Australia has produced its fair share of movies, both good and bad. Some of the better ones are listed here.
* Walkabout (1971): The hauntingly beautiful and disturbing movie set in the Australian desert stars Jenny Agutter and the Aboriginal actor David Gulpilul. A white girl and her brother get hopelessly lost and survive with help from a doomed Aboriginal hero.
* Picnic at Hanging Rock (1974): This Peter Weir movie is about a group of schoolgirls and a teacher who go missing at an eerie rock formation north of Melbourne. It’s set at the beginning of the 20th century, when bonnets and teapots were the norm.
* Mad Max (1979): Mel Gibson fights to the death in the Outback, which presents the ideal setting for a post-apocalyptic world. The movie was so popular that it spawned two sequels: “The Road Warrior”(1981) and “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome”(1985).
* Gallipoli (1981): Peter Weir’s brilliant movie tries to capture the reality of the World War I military disaster that saw Australian and New Zealand troops fighting against overwhelming odds on the Turkish coastline.
* The Man from Snowy River (1982): Kirk Douglas, Tom Burlinson, and Sigrid Thornton star in this startling Australian movie that showcases the mountainous wilderness of Australia, where wild horses roam.
* Crocodile Dundee (1986): Paul Hogan shot to worldwide fame as a “typical”crocodile-wrestling Outback hero. He wears the same hat and a few more wrinkles in “Crocodile Dundee II”(1988) and “Crocodile Dundee in L.A.”(2001).
* Shine (1991): This portrayal of the real-life classical pianist David Helfgott, who rose to international prominence in the 1950s and 1960s before having a nervous breakdown, is remarkable. Oscar-winner Geoffrey Rush gives a powerful performance as the adult Helfgott; Sir John Gielgud plays Helfgott’s teacher.
* Strictly Ballroom (1992): A boy, played by Paul Mercurio, becomes a champion ballroom dancer in this whimsical, playful movie with, thankfully, not too much dancing.
* Muriel’s Wedding (1994): This classic Australian comedy tells the tale of Muriel Heslop (Toni Collette), a young woman who dreams of getting married and moving far away from her boring life in Porpoise Spit. Fabulous characters, great catchphrases, and Abba music abound.
* The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994): A transsexual takes to traveling through the desert in a big pink bus with two drag queens. They sing Abba classics and dress the part, kind of. Where else but Australia . . . .
* The Dish (2000): This comedy about Australia’s role in the Apollo 11 mission in 1969 was set around a group of characters operating the Parkes/Canberra radio telescope.
* Rabbit Proof Fence (2002): This fictionalized tale addresses the real-life experience of plucking Aboriginal children from their homes in order to put them in white foster families or—as is the case in this true story—to train three girls to work as domestic servants.
* Australia (2008): An English aristocrat in the 1930s, played by Nicole Kidman, arrives in northern Australia. After an epic journey across the country with a rough-hewn cattle drover played by Hugh Jackman, she is caught in the bombing of Darwin during World War II.
* Samson and Delilah (2009): This challenging movie depicts two indigenous Australian 14-year-olds living in a remote Aboriginal community who steal a car and escape their difficult lives by heading off to Alice Springs.
* Animal Kingdom (2010): Jacki Weaver’s role as a crime family matriarch in this gripping drama set in Melbourne won her multiple awards, including an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
* Red Dog (2011): A tearjerker family flick about a kelpie looking for his master in a Western Australian Outback mining town. Adapted from the novel by Louis de Bernières and based on a true story.
Aboriginal music has been around for tens of thousands of years. Most well known is the sound of the didgeridoo, made from a hollowed-out tree limb. Listen carefully and you might hear animal sounds, including the flapping of wings and the thumping of feet on the ground. You might hear the sounds of wind, or of thunder, or trees creaking, or water running. It just goes to show how connected the Aboriginal people were, and still are in many cases, to the landscape they lived in. For contemporary fusions of indigenous and Western music, look for music by Yothu Yindi, Christine Anu, and Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu (who sings only in his own language).
As far as Australian rock ’n’roll goes, you might know a few of the following names. The big star in the ’50s was Johnny O’Keefe, but he soon gave way to the likes of the Easybeats. Running into the 1970s, you find the Bee Gees, AC/DC, Sherbet, John-Paul Young, and the Little River Band. Others who made a name for themselves included the solo stars Helen Reddy, Olivia Newton-John, and Peter Allen. The 1980s saw Men at Work, Crowded House, The Go-Betweens, Hunters and Collectors, Kylie Minogue, and Midnight Oil. INXS, Silverchair, and Savage Garden took you into the 1990s, which Kylie managed to stitch up, too. Jet and the Vines were both Australian rock groups that saw considerable international success in the 21st century, along with, you guessed it, Kylie Minogue. For songs with a contemporary Australian voice, go no further than Paul Kelly. In recent years, the best-known Australian singer in the United States has probably been Gotye, who won three Grammy awards in 2013.
Australian literature has come a long way since the days when the bush poets A.B. “Banjo”Paterson and Henry Lawson penned their odes to a way of life now largely lost. The best known of these is Paterson’s epic The Man from Snowy River, which first hit the bestseller list in 1895 and was made into a film. But the literary scene has always been lively, and Australia has a wealth of classics, many of them with the Outback at their heart.
Miles Franklin wrote My Brilliant Career, the story of a young woman faced with the dilemma of choosing between marriage and a career, in 1901 (made into a film starring Judy Davis in 1979); We of the Never Never (1902), by Mrs. Aeneas Gunn, tells the story of a young woman who leaves the comfort of her Melbourne home to live on a cattle station in the Northern Territory; Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds (1977) is a romantic epic about forbidden love between a Catholic priest and a young woman (made into a television miniseries in 1983); and Walkabout (1959), by James V. Marshall, explores the relationship between an Aborigine and two lost children in the bush. It was made into a powerful film by Peter Weir in 1971.
A good historical account of Australia’s early days is Geoffrey Blainey’s The Tyranny of Distance, first published in 1966. Robert Hughes’The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australia’s Founding (1987) is a best-selling nonfiction study of the country’s European history.
For a contemporary, if somewhat dark, take on the settlement and development of Sydney, delve into John Birmingham’s Leviathan (1999). From an Aboriginal perspective, Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence (1997), by Doris Pilkington, tells the true story of three young girls from the “stolen generation,”who ran away from a mission school to return to their families.
Modern novelists include David Malouf, Elizabeth Jolley, Helen Garner, Sue Woolfe, and Peter Carey, whose True History of the Kelly Gang (2001), a fictionalized autobiography of the outlaw Ned Kelly, won the Booker Prize in 2001. West Australian Tim Winton evokes his part of the continent in stunning prose; his latest work, Breath (2008), is no exception. The multi-award-winning The Light Between Oceans, by Australian novelist M. L. Stedman, is set in a Western Australian lighthouse. Stay tuned for the movie!
Outsiders who have tackled Australia include Jan Morris and Bill Bryson. Morris’Sydney was published in 1992, and Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country (2001), while not always a favorite with Australians, may appeal to American readers.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.