Baz Lurhmann’s Australia as Myth

Very good article in the Review section of the Fin Review last week, entitled What is Scotland. The article tracks the rise of nationalism in Scotland and how this is built upon notions of a unified identity. And so we get stories of nation-building that become the myths which people adopt as truths to fuel nationalist fervour and forge common bonds. The author relates how these myths are easily received, even if they were imaginatively fabricated in history, and how these myths are difficult to refute as people are not inclined to look critically at their own history.

My interest in this article was piqued from my recent viewing of the film Australia starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman. A film with such a grandiose title, with considerable airplay, and marketing from the Australian Government creates its own hype. Is it then a big enough film to retell and reformulate some of the myths of Australia as films like Gallipoli or The Man from Snowy River have done in the past? Australia came up short for me and I left the cinema disappointed for a number of reasons:

  1. The timing of various scenes was out of synch – a car driving off had only travelled 100 metres even though, in that time, a lot has happened in the movie which would actually take 3 or 4 minutes. The kangaroo hopping beside the car was another.
  2. The movie was too long and seemed to be disjointed and have multiple endings throughout
  3. The love story between Nic and Hugh did not really do it for me: even though I do not mind a romantic flick every now and then. I am wondering why that is so, it’s not because of Nicole but frankly, the relationship lacked chemistry
  4. The history was out of whack with what actually occurred with the Japanese bombing of Darwin
  5. The links with the Wizard of Oz and the song Somewhere Over the Rainbow were too corny and “unAustralian” for me
  6. The cattle stampede was way over the top and reminded me of a spoof Western

Perhaps I expect a bit more from a movie of such a name set in the iconic Top End and Kimberley region. Perhaps the ending should have been a tragedy as it was originally intended. Perhaps there was not enough about the inventiveness of Australians in the outback.

I did like that it had a great cast of Australian actors – from Bruce Spence to Ben Mendelson. I loved the acting of the boy who played Nullah. I really enjoyed that the stolen generations were highlighted (although a bit too much so in this movie) and that Aboriginal culture was portrayed. Perhaps more could have been made of how Aboriginal stockmen earned less than their whitefella equivalents.

While many people loved the film, I think it will not be remembered as a myth-relating film for Australians. That it did not rely on a particular story, poem or historical hero makes this more difficult. Also, the setting of the bombing of Darwin during the Second World War is not part of the major folklore of Australia as something that gives us our identity. Around that time, other happenings that have greater claim to defining Australian identity include those of Changi, The Burma railway, the exploits of Weary Dunlop, snipers along the Kokoda Trail, and the fall of Singapore (although all of these are located offshore of course).

Perhaps the film may have been better handled around the poem (and our national song) of Waltzing Matilda and the shearer’s strikes of the 1890’s. There could still have been love interests, breathtaking scenery, law and justice, politics, Aborigines and so forth built around it. But then again, people would have known the ending – but of course, that is the art of myth – it is the telling of a story in an entertaining manner that people want to listen to, even though they know how it will end!

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One Response to Baz Lurhmann’s Australia as Myth

  1. I have just read a great article by Barry Dickens in The Age. I think that he captures the essence of Australia the movie very well – as a comedy! He says “Each scene possesses its secret gaucheness and unmeant hilarity. The story is rubbish. The meaning is beyond analysis.” “Australia is our stupidity made vaudeville and our history slapstick.”
    I had a similar reaction when seeing the film Ghost Rider – which my son enjoyed but looked incredulously at me laughing at the nonsensical plot and wooden characters.
    So then, Australia is a great movie – but as gauche and vaudeville, not as serious myth-telling!

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