If you thought the Australian film industry started and finished with Crocodile Dundee, Hugh Jackman’s chest hair and Nicole Kidman’s make-up box, then you couldn’t be more wrong. Although the Aussies don’t have the big budget of Hollywood or produce as many movies as its Indian equivalent, they’ve definitely churned out several rip-roaring pictures over the years. Indeed, in 1906, the first full length feature, The Story of the Ned Kelly Gang, was actually shot on these shores. Here, I select my 10 fave flicks from Down Under.
Director: Nic Roeg
Locations: Alice Springs and Arnhem Land (NT)
The pitch: I wish somebody would have told these poor buggers that the Never Never isn’t the best place to get marooned. Strewth! Nonetheless, that’s what happens to a school girl (Jenny Agutter) and her little brother (Lucien John), when their father goes bananas and tries to shoot them before killing himself. Will these two Sydneysiders have the knack to survive in a place so hot that I once tried to fry an egg on my butt cheeks there? Thankfully, help is at hand for this pair of greenhorns, as an Aboriginal teenager materialises out of nowhere like a mirage. The shifting colours and harshness of the outback have never been more visceral than in Roeg’s minimalist masterpiece.
WOLF CREEK (2005)
Director: Greg Mclean
Locations: Barossa Valley (SA), Flinders Ranges (SA), Wolfe Creek (WA) and more
The pitch: I hid behind the couch then chundered when I saw Bambi, so what was I doing watching this mesmerising horror? Unsettling almost from the very start, three young backpackers journey towards WesternAustralia’s atmospheric Wolfe Creek where they bump into the ultimate schitzo redneck. No, not George Bush down at the barbie; their nemesis is the Crocodile Dundee-like Mick Taylor (John Jarratt). Obviously none of them have seen a scary movie, as they accept an offer to repair their car from this hideous bushwhacker. Duh! And in no time at all he gets out his big one: first a booming gun and then a huge bowie knife are used to terrorise the strangers as they are tracked and then mutilated. Disturbingly, this picture is partly based on the real-life 2001 murder of Peter Falconio and the assault of his girlfriend Joanne Lees by Bradley John Murdoch, as well as being loosely inspired by the Backpacker Killer Ivan Milat, who murdered seven travellers in New South Wales during
MAD MAX 2: THE ROAD WARRIOR (1981)
Director: George Miller
Locations: Broken Hill and Silverton (NSW)
The pitch: These days, with every fresh outburst he makes, Mel Gibson really does appear to have lost all of his marbles. However, there was a time when such wanton rage and insanity was called for, because he starred as one of the coolest anti-heroes ever depicted on celluloid, in Mad Max. Although three films were made, it’s in this one that Miller’s creation really comes into his own by helping a community of settlers fend off a roaming bunch of marauders. And, boy, Gibson certainly has his work cut out for him, as some of his foes have bigger hair than Tina Turner and she’s not even in this one! Such a quest leads him to rediscover his humanity, as beforehand the ‘Road Warrior’ had seemed to be just a lost soul in the post-apocalyptic world where his family had been slaughtered.
THE CHANT OF JIMMIE BLACKSMITH (1978)
Director: Fred Schepisi
Locations: Armidale, Bundarra, Melbourne and more
The pitch: Adapted faithfully from the novel of the same name, itself inspired by a true story, Schepisi’s thought-provoking drama chronicles the life of Jimmie. Half-Aborigine and half-Caucasian, this young man is brought up by a caring Methodist minister around the turn of the 20th Century. Nonetheless, in a powerful indictment of the way Australia’s indigenous people were treated, the lead character’s mixed identity means that neither of the ethnic groups he belongs to will accept him. After Jimmie marries a white woman who it is believed is pregnant with his child, the racism he experiences causes one of the most shocking explosions of violence ever witnessed on the silver screen.
ROMPER STOMPER (1992)
Director: Geoffrey Wright
Locations: Footscray and Newport (Vic)
The pitch: Maybe they had a dodgy Pho because Hando (Russell Crowe), Davy (Daniel Pollock) and the other neo-Nazis in the gang they lead are defo hot under the collar about something. Indeed, fearing racial impurity, they unashamedly take out their antipathy on the Vietnamese community who share the same blue-collar suburb of Melbourne with them. Come on fellas, surely the food wasn’t that bad! The streets rock with violence when the local Asians fight back – no Bruce Lee jokes please. Eventually, the skinheads’ world of hatred begins to crumble, when their two top dogs both develop feelings for a rich, formerly sexually abused druggie called Gabe.
Director: Peter Weir
Locations: Beltana, Lake Torrens, Port Lincoln (all SA) and more
The pitch: If ever a battle shaped the birth of a nation, then in Australia’s case it was Gallipoli. Archie Hamilton (Mark Lee) and Frank Dunne (Mel Gibson) are two talented sprinters from rural Western Australia who join the Light Horse for different reasons, in Peter Weir’s First World War epic. They form a close bond by the time they are transported to Turkey, where they are to be part of a suicidal assault on that country’s fortified coastline (the Nek). Callousness, determination and unimaginable sacrifice are all on display, as the bravest of the brave are cut down by the cold hail of steel.
THE DISH (2000)
Director: Rob Stitch
Locations: Canberra, Forbes and Parkes (NSW)
The pitch: If somebody told you that Australia played a small part in the original moon landings, you’d probably think they were a few raisins short of a fruitcake. However, back in 1969, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s feet were getting all jiggy with the lunar surface, NSW’s Parkes Observatory was relaying the live events to earth. This film tells a fictional account of that story. In fact, the eponymous saucer-shaped dish which is actually a radio telescope looks like it could bugger off into space itself.
MURRIEL’S WEDDING (1994)
Director: PJ Hogan
Locations: Coolangatta, Surfers Paradise and Sydney
The pitch: The last time someone uttered the immortal catch phrase from this film “you’re terrible, Muriel” to me, it was because I’d got my most sensitive piece of equipment stuck somewhere where the sun doesn’t shine. As a female, the main protagonist in this movie doesn’t have such a problem. Instead, because she is a plump unloved ‘ugly duckling’ her only goal is to escape from the humdrum, suburban milieu of Porpoise Spit and get married. Thus spurred on by a love of ABBA, Muriel heads for the bright lights of Sydney. But will she meet her “Super Trouper” and say, “I do, I do, I do, I do (and even another – isn’t that overkill?) I do”, or is she destined to follow in my footsteps and get so depressed that she comfort eats a whole Christmas turkey?
STRICTLY BALLROOM (1992)
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Locations: Marrickville (NSW)
The pitch: There’s more cheese in this film than you’d find at a Dutch supermarket, but fortunately it’s not in the main protagonist’s (Scott Hastings) hair. Instead his nifty bouffant makes do with wads of gel and spray as he tries to breakdown the stereotypes about ballroom dancing without breaking his partner’s foot. Set in Melbourne in the 1950s, this romantic comedy follows our wannabe John Travolta in his attempt to win the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix Dancing Championship. But, not content with just trying to come first, he wants to do it in his own style. So, it’s no surprise that he’s got more moves than a crab on ecstasy as he tries to outwit his nemesis, the Australian Dancing Federation chairman, Barry Fife (Bill Hunter).
CROCODILE DUNDEE (1986)
Director: Peter Faiman
Locations: McKinlay (Qld) and Kakadu (NT)
The pitch: Okay, I’ve left it until last, but maybe the guy with weirder outfits than Darth Vader or Michael Jackson did more than any other character to resurrect the Australian film industry. Coming out in 1986, Paul Hogan’s Mick Dundee is such a renowned bushwhacker that New York’s Newsday feature writer Sue Charlton (Linda Kozlowski) travels to the outback so that he can whack her bush. Well, not straight away. First of all she gets some titbits for a story as he displays skills such as whispering to a buffalo – I prefer eating them in burgers myself. Later, as their romance blossoms in the Big Apple, the Antipodes’ zaniest adventurer is as out-of-his-depth as a pope mobile in a grand prix, which makes for some cracking comedy. The rest is history, as this film went on to be the number one feature at that year’s box office.