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The new Bush Mechanics exhibition celebrates the ingenuity of the Warlpiri people of Central Australia. Based on the original ABC series of the same name, co-created by David Batty and Francis Jupurrurla Kelly, the National Motor Museum has collaborated with producers of the original show, Pintubi Anmatjere Media (PAW), to develop a sensory and fun travelling exhibition.

A blue car with no doors and luggage on the roof with passengers travelling on a dirt road.
Bush Mechanics EJ Holden which belonged to series creator Francis Jurpurrula Kelly. The car is now part of the National Museum’s collection. National Film and Sound Archive

The documentary series explored the creative ways in which five Warlpiri men from Yuendumu made repairs on their vehicles, while embarking on dramatic and humorous adventures throughout Central Australia.

Bush mechanic tricks

Some nyurulypa (good tricks) included using things found in the bush, such as spinifex and tree branches, to inflate and replace tyres, or using the lead from old car batteries to fix cracks in the radiator by melting it over a fire in a dish made from a hub cap.

The construction of the exhibition itself reflects the ingenuity of the mechanics. The displays have been designed to be dismantled and reassembled with ease, so that they can be exhibited in major cultural institutions and regional centres without complication.

EJ Holden

A pale blue, roofless, rusty car sits on a blue metal platform. There is a man in the far right hand corner, dressed in black wearing blue gloves. The platform and the balustrade is framed with yellow and black diagonal stripes. - click to view larger image
The EJ Holden in the Museum’s loading dock, being lifted in readiness for being rolled into the exhibition gallery

The exhibition focuses on two favourite cars from the series — the EJ Holden, which belongs to the Museum’s collection, and the Ford Fairlane, painted with traditional Warlpiri designs.

The EJ Holden is fondly remembered from the first episode.

After a series of breakdowns and clever repairs, the roof of the car caved in. The Bush Mechanics hacked the roof off with an axe and tied it to the back, creating a makeshift trailer to carry their band equipment.

Francis Jurpurrula Kelly considers it the vehicle that best captures the spirit of the show.

Bush Mechanics for a new generation

The Bush Mechanics exhibition brings the original series back into the spotlight. When it first aired in the early 2000s, the series was very popular, reaching three million viewers. I was seven years old at the time, and my generation missed this important show.

The Bush Mechanics exhibition is a fantastic opportunity for a new audience to engage with the stories and experiences shared in this documentary. The exhibition not only looks at the different methods of car maintenance, but also celebrates the culture of the Warlpiri people.

Bush Mechanics is a free exhibition in the First Australians Focus Gallery until 24 February 2019.

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