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Abandoned car wrecks some enjoy as landmarks targeted by outback councils for potential recycling

Marked by rich landscapes of red dirt that stretch into auburn horizons, the outback is known for its spectacular views.

But in the thick of tough spinifex grass and mountains of barren rock is a secret that can no longer be swept out of sight.

A graveyard of broken-down, burnt-out car bodies plague the side of almost every major highway in north-west Queensland, and locals have had enough.

A blackened car sits in tall spinifex grass

Burnt car wrecks dumped in the bush litter the outback landscape.(ABC North West Queensland: Meghan Dansie)

“They don’t belong here, it’s time to clean them up,” said long time Mount Isa resident Mark van Ryt.

“You do drive out to places and might see a vintage car wreck, and it’s a landmark, but when they start popping up everywhere it becomes shocking.”

Mr van Ryt, who is a volunteer with the Gulf River Landcare group, said he knew something had to be done after he had a conversation with an international visitor to the region.

A man with a moustache smiles at the camera in front of a white wall

Mr van Ryt says it’s time “someone takes the bull by the horns” to tackle the clean up.(ABC North West Queensland: Emily Dobson)

“Tourists from Holland who should have been enjoying their first drive in the outback and taking in the beautiful backdrop just couldn’t believe all of the burnt-out car bodies,” he said.

“Those that are landmarks have been there since I was a little boy, over 60 years ago, but in recent years we’ve seen lots more.”

Mr van Ryt rallied in 2019 for his local council to map car wreckage sites within the Mount Isa shire boundary, identifying 25 sites.

But he said the problem had become significantly worse since then.

Push for change

A beaten up white van is tipped on an angle above a water filled rockpool

Council representatives are concerned about the potential environmental impacts of abandoned cars.(Supplied: B Patrick)

A study conducted across five outback shires identified 200 derelict cars that needed removal.

It was on top of work completed in partnership with local Aboriginal rangers in the past to remove at least 50 derelict cars.

It prompted the creation of a state government-funded plan uniting 10 councils across north-west Queensland to tackle the presence of waste in the region.

Members of the North West Queensland Regional Organisation of Councils (NWQROC) engaged the Southern Gulf Natural Resources Management (NRM) group to map abandoned vehicles across Burke, Carpentaria, Cloncurry, Flinders, and Mount Isa City council shires.

NWQROC executive officer Greg Hoffman said tackling the presence of legacy waste in the region was a priority.

“Tyres and abandoned cars are the biggest issue plaguing waste in the region, they have nowhere else to go,” he said.

“It presents a fire hazard and it’s also a blight on the environment.”

A rusted car body nestled into trees and red dirt

Some car bodies have sat dormant and rusting for decades.(Supplied: B Patrick)

Mr van Ryt said it was a major concern.

“We see a lot of new cars that have been torched, it leaves a bit of a mess on the side of the road,” he said.

“It can’t be good for the local country.”

Circular economy of recyclables

The plan targets the identification and tender for removal of car “skeletons” as well as finding a way to reuse or recycle material and batteries.

Mr van Ryt was confident the scrap metal could earn do-gooders who retrieved the vehicles a buck or two.

A vintage truck has rusted away about 1 metre from the red dirt road

Derelict car bodies have spent decades rusting just metres from outback roads.(Supplied: B Patrick)

“If, hypothetically, there was a bounty put on car wrecks, say a few hundred dollars, then we might see locals take it up,” he said.

“This issue is just beyond the scope of our little group of volunteers. It would take us years to work through.”

While the rusted-out car frames might add value to the landscape for some, even impressive sights such an old Valiant that reminds Mr van Ryt of a family friends’ car from decades ago are on his list to be cleaned up.

A completely rusted car body is lit from behind by blue sky

Mr van Ryt hopes to see a crackdown on the presence of the quirky outback sights.(ABC North West Queensland: Meghan Dansie)

“It’s been sitting there for 55 years or so,” he said.

“People have graffitied it now and I wouldn’t be sad to see it go.

“They just don’t belong there in the bush.”

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