Fans Players

Project restoration: Bombers and caravans

Essendon ruckman Andrew Phillips recently signed a one-year contract extension, following six games in 2021 – his most since arriving at Windy Hill ahead of the 2020 season. The 30-year-old spoke to about his role as a senior player at the Dons, and how he’s spent his spare time restoring a classic 1960s 15ft Coronet caravan.

Kavisha Di Pietro: It’s been a different off-season compared to what we’re normally used to with the Victorian lockdown. What has it involved for you?

Andrew Phillips: I’ve been lucky having a little 12-week-old boy, Ned. I’ve been able to spend plenty of time with him and my wife, Teagan. I’ve also been working a couple of days a week on the tools. In my spare time, I enjoy restoring furniture and doing a few little building projects so being able to do some work with a small construction group has been great.

How did your work with 23 K Construction come about?

Through the Essendon Football Club, someone there put me on to Chris Jones from 23K last off-season. We were renovating a beach house in Flinders last year and got along well so when I have time in between training and my footy commitments, I’ve been doing a bit more work with him.

It’s been great to jump onboard a small business a couple of days, wherever I can, and learn the ropes. It’s the sort of work I’ll be looking to pursue post my football career and there’s so many roles within construction; so to get a taste and try out different experiences has been valuable.

With my time in football, I wanted to use it to study and work towards what I want to do when I retire but I wasn’t 100 per cent sure what that was. Working on the tools is something I’ve enjoyed in my spare time and so it felt like a natural progression.

Looking back on the 2021 season, what was your reflection of the year like from a personal and team point of view?

It certainly had its ups and downs. There were challenges around the border restrictions, lockdowns, all that sort of stuff. It was tricky at times as Teagan was heavily pregnant and then having to go away for the finals with Victoria’s COVID situation not improving and Ned only being a few weeks old at the time. I think in saying that, we managed well and it was great for the club to return to the finals.

From the outside looking in, there appeared to be a significant cultural shift at the Bombers this year. How did you see that from within the four walls?

We were closer, and I think being in the hub last year was a big part of that, too. It does bring you together from across the board, from staff and players. Having ‘Truck’ (Essendon coach Ben Rutten) take the reins this year presented a bit of a cultural shift as well. The growth we’ve seen from the young guys and as a group has been really pleasing to see. It’s been reflected in the way we’ve jelled on-field and hopefully we can continue to grow on that with seasons to come.

Explain the role you’ve played in supporting up-and-coming ruck Sam Draper and Nick Bryan…

As you near 30 you start to transition a bit in your role. I think for me, with young guys like Sam Draper and Nick Bryan coming through, I am shifting into that more senior role and the older, experienced ruck that hopefully can help them develop. It’s always a bit hard to come to terms with that career transition, but now I’ve come to terms with it and I’m really looking forward to assisting them where I can and sharing my knowledge with them.

We chatted a bit about your passion for restoration and building at the start. Jumping back into that now, how did ‘A van called Fergus’ come together?

It was my wife’s idea actually! We were living out in Belgrave and were renovating that, and as if that wasn’t enough work, we decided to get a 1960s Coronet. We were lucky to find one on Gumtree. It started out that we were just going to pull out the bunks and make some minor changes to the kitchen area. Once I started doing all of that, before I knew it, I had ripped out the floors, walls, ceilings etc. and completely brought it back to the bare structure of it. I got pretty carried away with it and it turned into a bigger job than I anticipated.

When we ended up going into our six-week lockdown, I was able to get a bit of the paperwork done for it and give it a proper go. If I were to do it again there’d be a few things that I’d do differently but overall, the experience was one I really enjoyed.

It looks amazing and like the perfect weekender. What did you find to be the biggest challenge?

It is! We’re very happy with how it’s come up. I think I probably didn’t really know just how much work goes into it to pull everything off, then put it back on. On top of that, in Victoria it’s quite difficult to get it registered and roadworthy. Being an old caravan there are a lot of differences and road rules that have changed since 1960. Once we were able to sort that out and jump through those hoops and legal requirements, it’s been smoother sailing.

Where’s the first adventure?

Good question! We’ve been wanting to get to Bright for a while so I think that’s where we will try and take it. It’s a basic caravan, in that it’s not hooked up to solar power or water, or anything like that so it’s a pretty basic setup. I’ve kept everything how they would have had it originally, so I think we’ll test it out with a couple of short trips to see how it goes.

You’ve also been restoring cast iron bench seats and a few other projects. Where did the passion for building come from?

I started out doing my apprenticeship before I played football professionally, which gave me a good taste of the type of work I was interested in. I hate things being thrown away as well and going to waste so I would try and get discarded furniture and restore it where possible. Most of the time, the amount of work that discarded furniture requires isn’t worth it. But every now and then you find a gem. It’s just a fun hobby for now and something I enjoy doing in my spare time. I recently made a dining table as well from some scrap material I took from a job in Flinders, which was another good experience.

“It’s always a bit hard to come to terms with that career transition, but now I’ve come to terms with it and I’m really looking forward to assisting them (draper and bryan) where I can and sharing my knowledge with them.” – Andrew phillips

With the caravan complete now what do you think your next project will entail?

Now I’m working on restoring the cast iron bench seats and then Teagan and I have a property back in Tasmania that we’re looking at renovating. Teagan is in the planning stages now and so once that’s done, we’ll look to work on that together. She’s handy on the tools herself (laughs).

I’ve also got myself a 4WD that I’m looking to do up. I enjoy four-wheel driving and camping, but it’s an expensive and big commitment so I’m chipping away at that one slowly. It’s very much a work in progress – I’ve started with some mud flaps and that sort of stuff. I’m hoping to connect with small businesses who provide parts to help me restore it. It’d be great to be able to help small businesses who have been affected by COVID.

Thanks for the chat Andrew.

No worries, thank you Kavisha.