This talented bush mechanic will get you going again or, if not, he will at least give your car a ride in his monster truck.

Story By Mat Raudonikis

Trying to have a conversation with peter barnes at the birdsville roadhouse during the busy tourist season can be frustrating. Not that peter minds having a chat, it’s just that he is constantly interrupted as he deals with running a workshop where he is always on the go. Birdsville is a hive of activity during winter and spring, with travellers passing through on their way north or into the Simpson Desert. When the famous Birdsville Races are on in September, the town’s population of about 150 swells 50-fold.
As the town mechanic, Peter is called on for all repairs from simple flat tyres to cracked chassis and gearbox rebuilds. He takes all jobs in his stride, with a laconic, “Come back and see me in [10 minutes to a week depending on the job] and you’ll be right”.
“Peter’s a typical knockabout sort of bloke that will get you going regardless, even if he has to put you on that big truck of his,” says David Brook, lifelong Birdsville resident and service station owner. “He has encountered that many different problems that he knows what is needed to get you going.”
David compares Peter to the early pioneers of road transport in central Australia, such as Birdsville mailman Tom Kruse, who was able to fix a broken-down vehicle in the bush with whatever materials he had at hand. “There’s not always easy access to parts in Birdsville, but Peter has the ability to get you going using what’s available,” he says.
Peter trained as an apprentice mechanic in his home town of Millicent, 400 kilometres south-east of Adelaide, back in the 1970s. Today his skills extend way beyond the average car dealership based spanner-man as the harsh terrain he now calls home turns up all sorts of vehicle problems requiring specialist repairs to get them back on the track. Over a couple of days in Birdsville, he deals with a tourist’s ute that required its tray to be welded up, another with some burnt-out wiring, a shire vehicle that needed its wheel bearings and seals replaced, and countless tyre and wheel repairs.

This story excerpt is from Issue #75

Outback Magazine: Feb/Mar 2011