- Crocodile Dundee is a milestone in Australia’s filmmaking history. In 1986 it was the highest grossing film ever released in Australia (AUS$47.7m) and the biggest grossing foreign film ever released in the USA (US$174.6m).
- Director Phillip Noyce shot his thriller, Dead Calm, on Hamilton Island and the Great Barrier Reef. It starred Nicole Kidman, Billy Zane and Sam Neill.
- The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert takes audiences on a gender-bending journey from the glitter and glitz of the Imperial Hotel in Sydney to the rough and tumble of Coober Pedy in South Australia and Kings Canyon in the Northern Territory.
If we think of Australia as a character in its own right, then its film credits are extensive. Australia’s Outback towns and deserts, its oceans and cities, its blue gum forests and rivers, feature in a wide range of film genres.
Director Peter Weir’s mid-’70s classic, Picnic at Hanging Rock, uses landscape to great effect, leaving us mystified by the strange disappearance of four school girls and their teacher while on a picnic in the Macedon Ranges, in central Victoria.
When Weir later directed Mel Gibson in Gallipoli he again featured the Australian landscape, this time using the sand dunes and cliffs around Coffin Bay in South Australia. The views were as fresh and innocent as the young idealists enlisting for Europe’s Great War.
Director Gillian Armstrong’s period piece My Brilliant Career makes great use of locations such as Macarthur Homestead in Camden to convey the conventions of Australian colonial life. When Armstrong adapted Peter Carey’s novel, Oscar and Lucinda, she used the magnificent Bellingen, Clarence and Mann Rivers to help drive this film’s narrative.
Australian film is a many-splendoured thing. Its treasures include a comic pig called Babe, the out-of-control Mad Max movies, and the Outback gender-bending road movie, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
Many Australian films are small stories, writ large. Director Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom won hearts and minds because the special universe of ballroom dancing proved to be a totally absorbing world of thwarted ambitions and tangled love.
At the other end of the spectrum are the Crocodile Dundee films. Their portrayal of a laconic Australian surviving in a hostile or alien environment (be it New York or Outback Australia) was box office gold.
Rogue flips that scenario around, and drops a cynical American travel writer in with a group of holiday-makers on a river cruise through the waters of the Northern Territory’s Kakadu National Park. Terror strikes when the boat heads into unexplored territory.
Lying to the east of Kakadu National Park is the Aboriginal-owned wilderness of Arnhem Land. Ten Canoes and Yolngu Boy tell their stories from an Indigenous point of view, using Arnhem Land’s unspoiled beauty to help convey some of the cultural richness of Aboriginal Australia.
Character-driven stories account for a large portion of Australian cinema, propelling the likes of Nicole Kidman, Judy Davis, Heath Ledger, Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe - and let’s not forget the swashbuckling Errol Flynn - onto cinema screens around the world.
But there’s no doubt that Australia as a character is often centre stage. From period drama to adventure, from horror to comedy, from epic love stories to low-budget urban tales, the Australian landscape is sometimes foreboding, sometimes sublime, and often incredibly romantic.
Clearly, Australia loves the camera as much as the camera loves it.
Follow the movie trail
Arnhem Land, Northern Territory
Ten CanoesYolngu Boy
Lying to the east of Kakadu National Park, Arnhem Land encompasses 91,000 square kilometres of unspoiled wilderness. Ten Canoes and Yolngu Boy offer a cinematic window into this Aboriginal-owned land.
Bellingen, New South Wales
Oscar and Lucinda
The rainforests at Dorrigo, the verdant valley of Bellingen, and the beautiful beaches at Urunga and Mylestom provided a perfect setting for the film version of author Peter Carey’s novel, Oscar and Lucinda.
Broken Hill, New South Wales
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the DesertMission Impossible 2Mad Max 2
There’s a magical quality to the light that wraps around the dry and dusty landscapes of Broken Hill, in Outback New South Wales. It intensifies the surreal qualities of locations such as Mario’s Palace Hotel, which features in Priscilla. In its heyday, Mario’s was the grandest hotel in Broken Hill. When Priscilla’s characters stayed there, the hotel’s brightly painted walls and ceilings made quite an impression.
Daintree Rainforest, Queensland
The Thin Red Line
Director Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line is a 1998 war film which tells a fictional story about the Battle of Guadalcanal in World War II. Nick Nolte and James Caviezel are among the cast members. The Thin Red Line was filmed predominantly in the Daintree Rainforest in north Queensland.
Flinders Ranges, South Australia
The TrackerRabbit Proof Fence
Filmed in the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary in the Flinders Ranges, The Tracker tells the story of an Aboriginal tracker who leads three white men through the Outback in pursuit of a fugitive. The Flinders Ranges is also the location for the award-winning Rabbit Proof Fence which was filmed at the rural property of Nilpena Station and the nearby salt lake, Lake Torrens.