THE Kimberley embodies Australia’s last frontier. It reeks of rugged pioneer spirit, resilience and resourcefulness.
It’s a place where necessity is the mother of invention, and rusted relics and scraps get repurposed and reused. It’s a place where the imagination is as epic as the landscape, and true bush mechanics thrive on the challenge of keeping old rigs rolling along red, dirt tracks.
One such relic caught our attention on a recent sojourn to Broome. It cut a Mad Max-esque figure as it rumbled past on Cable Beach, where we first spied it cruise by. As luck would have it, on our last night in Broome, we caught up with owner and builder Rob Bamkin as he was parked up on the beach chilling out at low tide enjoying the magic hour.
His crusty, old 1968 J Series Bedford looked like it had just come from Wolfe Creek, but Rob was a friendly bloke and happy to share his tale of how his mighty rig came to be. We learned it’s as much a Frankenstein as a Mad Max mobile but, either way, it personified typical Kimberley ingenuity and toughness.
Rob first came upon the dilapidated jalopy back in 2005, sitting along with numerous other wrecks behind an old shearing shed on Mt Anderson Station, 160km south-east of Derby.
Returning frequently to Mt Anderson Station whilst working with four young Aboriginal lads on a tourism venture, Rob hatched a plan to get the old girl going as a project, with the aim of one day driving it to the Deni Ute Muster via Alice Springs.
He first had to convince local Jarlmadangah elder Harry Watson to part with her. Old Harry, a legendary stockman who was born on and has lived on Mt Anderson Station all of his 80-plus years, was rather fond of his stash of otherwise redundant metal. But he liked the idea, so a deal was struck to trade an old trailer and ride-on mower for the dilapidated Bedford so as to give her a new lease on life.
Ironically, Rob later learned his dad had worked at Mt Anderson Station as a shearer in 1948, in the very shearing shed where the truck had lay since old Harry had towed it there from nearby Pandanus Park Community in the early ’80s.
Rob finally got the truck to his home in Broome in 2008, where it sat around for another 12 months. He wanted it to be bulletproof – as tough as the Kimberley – and able to belt down the beach, through the creeks and dunes, and survive the rugged outback station tracks.
But the Bedford had no motor, its gearbox was sitting on the front seat, and the original diff was the size of a 13-gallon drum. The master brake cylinder set-up also looked like a gearbox out of a tractor. Rob realised he had a lot of work to do!
Rob wanted 4WD, power steering, disc brakes, air-conditioning and a big motor with loads of power. The only solution was to retrofit and morph the Bedford body onto a more modern platform with the desired running gear.
He measured the chassis rails of a Toyota, then a Nissan and finally his old ’69 F100… it was the perfect width. But understandably, not wanting to scrap his beloved F truck that he’d owned for more than 20 years, Rob started looking for another.
To his amazement, he found a ’78 F100 4x4 with a 6.2-litre Chevy diesel engine only a short drive from where the Bedford had been found. He soon had both vehicles at home and started stripping the Ford of its cab and body.
The blown nine-inch diff was replaced, the Turbo 350 transmission rebuilt, and all-new brakes – including booster, rear shoes, front pads and lines – were fitted. Then came new shocks and ball joints, not to mention a new radiator, water pump, vacuum pump, fuel lines, fuel pump and filter system. Basically, all the usual stuff required to rebirth a nearly-40-year-old vehicle and get it legally mobile yet again.
With those tasks completed it was time for the next challenge of marrying the Bedford cab to the Ford chassis. Rob fabricated new body mounts for both front and rear that, luckily, worked perfectly, ensuring an easy fit. Next up, the Ford F100 steering column and brake booster with pedal and accelerator pedal assembly were fitted with only slight modification needed to slot neatly into the Bedford.
The vehicle needed to comply with the ADRs for the F100. That meant a heater demister (not exactly required in Broome), brake vacuum warning light and buzzer, and two-speed wipers were non-negotiable. The wipers proved to be a major pain in the arse! On the Bedford, the wipers start from the centre and go back and forth, where on the Ford they go from left to right.
The Ford arms under the dash were far too long so Rob had to fabricate an off-set cam and use the old Bedford arms. “It passes ADR and works well enough for the three times a year that it rains in Broome,” Rob quipped.
All the wiring was done by a local auto-electrician, trying to keep specification as close to original as possible. Rob also needed to shorten the tray on the back and fabricate the two spare tyre wells which then form the rear mudguards, tool boxes and battery boxes. He used five-inch truck exhaust mandrels for the rollbar and bullbar then, once all welded up, filled the tubes with expander foam. “And it’s solid,” he laughed!
In keeping with its tough exterior, the cab and hoodliner are finished in functional marine carpet. The original F100 seat fitted in nicely, upholstered now in Kimberley cowhide, and the dash instrument pod sports highly fashionable and durable crocodile skin, a nod to the toothy logs of the Top End.
Prior to starting work, Rob spoke with the WA Department of Transport and engaged a mechanical engineer. On completion, the engineer was flown into Broome (at Rob’s expense) to inspect the vehicle and, whilst impressed, would not pass the truck on account of the one of the injector lines being too close to the steering shaft. So the initial inspection was a fail and the engineer departed Broome, leaving Rob a nice, big, long list that included moving the entire driveline (engine included) more than 25mm to the right.
Another year later the same inspector drove up to Broome for another look and road test, and this time, after sorting out a badly adjusted brake booster, it was finally a pass. It was now a fully compliant, road-registered rig.
Many ask what colour Rob intends to spray the truck, but he has no such plans. He loves that you can see its history, feel its pain, and respect the fact that it is just a tough, old truck for bouncing around the Kimberley.
For Rob, his labour of love is great for regular visits down to Cable Beach for sunset, or up to the Fitzroy River for a fishing trip. It’s been a long time in the making, literally, but now his crusty creation is on the road, and Rob can’t wait to finally point it towards the Deni Ute Muster.
One thing is for sure – it’s unlikely he’ll see another Bedford like his in Deni, or anywhere else for that matter.