Money from dirt

As long as there’s dirt, sand or mud, RACQ gold member Brad McCarthy is a happy man.

Brisbane-based entrepreneur Brad McCarthy has an almost insatiable thirst for adventure and a love of four-wheel driving.

The Brisbane-based entrepreneur has not only published four books – including Dirty Weekends, the definitive guide to off-road tours of Queensland – he’s the brains and engine behind the must-have recovery device for four-wheel drivers, Maxtrax.

If you are a 4WD aficionado, you will know about them. For everyone else, you’ve probably seen them. The distinctive, bright orange metre-long planks are often strapped to the roofracks of weekend warriors around Queensland. Maxtrax have revolutionised getting bogged – well, unbogged, to be precise.

They do such a good job that since launching in 2005, they’ve been snapped up by the USA and Australian militaries, mining companies and emergency services. They have been used in Russian snow and some of the world’s harshest deserts, by teams in the world-famous Dakar Rally.

So how exactly do you go from being a plumber from the Brisbane suburb of Nundah to a successful author, businessman and sought-after 4WD consultant/expert driver for the likes of Tourism Queensland, the Australian army and Toyota?

Swapping pipes for what could have been just a pipedream makes perfect sense when you meet the man.

The twinkle in his blue-eyes and the wide grin hit you first – if you can get close enough.  Now 50, the self-professed explorer is never still. Even pinning him down for an interview involved chasing him across several Australian states and getting him – literally – to pull over.

4WD recovery with Maxtrax

“What are you driving?” I asked him via phone.

“I’m in the Landcruiser today,” he tells me. “I flogged the 1943 Ford jeep a bit too much on the last expedition, so it’s in getting repairs.”

Typically, Brad’s just back from a one-month expedition across the Top End, making a documentary that he hopes to release later this year and doing product research.

“I guess it’s in my genes - the innate drive to see what’s over the hill or around the next bend,” Brad muses. 

“When I was a kid, the old man demolished sugar mills and power stations for a living, so we’d jump into the car in Brisbane and drive out to Mt Isa. Once, heading south from Bundy, he just pulled off the road and we wound up on this beautiful beach, not a soul on it.  I guess that just stuck with me.”

Fast forward to his earlier working life in Brisbane’s construction industry, and no wonder he couldn’t wait to jump in the car and head out of town every weekend. Brad is never more at home than when he’s ‘out in the wild’, behind the wheel of a 4WD, escaping the ‘rat race.’

 

“The more remote, the better. Nothing makes me feel more alive. You see things, smell things, that you’re just not aware of in a city. It heightens your senses and you almost go into survival mode. For me, it’s where I can have the best light-bulb moments.”

 

It explains why Brad has crossed the Simpson Desert nine times, explored Cape York 10 times, and Fraser Island “too many times to count”. 

It was how this free spirit came up with his original Maxtrax concept. Brad was  in his element - alone, doing in-field research for his Dirty Weekends guide on a remote North Queensland beach back in 2003, when he found himself bogged, and the tide was coming in.

“It took me six hours of hand-winching to get out. By that time, I was covered in black mud and sandfly bites, sunburnt and dehydrated. I sprawled, exhausted on the beach and just thought, there has to be a better way!”

When he found out there wasn’t, Brad’s natural inclination to explore led him down a two-year path of research and development and eventually, on to the prototype of his Australian-made invention. 

“I always remember the naysayers telling me ‘no-one will ever pay $300 for two pieces of plastic’ – but they hadn’t lived the experience that I had. They didn’t understand that $300 is cheap insurance for a car worth many thousands of dollars when you’re out in the wild.”

Brad’s instinct was spot-on. No sooner had Maxtrax burst onto the world stage, than they had won 4WD Action Magazine’s Best New Product under $500 and five years later, Best New Product at the International SEMA Show in Las Vegas.

“That was a turning point for me,” Brad says. “There’s been a lot of hard work and perseverance that’s gone into this, so to walk away from SEMA, the world’s biggest stage for motoring accessories with two out of 12 awards, up against the likes of Ford, GM, Toyota, Pioneer and Alpine, it was very motivational. I thought we must be doing something right.”

And if Brad ever became stuck on a deserted island, an experience he actively seeks out regularly, what would he take with him (besides Maxtrax and a copy of Dirty Weekends, obviously)?

Without hesitating he says, “A fire-lighting implement, a knife and an iPhone for music and access to useful apps like a compass and a star chart. In that case, better change the fire-lighting implement to a solar-powered battery pack for the phone,” he laughs.

Army Jeep

STORY JUSTINE DAY

IMAGES BRAD McCARTHY