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A group of people gather around a car with its hood opened

Under the hood: the Melbourne car club for women and non-binary folk

March 4, 2024
September 7, 2022

Since arriving in Australia from Germany 17 years ago, Petra Ohrt has been on a mission to demystify cars and empower women and non-binary people so that they feel comfortable speaking to mechanics, or even popping the hood to try fixing the problem themselves.

Do you have a car? Yes? Do you know how to check the oil, change a tyre, or jumpstart a dead battery? Many of us – particularly women and non-binary folk – don’t know much about the inner workings of a car, and that’s what engineer and mechanic Petra Ohrt is trying to change.

Petra was 12 years old when her father took her into the garage and showed her how to change the oil in the family car. “In Germany, you are taught all sorts of crafty things, and there’s no distinction between what gender you are,” Petra says. “But in Australia, it seems a bit different. There’s this idea that, for women, mechanical stuff is too hard, too dirty, too heavy. So every day, wherever I go, I have these conversations with women and non-binary people that it’s not too difficult, and that they can be confident to give it a go.”

A few years ago, while scrolling through Facebook, Petra came across a post on a local Good Karma network asking whether any women would be interested in attending a car workshop. Petra responded immediately. “I said, ‘I’ve always wanted to teach this sort of stuff’,” she recalls. “So Rachel, who made the post, and I got together, had a coffee, and made a plan for a two-day workshop.”

A group of people gather around a car. A teacher works on the car

Bank Australia customer CERES Community Environment Park has hosted the workshop – called Ladies Car Club – at their Brunswick East site for the past five years. Rachel Goldlust, who helps facilitate the sessions, had connections with CERES already, having participated in sustainable building and education workshops.

Rather than running through the basics, like how to change a tyre or check the oil, Petra talks through just about everything associated with cars, engines, the car’s cabin (including lights, seat adjustments and airbags), and what’s under the hood. “For me, it’s important that we start from scratch, so the first day is focused on learning about tools, terminology, how an engine works and how many systems have to work together,” says Petra.

The second day, held a week later, goes through buying and selling a car, changing a tyre, doing a jumpstart, and looking at the components underneath the car (as much as they can without being in a workshop with access to a hoist!). “It’s amazing to me how these people come into this second session and seeing how confident they are,” Petra says. “They open the hood, start looking at the engine, checking the oil. They’re starting to pick up the terminology – it’s great.”

Three people sit underneath a car together

Petra’s main goal with Ladies Car Club is to boost the confidence of the participants, so women and non-binary people feel comfortable regularly checking their cars, talking to mechanics, and trying to figure out what’s going on under the hood themselves. “Some people just want to know how to change a tyre, but others want to know more,” she says. “The course isn’t just about car maintenance; it’s also about giving people the courage to try fixing things themselves.”

The next two-day workshop is running in Brunswick in September, and there are still a few spots available. Find out more here.

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