Bush mechanics was one of my favourite Australian-made television programs. First aired in 2001, this clever documentary introduced a nation of mostly white folks to the amazing life, culture, ingenuity and innovation of the Warlpiri people of Yuendumu in Central Australia.
I remember watching the first episode and being totally captivated and impressed. Below is an entertaining clip from that first episode. I can’t figure out how to imbed it. Can anyone help on that?
Even though the series hasn’t been aired for many years, this week Poor John and I were able to ‘revisit’ the Bush mechanics at the National Museum of Australia.
The exhibition captures the energetic and upbeat tone of the popular TV series created by David Batty and Francis Jupurrurla Kelly. It includes the two cars that are most fondly remembered by fans—the blue Holden EJ Special Station Sedan from an early episode (see the clip above) and the painted Ford ZF Fairlane from the finale.
I still laugh about the stories behind both cars. The Holden was rescued from a junk yard. Thanks to an array of committed efforts, it was rebuilt to carry a local band to their musical gig—293 kilometres away in Willowra.
The Ford Fairlane was on another mission. This time to create rain. Thomas Jangala Rice painted the car with a Jukurrpa (creation story) of which he is the custodian.
The bush mechanics drove that car to Broome—1413 kilometres away—to trade it for rainmaking pearl shells. When the shells were returned to Yuendumu, Rice used them to carry out a rainmaking ceremony. The ensuing rains broke a year-long drought.
The display also explains the history of bush mechanics. Long before cars were common in the Aussie outback, workers on remote stations across the country had to operate and fix machinery without access to workshops or specialised equipment.
Not surprisingly, many Aboriginal people became talented bush mechanics. When cars arrived in the outback, they quickly adapted their skills to keeping these ‘beasts’ on the road. In the absence of sophisticated tools and spare parts, they used what was to hand, including mulga wood (can be whittled to make brake shoes), sand and spinifex (can be used to stuff a flat tyre).
I’d like to think I could be a little bit of help on one of these expeditions. When Poor John and I lived in Burma (Myanmar) in the early 1980s, I learned quite a bit about keeping a car on the road. For example, I still remember how to blow out a fuel filter so it can be re-used.