I really can’t remember when I didn’t enjoy being in the bush and, as a kid with family from Bourke, I was always out bush camping, fishing and exploring. It came as no surprise to anyone that I ended up living in the outback for many years. I did grow up in Sydney, but my heart was always out west.
I remember my first 4x4 was a Land Rover Series IIA. This was 1974, and back then it was a legendary vehicle. It did however teach me a lot about fixing broken bits at an early stage. My next 4x4 was an early model SWB ’Cruiser, with three-speed gearbox.
It was a great unit, too, and luckily fuel was a lot cheaper back then. Thinking back to those times I reckon I’ve owned about 35 4x4s, from Suzukis to OKAs. My current vehicle is a Y61 Nissan Patrol Ti with a Chev 6.5L V8, fitted out with all the usual gear including diff locks. It’s an awesome vehicle, goes anywhere, cruises well and is pretty good on fuel.
I joined the NSW Police in the mid 1970s and spent a few years in the Mounted Police, but much of my time on Highway Patrol, mainly as a HWP cyclist (I love my motorbikes and currently have a Ducati). I eventually ended up as an instructor at the NSW Police Driver Training School, where I got my teeth into teaching others various skills behind the wheel of a good range of vehicles. This was my main introduction to the motor industry, having made many lasting relationships from my time there.
In January 1991, I transferred out to Broken Hill as what was called Traffic Commander, or OIC of HWP. The job had its challenges but was a unique position with a patrol area of 180,000km². With regular four-day patrols that took us from Cameron Corner to Mildura and close to Cobar in the east, I soon became familiar with just about every road and track in western NSW, and beyond.
When speaking to tourists on these patrols they usually asked me lots of touristy questions, so I came upon the idea of running a few tagalong tours out of Broken Hill. It was only ever meant to be a hobby, but the business grew fairly quickly and, combined with running 4x4 events such as new-model launches, it became apparent that after some 20 years as a cop it was time to move on and concentrate on my fledgling business, Tri State Safaris.
4x4 Adventure Series: Exploring Corner Country
In the early days I was doing mostly camping trips to places like Tibooburra and Innamincka, with just me and a Troop Carrier. By the time we sold the business some 26 years later, we had a fleet of vehicles including 4x4 buses, a staff of nine, and were doing mostly fully accommodated tours for our passengers. Destinations included the Kimberley, Cape York and the Simpson Desert.
I am lucky to have such an amazing partner in life, my wife Joanne, who not only has lived in the Tanami Desert and Darwin for many years, but is a very capable four-wheel driver herself, and has a great marketing and business head too. We went on to win many awards at Tri State Safaris, including six Gold and three Silver Australian Tourism Awards, and were inducted into the Tourism Hall of Fame at both Regional and State levels.
In 1992, I established the Australian 4WD Academy, a Registered Training Organisation (RTO) that still keeps me busy today. We have many long-term clients who keep us busy for much of the year, despite the plan to retire after selling Tri State Safaris a few years ago.
Our experience in the outback and our company ethos of developing or building on existing skills, increasing participant confidence and awareness of vehicle capability, ensures continued work. I like to think we send people away from a course with some ‘class or finesse’ about their driving skills. I love teaching and get a huge amount of enjoyment and satisfaction from seeing people come away with big grins on their faces.
Meet the Expert
Name: Mick McCulkin
Role: Owner, Australian 4WD Academy
Experience: More than 40 years four-wheel driving, as well as stints policing, tour leading and driver training.