David Batty and Francis Jupurrurla Kelly’s Bush Mechanics (2001) only ran for one season, but it became a cult classic and spawned short films, museum exhibitions and even a videogame. This Warlpiri-language miniseries owes its popularity to its distinctive cultural world of Warlpiri humour, music and experience, where nyurulypa (good tricks) are used to keep wrecked cars on the red-sand roads of outback Australia. The cast use mulga wood, spinifex and clever hacks to showcase their ingenious approach to mechanics.
Demonstrating this winning combination of Warlpiri and car culture, Ngapa Jukuurpa (Water Dreaming) is painted on an old Ford ZF Fairlane in the series’ final episode. The Bush Mechanics drive the ‘Ngapa car’ to Broome to trade for pearl shells to use in a ceremony to break the drought.
It would be hard to keep a continent as large as Australia connected without cars. From the suburbs to the Outback, cars have become essential to Australian identity, especially in cinema, where they represent independence, freedom and status. They also often symbolise Australian ideals of masculinity. Under the armoured death machines and shiny chrome, George Miller’s Mad Max series interrogates the undercurrent of toxic machismo and violence tied to Australia’s isolation and obsession with cars. Bush Mechanics similarly embodies Australian ideals of masculinity but reinterprets car culture to represent the ingenuity, adaptability and innovation of Aboriginal Central Australia.
"The core of Bush Mechanics was basically a road trip, where you had the crappest car in the world, and things would inevitably go wrong... so you have to innovate... things like stuffing a flat tyre with spinifex... or getting a tree and carving it to make a crankshaft. It became like a cult classic. It took the country, in a very quiet way, by storm." – Rachel Perkins
On display until:
ACMI: Gallery 1
16 February 2031
The Story of the Moving Image → Moving Australia → 03. Car Culture
Steel, aluminium, plastic, Mulga branch, fencing wire, automotive paint, acrylic paint