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27 December 2018 / leggypeggy

Repairing a car in the middle of nowhere

Bush Mechanics

Bush Mechanics

Holden EJ Special Station Sedan

A very battered Holden EJ Special Station Sedan from an early episode (see the clip)

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 embed it. Can anyone help on that?

https://www.facebook.com/benngunnfans/videos/318870045618855/

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.

Painted Ford ZF Fairlane

Painted Ford ZF Fairlane

Painting the Ford ZF Fairlane

Painting the Ford ZF Fairlane

Painted Ford ZF Fairlane

Painted Ford ZF Fairlane

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.

Thomas Jangala Rice does a rainmaking ceremony

Thomas Jangala Rice does a rainmaking ceremony

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.

Tomorrow's new bush mechanics

Tomorrow’s new bush mechanics

80 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. beetleypete / Dec 27 2018 10:59 pm

    So many modern cars have computerised diagnostics now, even trained mechanics can’t seem to fix them without specialist machinery.. The haphazard mechanical skills of my youth are now worthless when it comes to trying to repair anything on our cars. 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 3 people

    • leggypeggy / Dec 27 2018 11:01 pm

      You’re so right Pete. Anywhere we go, someone pulls out the computerised checker. Sadly, it makes real mechanics a bit obsolete.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. ksbeth / Dec 27 2018 11:01 pm

    i would love to see this show. amazing talents, using whatever was available.

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Dec 27 2018 11:03 pm

      I’m sure you can find most, if not all, of the episodes on YouTube. Search for ‘Bush Mechanics’

      Liked by 2 people

      • ksbeth / Dec 27 2018 11:53 pm

        I’ll look for them. I have an Aussie son in law who will love it too)

        Liked by 2 people

  3. gigglingfattie / Dec 28 2018 12:05 am

    Very interesting Peggy! Thanks for sharing 😊

    Liked by 2 people

  4. derrickjknight / Dec 28 2018 12:51 am

    Definitely a skill of the past, given our modern more complicated autos

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Dec 28 2018 8:52 am

      Not surprisingly, there are still plenty of old vehicles and bush mechanics in Australia’s outback.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. mistermuse / Dec 28 2018 7:08 am

    Amazing video….but probably no big deal to Cubans, who have been keeping old cars running since their revolution!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Murray Foote / Dec 28 2018 8:35 am

    I haven’t tried to embed a video but whether you can depends on what WordPress plan you have. You can’t do it on a personal plan; I think you can on a premium.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. gerard oosterman / Dec 28 2018 8:40 am

    Taking the head off a V8, regrind the valves and replace the rings is what most men and some women would learn back in the fifties and sixties. It was elementary. That’s all gone now and replaced with internet skills. A young man ( and woman) now can fix an old Nokia and make it work by the same magic. Our grandson broke his iPhone in Indonesia so on his return I gave him my old one that had been languishing in a drawer for a few years. He charged it and all the apps were still working. It had no sim card but within minutes he was talking to his mates. I asked how that was possible. He used the ‘facebook’ and our wi-fi to connect. Amazing!

    Liked by 3 people

    • leggypeggy / Dec 28 2018 9:29 am

      My university offered a course in car maintenance. The instructor always said he preferred teaching women because they didn’t come with bad habits taught to them by their fathers.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Sharon Bonin-Pratt / Dec 28 2018 3:37 pm

    What an interesting article about people being resourceful. How do they get fuel in the Outback? During WWII, lots of people came up with innovative solutions to keep cars on the road when gas wasn’t available.

    Liked by 4 people

    • leggypeggy / Dec 28 2018 5:31 pm

      Good question about the fuel. I don’t think it was discussed in the series.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Emma Cownie / Dec 28 2018 7:10 pm

    Lordy that clip made me laugh! Well, if you just want a car to go and you don’t care about things like doors that’s a great car!

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Dec 28 2018 7:20 pm

      I so love that clip. Who needs doors if you hang on tight and drive slowly.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Emma Cownie / Dec 28 2018 7:23 pm

        Well, that car wasn’t going that fast, so it’s probably fine!

        Liked by 1 person

      • leggypeggy / Dec 28 2018 9:29 pm

        I think you’re right.

        Like

  10. thewonderer86 / Dec 28 2018 7:32 pm

    That rain making story is amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Dec 28 2018 8:53 pm

      I sure wish they’d do some rain-making over our way.

      Like

  11. toutparmoi / Dec 28 2018 8:18 pm

    Bush Mechanics surely must have screened in New Zealand, but I don’t remember ever seeing it. I’ll have to look on YouTube for more of it.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. pvcann / Dec 28 2018 10:28 pm

    The show is available on Youtube if you scan for it. Peggy, we saw that display at the National Motor Museum last year in Alice, so wonderful to touch aspects of the show for real. Nice to have your post and experience on this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Dec 29 2018 7:37 am

      You are most welcome. In preparing this post, I saw that the exhibition had travelled a bit. I’m glad about that because it’s really worth sharing.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Andrew Petcher / Dec 28 2018 11:31 pm

    I remember buying a ‘Haynes Workshop Manual’ for my 1975 Ford Cortina. It is still in mint condition!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Doggedly Yours / Dec 29 2018 4:47 am

    Here we call them “ backyard mechanics.” I suppose the bush is the backyard in Oz.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Curt Mekemson / Dec 29 2018 6:29 am

    I remember the bush/sidewalk mechanics in Liberia, Peggy. They would set up beside the road with whatever tools they had and be prepared to take your car apart and put it back together on the sidewalk. I never had a car there, so I don’t have a clue how good they were. But they always seemed to have business. Today’s electronic marvels would make such service much more difficult.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Dec 29 2018 7:40 am

      I can’t imagine how they’ll deal with the electronics, but I’m glad you mentioned Liberia. We’ll be there in March and I’ll let you know how much the sidewalk mechanics are still operating.

      Like

      • Curt Mekemson / Dec 29 2018 8:00 am

        Oh, I’ll look forward to that. Travel is rough there. Much rougher than it was in 1965-67 when I was a volunteer there. –Curt

        Liked by 1 person

      • leggypeggy / Dec 29 2018 8:57 am

        We’ll be on an overland truck.

        Like

  16. paolsoren / Dec 29 2018 3:46 pm

    That way of tying something with wire the way they did it is called a Cobb and Co hitch or a Queensland Hitch or a Booligal Hitch or “The Way My Dad Did It” hitch. That was what my dad used to build every shed we had on the farm in the early days. It joined everything and was really useful because if the joint started to loosen and the timber dried out you just gave the wire another twist. Nowadays fencing wire is higher tensile and doesn’t twist as easily as it did and will snap if tightened to much.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Dec 29 2018 5:28 pm

      Thanks for sharing the variety of names. I knew Cobb and Co hitch, but none of the others. Pity that fencing wire has changed so much.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. SuperDuque / Dec 29 2018 3:51 pm

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Brian Lageose / Dec 29 2018 4:52 pm

    And yet many folks in America have a complete mental breakdown if they get a flat tire. Interesting parallel… 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Dec 29 2018 5:30 pm

      I remember my first flat tyre. It was about 90°F. I was barefoot, in a bathing suit and taking my sisters to the local pool. I had to stand in a cardboard box to change the tyre.

      Liked by 2 people

  19. Alison and Don / Dec 30 2018 10:07 am

    Loved this Peggy! I’d not heard of it, and will now check it out on YT. I loved their humour, and automatic response that there would be a way to fix it. I really admire that kind of resourcefulness. Someone mentioned above that’s it’s the same in Cuba and we saw that there for sure.
    And the rain-making story is brilliant! Must see that episode.
    Happy New Year to you and Poor John!
    Alison

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Dec 30 2018 2:24 pm

      So glad you enjoyed it. I could watch this series again and again. Wishing you and Don a very happy new year. Hope 2019 brings you lots of joy and prosperity—and travel!

      Liked by 2 people

  20. Sy S. / Dec 30 2018 11:40 am

    Interesting Blog, nice to learn about other countries and now Central/Western Australia. Yes, I know that Oz is hurting for some serious rain…. I hope a Rainmaker can “fix” it all, ASAP. There are many episodes on YouTube for Bush Mechanics. I watched this one and enjoyed it a lot;
    Bush Mechanics Eps 4 The Rainmakers

    Plenty of rain in the Northeastern USA… a record high amount for the year. I hope California and the Northwestern states can get some needed rain as well.

    Sy

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Dec 30 2018 2:28 pm

      Thanks for the link Sy. I’ve seen that episode and could watch it again and again. Wish the rainmaker was available to do another ceremony. As you said, we are desperate for rain.

      Liked by 1 person

  21. jeanleesworld / Dec 30 2018 2:07 pm

    Fascinating! This just seems to prove the importance of creativity and ingenuity and the wonders man can do with his environment when the challenge is given. x

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Dec 30 2018 2:29 pm

      You are so right Jean. When I lived in Egypt a repairman fixed my phone with a pair of scissors.

      Liked by 2 people

  22. efge63 / Dec 31 2018 6:14 pm

    Wish you all the happiness for the New Year!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  23. janowrite / Jan 1 2019 1:18 am

    Happy New Year, Peggy! Have a splendid year! 🎇🥂💕😊

    Liked by 1 person

  24. barkinginthedark / Jan 1 2019 9:30 am

    i’ve always believed aboriginal people – of all stripes – were, and are, smarter and better than what came (and destroyed) after – including, and especially, we lot. continue…

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jan 1 2019 3:50 pm

      I highly recommend ‘Dark Emu’ by Bruce Pascoe. It explains just how advanced the pre-colonial Australian Aborigines were.

      Liked by 1 person

  25. Nilzeitung / Jan 2 2019 12:17 pm

    Happy New Year to you as WEL! 💜💜💜💜💜💜💜 I wish you the best of the best as well, and can’t wait to read your upcoming posts and hear your stories. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jan 2 2019 10:54 pm

      Thanks so much. Hoping 2019 is a great year for you too.

      Like

  26. Euphrates. / Jan 2 2019 1:20 pm

    Wow! That’s amazing

    Liked by 1 person

  27. America On Coffee / Jan 3 2019 5:37 am

    Nice share Peg. Thanks for being part of the AOC journey.The very best wishes to you and for you always!💕

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jan 3 2019 4:01 pm

      Thanks AOC. Hope 2019 is a fantastic year for you and your blog. Bring on the music and coffee.

      Like

      • America On Coffee / Jan 4 2019 1:47 pm

        You are so kind peggy. Your appreciative words words on ehst we share are modt inspiring for the new year!! ❤❤❤❤❤

        Like

  28. experienceofthinking / Jan 4 2019 2:10 am

    happy new year !

    Liked by 1 person

  29. chattykerry / Jan 6 2019 7:10 am

    My first boyfriend was an Australian lad whose favorite saying was, “What do you think it is, Bush Week?”

    Liked by 1 person

  30. Sheryl / Jan 7 2019 2:53 pm

    The museum exhibit on the Bush Mechanics sounds really interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jan 7 2019 3:18 pm

      It’s fascinating. I think it’s on until the end of February.

      Like

  31. The Lockwood Echo / Jan 19 2019 12:35 am

    I love any kind of resourcefulness. That ‘make do and mend’ culture. Our consumerist ways have lost us so much in terms of ability and imagination. When I learnt to drive, my Dad, an engineer by trade, encouraged me to always have a go at fixing my car. He said ‘here’s the workshop manual. And you can read can’t you?’ 😉 It was fun too. Except in winter :/ As for your embedded videos; I’ve done it a couple of times and I’m only on a personal plan. From YouTube, click on ‘share’ under the video and one of the options is ’embed’. It will give you the code (or gobbledy-gook as I know it 😉 ) and a copy button. Then paste where you want it in your post. It usually just shows up as code or a link in editing, but will pop up as the video when you preview or post. Hope that made sense 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Lockwood Echo / Jan 19 2019 12:40 am

      Clicking on link, now see it came from Facebook. I checked, same again, 3 dots next to share button includes an embed option. You’ll only be able to do that from videos that are ‘public’. I tried to embed one of my own videos once, but my privacy setting (friends only), wouldn’t allow it. Which is good to know 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jan 19 2019 11:16 am

      I love resourcefulness as well. When we travelled through Africa on an overland truck, I was always gobsmacked by how the driver managed to keep that vehicle going. Sheer brilliance.
      Also I’m impressed by your resourcefulness. Thanks to you I now know how to embed videos. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  32. hondaaccentrims / Mar 4 2019 1:42 am

    The museum show off is awesome.
    Thanks for sharing pic of this Painted Ford ZF Fairlane 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Mar 4 2019 7:39 am

      You are most welcome. Thanks for stopping by and for commenting.

      Like

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  1. Repairing a car in the middle of nowhere — Where to next? | Top Automotive Blog

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