Story and pictures by ERWIN CHLANDA.
Bush Mechanics was a quirky, funny, cheeky, surprising and very successful TV show.
What do you do when your fuel pump packs up? You put the fuel into the windscreen washing tank, connect it to the carburetor via the hose normally leading to the jets on top of the bonnet and you activate the windscreen washing pump. Easy.
Or there was this tjilpi standing in the middle of a vast car graveyard in a bush community, telling us why he likes Holdens (or was it Fords?): “They are easy to work on.”
David Batty and Francis Jupurrurla Kelly told the story in clever close-ups and intimate grabs from people whose life depends on keeping their heaps running in the vast and lonely Centre of Australia.
It wasn’t going to be easy to translate the concept into a theatrical performance – especially in a space like a speedway arena which you expect to be filled with screaming engines, broad-siding racing cars, the suspense of who’s going to win, the smell of high octane fuel and the odd bingle.
Compared to that, Bush Mechanics ‘the Live Spectacle’ didn’t work. Only the true grit of NoKTuRNL’s performance got the blood pumping, with the spectacle never managing to pick up on the pace the music set.
A trailer backing competition involving just two cars? Please. Towing cars – again only two + two – around the track at little more than walking pace? No, thanks.
A bunch of postie bikes doing a couple of sedate laps and a trying a little ballet – nice but unlikely to move you to the edge of your seat.
While there was no shortage of props and gear – cherry pickers, scissor lifts, a moat, jumps – there was no storyline to hold it all together.
The camp / blackfeller lingo of “superstar Queen of the Desert Mary G” acting as MC certainly got some laughs to start with, but after a while it wore a bit thin and all in all, there was just too much of it and it didn’t lead anywhere.
Some stunts, like the burnouts, just didn’t make sense: destroying a couple of $300 tyres in 60 seconds is a rich man’s folly – a bush mechanic wouldn’t dream of it.
The spinifex-filled tyre comp may have been more in the bush mechanic vein but as an event it was just too slow, too small in scale.
So those of us who were still there after intermission – during which I watched a steady stream of red tail-lights heading away from the venue – were certain that the big events were still to come.
We’d been eyeing off the dirt mounds. No doubt the cars would do massive jumps and somersaults over them – just hang in there.
After the 20 minute break turned into one nearly twice as long, Mary G’s banter resumed and … here came three cars: one at a time they went over the ‘jumps’ at snail’s pace.
“My grandmother could have done that in her Volvo,” I heard a spectator comment.
It’s a pity. The notion of Arunga Park and wild cars drew out quite a few of Alice’s petrol heads and their families, an audience that might not have gone to anything else on the Mbantua Festival program. At the start they were full of good humour, excitement and anticipation.
They didn’t get their money’s worth – and neither did those who went to be told a snappy yarn celebrating Aboriginal and outback ingenuity.