How To Keep Your Car Running In The Australian Outback

Many people would look at a rusted out '62 Holden EJ wagon missing a bunch of parts and decide it would probably take a major restoration project to get the thing on the road again. Not the Bush Mechanics. Crappy beater or no, it's go time.

This Aboriginal rock band has a magic mechanic (at least that's what I got from watching one of their videos) who conveniently appears when they break their nearly dead station wagon on the Central Australian Outback's horrible roads. He always has a way they can repair their car with sticks and stones so that they can make it to their next gig.

Hipster bands driving janky Econolines up and down the Jersey Turkpike don't hold a candle to this level of dedication.

Warning: We were warned by some Australian guy to include the following warning, which is part of an Australian regulation aimed at respecting Aboriginal customs (we're ok with doing that): "Use caution viewing this film, as it may contain images or voices of dead persons." There. Don't say you haven't been warned.

But when the roads get tough, the tough use tree branches and baling wire to fix rusted through parts well enough to keep the band and its gear moving. These guys are real magicians, and can make something out of nothing. No tools. No worries, mate. They have a stupidly simple solution for every problem. One guy even uses his teeth as a can opener. These guys are real Parking Lot Mechanics. I'm substandard.

Here's a list of some of the awesome trail repairs the Bush Mechanics have made.

  • A leaf spring broke on one end, so they jammed a log between the spring and its shackle and tied the whole thing up with a crapload of bailing wire. The car was lopsided and dogtracked its way drunkenly down the road, but it still rolled, and that's what's important.
  • When the clutch goes, most people are ready to throw in the towel. Not the bush mechanics. They scrounged around in a thicket and found some tree with good friction and wear properties. Using an axe to grab a few chips of it, they screwed some pieces onto the clutch plate and actually revived it.
  • A dead battery can be a real drag, especially if you're in the middle of the Australian Outback and there's no one around to give you a jumpstart. Did you know that putting your lifeless battery on top of a smoldering fire will bring it back to life? Neither did I (and it sounds like a good way to spill toxic battery acid all over the ground), but apparently it works.
  • When the battery is completely dead, don't chuck it out. You can use the lead inside to plug a leaky radiator. The Bush Mechanics had a hole in their radiator, so using their keys to unscrew the hose clamps, they pulled out the radiator, smashed open an old battery with a rock, and melted the lead plates inside in one of the car's hubcabs. They didn't have any extra water, so they filled the radiator by blowing into a tube on the windshield washer tank and filling the radiator with washer fluid.
  • At one point during their journey, the transmission crossmember fell out. Sounds like lights out, but these guys took a hatchet, bashed holes in the floorboards. Then they used the hatchet to cut down a small tree and tied it to the bottom of the car, through the hatchet gashes, with bailing wire. On the road again.
  • Carrying a couple of hundred pounds of sound equipment on the roof will damage a good car, but do that in a rusted out hulk on really bumpy roads and, well ... they completely crushed the roof of their car. Again, no worries, mate. The ol' hatchet'll do 'er up right. That is to say, they hacked off the roof with a hatchet, turned it upside down, and dragged their crap in it like a tow-behind sled.

How To Keep Your Car Running In The Australian Outback

I'm absolutely positive these guys would do a bang up job on frame repairs as well.

It goes without saying that every episode features a different car, and they're all pretty awesome Aussie models from the '60s and '70s. They're not into collecting; their jam is simply getting there. Usually anticipating an upcoming gig in some dusty town, they're always in a hurry to get the car fixed so they can get on the road. That doesn't mean that they don't occasionally stop to help out a friend in need.

So if you like junk porn and the ultimate DIY tutorial, you'll get some fun repair ideas from the Bush Mechanics. The series came out in 2001, and there are only four episodes and a documentary. But as you will see (or have already seen), it's brilliant.

I wonder what the Bush Mechanics are up to these days. Taking a road trip with them would be amazing. If it didn't cost more than $2,000 to fly to Alice Springs from the U.S., I'd hop on the next flight. These guys need another Parking Lot Mechanic.

Photo credit: Warlpiri Media Association