In Arts + Entertainment

Bush Mechanics: The Exhibition Goes On Tour

The art of keeping rundown cars on the road, with little more than pliers, wire and an axe.

If your car breaks down in the outback, there are few people who’d really be much help. Those who actually would be able to provide assistance in this scenario are known as bush mechanics – Indigenous Australians who draw on ingenious tricks and knowledge of the Australian landscape to fix cars in predicaments.

These renowned bush mechanics were featured on an iconic, eponymous ABC TV series in the early 2000s. The Bush Mechanics mini-series was all about how to keep even the most rundown car on the road, with little more than “a pair of pliers, some wire and an axe,” – things you have lying around when you’re kilometres away from anything in Alice Springs, essentially.

Paw Media Claymation of Bush Mechanics

The program was filmed in Warlpiri language, and depicted repairs like using an axe, a tree and a wire to repair a broken crossmember, replacing a broken fuel pump with a window wiper washer pump, and turning a car into a trailer, simply by chopping off a roof.

The show only ran for one season, with the final episode aired in December 2001.

After 16 years, the much-loved show is finding new life in the form of an art exhibition. The team at the National Motor Museum in South Australia have curated Bush Mechanics: The Exhibition, a travelling exhibition explores the importance of the car to life in the outback and the resourcefulness employed by the bush mechanics featured in the TV show.

“Bush Mechanics is such an iconic series for many and varied reasons, that it seemed appropriate that we celebrate it with a new life as a museum exhibition,” says Director of the National Motor Museum Paul Rees.

Having spent 2017 travelling around the country (the exhibition went back to where it all began in Alice Springs in August), Bush Mechanics: The Exhibition lands at the Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre at Melbourne Museum on March 9 this year.

“This touring exhibition on Bush Mechanics is just the latest chapter in a story that started over 20 years ago in the little community of Yuendumu [in the Northern Territory],” says Michalangelo Bolognese, exhibition curator. “It has been such a privilege to show this captivating aspect of life in Central Australia to audiences around the country, and it’s great to now see it show in a venue as important as Melbourne Museum.”

Exhibition goers can marvel at the cars from the episodes (including the famous car-cum-trailer creation), clay figurines from the Bush Mechanics Claymation (made for relatives of the deceased on screen who couldn’t watch the program for cultural reasons), and other Bush Mechanics paraphernalia, including the book Bush Mechanics: From Yuendumu to The World written by Mandy Paul.

The EJ Holden from the first episode of Bush Mechanics on display in the exhibition. Photo: National Motor Museum/Andre Castellucci

After its stint at The Melbourne Museum (March 9 – March 15), Bush Mechanics The Exhibition will head to the National Museum of Australia in Canberra. It will tour until October 2018.

For more information and to keep up with the touring exhibition dates, head to the National Motor Museum’s website.


(Lead image: The EJ Holden from the first episode of Bush Mechanics on display in the exhibition. Photo: National Motor Museum/Andre Castellucci) 

Published 23 February, 2018