Picture a post-apocalyptic world, in which unhinged biker gangs wearing bondage gear fight to the death over cans of fuel. In beat-up, supercharged cars, they chase a lone traveller across the wasteland of the Australian Outback, weaving through burning vehicles and performing some of the most gripping stunts in cinematic history.
The scene is the opening sequence from Mad Max II, the 1981 action movie starring Mel Gibson as ‘The Road Warrior’. As an instant cult classic, it sealed Gibson’s fate as a Hollywood legend - but watching it would also change the course of Bradford native Adrian Bennett’s life forever.
Bennett, a panel beater and painter by trade, was just 18 years old when his friends dragged him to the cinema one fateful Saturday night in 1982. They wanted to watch a double billing of Mad Max and Mad Max II.
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“I really wasn’t fussed because I thought they were going to be rubbish,” the father of four recalls in his broad Yorkshire accent. Instead, by the time he’d left the cinema, he was hooked - particularly by the sequel. “I was so taken by what I’d seen I couldn’t really think straight.”
And so began a lifelong obsession that would culminate in Bennett, 55, moving his family across the world and founding Australia’s only Mad Max II museum. With the help of his wife Linda, a 58-year-old former carer also from Yorkshire, he runs the attraction in the remote town of Silverton, nicknamed ‘The Hollywood of the Outback’. The Mundi Mundi Lookout, where the movie’s iconic car chase was filmed, is just down the road.
Silverton itself is on the edge of the Australian Outback, a 725-mile drive from Sydney. It is a tiny rural town with a big reputation as a popular filming location in TV and cinema. Located 15 miles from the nearest supermarket and boasting a population of under 40 people, a pub and a handful of art galleries.
So how did the couple end up here? Back in the Eighties, Bennett fed his infatuation with Mad Max II by watching the film whenever he had the chance. He estimates that he has seen it hundreds of times.
Then, in 2000, he tracked down a man in Texas selling a Ford Falcon - the Australian car model used to create the infamous ‘V8 Interceptor’ driven by Gibson’s character, Mad Max. He shipped it to England and spent the next 18 months creating a replica of the Interceptor that he believes was the only one of its kind in Europe at the time.
“I felt so excited to walk out into the garage most days and just look at this thing. I had a Mad Max car, it was just incredible,” Bennett says. He is keen to stress that the Falcon was intended to be the pinnacle of his fandom, laughing: “I was obsessed, but in a healthy kind of way.”
But despite his joy, something was niggling at him. “I needed to come to Australia,” he explains. He finally made it for his 40th birthday, facing his fear of flying and setting off on a holiday that took in various Mad Max filming locations. The Bennett family arrived at Silverton just before sunset.
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“When I went over the crest of the lookout, where the opening chase was shot, it was the most beautiful time of the day; the golden hour,” he reminisces. “I thought I was in paradise. It felt like I’d come home.”
He asked Linda if she thought she could ever live in such a rural spot, which is 15 miles from the nearest shop. “Thinking it would never happen, she said yes just to please me,” he laughs.
Her promise was put to the test in 2006 when - following a lengthy visa application process - the Bennetts and three of their sons left England and moved to Adelaide, South Australia. They lived there for three years until a property went up for sale in Silverton, and the idea of founding a Mad Max II museum began to form.
“When something has such an impact on the world, it needs something to pay homage to it, so that’s why I decided to do it,” Bennett says of his “rust and dust museum”, which opened in September 2010.
Bennett built most of the museum himself. It is a living love letter to Mad Max II that mirrors the derelict aesthetic of the film with plenty of corrugated iron and barbed wire.
Inside, the space brims with enough memorabilia to satisfy even the most zealous of fans. There are major props on show, including a fork used by Mel Gibson in a scene that sees his character eat dog food, and a codpiece found during an excavation of one of the filming sites. But visitors don’t need to be fanatics to appreciate the exhibits: the museum also contains plenty of fun trivia, filming anecdotes and explanations of some of the film’s most daring stunts.
Former crew members have dropped by over the years, and Bennett has become close friends with many of the stunt doubles, extras, and locals who worked on set. He met the film’s director, George Miller, years ago, but Gibson has yet to pay a visit.
“I haven’t met Mel; he’s very busy,” Bennett says, before adding: “One day he might just turn up and surprise us, but his sister called about 18 months ago and she was lovely, absolutely wonderful.”
Of course, moving his family across the world has not been without its challenges. “It’s all been about me and Mad Max, I’ve been very selfish,” he admits. But his family is supportive, and his sons have flourished. “They’ve all had opportunities to do things over here that they wouldn’t have had back in the UK,” he reflects.
Does he miss anything about England? “I suppose I miss it all really; I didn’t leave because I didn’t like living there,” he says. But there is no question that the Outback is home.
“We do feel Australian, but you can never forget your roots,” he says, adding: “I’ll always have Yorkshire blood; I’m very proud to be Yorkshire. But I do tell people here that I am Australian - I just don’t sound it!”
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When the local media first caught wind of Bennett’s story, they jokingly christened him ‘The Mad Pom’. But his vision has paid off, and in 2015, he received an ‘Australian of the Day’ award celebrating ordinary residents doing extraordinary things.
“I said: “Have you heard how I talk? I’m from Yorkshire!” he recalls, laughing. He also attended the premiere of the 2015 blockbuster Mad Max: Fury Road, where he walked the red carpet.
Day-to-day life, though, revolves around welcoming streams of visitors to the museum and working on future exhibitions. Bennett doesn’t have much time for films these days, but there are no prizes for guessing what he watches when he does get a spare couple of hours. “I could never get bored of it,” he says. “It appeals to me even more now that I live out here.”
This September, the museum will enter its 10th year in operation. “I don’t know where that 10 years went,” he muses. “I suppose I am living the dream really, aren’t I? I’m really lucky.