AB: All of our vans have rough-road suspension. The Timbren silent ride is sensational in this respect. And we have a ‘free camp’ upgrade from the normal on-road unit. The upgrade includes a large grey water tank, solar panels, adequate batteries, LED lighting, and a 210L 12V fridge. The smaller Strzelecki is a single-axle van and will basically go anywhere, and can be pulled by a ute. The mid-size vans, being the Ormiston 630 (20ft) and the Kalbarri 690 (23ft), are available in different layouts. The Kalbarri 690 and the Cattai 760 can both be built in hybrid configurations. We call this a hybrid because it has a caravan layout with the bed on the floor, but storage used over the gooseneck. Our conventional fifth wheelers have the bed up over the gooseneck area. All of the Winjana’s have between 800-1100kg of payload, depending on the model and the configuration that is purchased.

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TradeRVs: From where did the ‘Winjana RV’ company moniker emanate?
AB: When we were branching away from Venture Vans, we were looking for an Australian name to reflect that the units were made in Australia. We decided to name the company and all of our models after Australian national parks. We had a directors’ meeting to decide this and while looking through the postcode book on national parks, one of the directors saw the name ‘Winjana’ and said: "I’ve been to Winjana Gorge". We all looked at each other and said, why not. It was a very quick meeting.

Footnote: Andrew also adds that the Winjana fifth wheelers tow true, like a semi-trailer, and that’s such an important aspect of driver safety.
"And there’s greater stability as you’re loading the axle, not the towbar," Andrew said.
He also says that hitching and unhitching a Winjana fifth wheeler is a breeze. "I’ve witnessed ladies in their late-70s/early-80s travelling solo that hitch and unhitch on their own – it’s that simple. You can easily back your ute or dual cab with a kingpin or towball onto the turntable. It’s quite simply a case of seeing it in the rear vision and it engages itself."

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Andrew says the main reason behind the relatively slow uptake on fifth wheelers is that "in the past we’ve never had the vehicles here; it’s only in the last 10 years that we’ve had the vehicles you need to tow a fifth wheeler. Back in 2002-04, only the Falcon ute (2.3t) could tow a fifth wheeler; all the other utes/dual cabs at the time had a 1600kg capacity. That meant towing up to 2.5t, 3t or 3.5t was vehicle specific."

He adds: "All our twin-axle fifth wheelers have a 3.5t ATM while our single-axle version has a 2.5t ATM. And we build specifically for the Oz dual cab market."

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What is a Fifth Wheeler?

The name ‘fifth wheel’ comes from the fact that the hitch/turntable, where the RV attaches to the towing vehicle, looks like a wheel, and the RVs generally have four wheels, so the turntable is the ‘fifth wheel’.

The RV has an extension on the front of the van which extends over the back of the tow vehicle (commonly a ute, pick-up truck, or light commercial in Australia), and sits on a horizontal wheel-looking plate on the tray back. The fifth wheel usually sits in the centre of the tray back directly over the rear axles – this provides the support for the RV.

To attach the fifth wheel, the RVs are fitted with a hitch (also called a gooseneck hitch).
NB The fifth wheel attachment on the towing vehicle tray back is removable.

The 5th wheel has been around a long time, in fact, the principle of the ‘fifth wheel’ has actually been around for centuries. In modern times, the benefits and stability of the ‘fifth wheel’ led manufacturers of RVs in the USA to start using the fifth wheel hitch principle on caravans in the 1960s, and now they are a very common and popular RV sold in North America.

Semi-trailers which have a similar fifth wheel principle have been using them for about 100 years – the concept is not new – it is just new to the RV market in Australia, where they started appearing in the early-mid 1990s.


Contact Details: Winjana 5th Wheelers 

2 Buchanan Street, Toowoomba QLD 4350
P (07) 4638 3576