I finally saw Baz Luhrmann’s movie “Australia” over the holidays. I had hoped for better. It was not unpleasant, and the actors do a creditable job. It’s always good to see Bryan Brown (I’ve been a fan since “Breaker Morant,” though it was in “A Town Like Alice” that I really got hooked). He has held up tremendously well over the years, and looked great—which can’t be said for Jack Thompson (the old drunk who dies in the stampede), a major figure in Australian cinema who also appeared in “Breaker Morant” (he was the lawyer) and was Clancy in the iconic “The Man from Snowy River,” among other films. Still a great actor, but he doesn’t appear to have aged quite as gracefully as Brown.
The youngster who plays Nullah, Brandon Walters, is wonderful, and Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman do a good job with the multiple, often tortuous plot lines, clichés, and twisted history.
I’m just sorry that the country Australia wasn’t represented by a better movie. First of all, calling it “Australia” is a bit silly. Like making a movie about the Alamo and calling it “The United States.” Sure, it’s a bit of the country, but it’s not the whole country. The scenery was nice, but often the pans went so fast it was hard to really take in anything. You also didn’t see much of Australia’s variety, and even in the Top End, there is a lot more variety than what was shown.
I’m also sorry that history was twisted in ways that were clearly designed to make Australians look bad. For example, the whole plot element of sending children to an island as the Japanese bombers approached is rubbish. Aborigines, adults and children, were evacuated along with everyone else, often being sent all the way to the south coast, to make sure they wouldn’t be in harm’s way. Sure, there were serious issues with the Aborigines (which are not really addressed in any meaningful way by the movie), but sending children and priests to their deaths was not among those issues. As for the Japanese soldiers on the beach, shooting at those rescuing the children—the Japanese didn’t land any soldiers in Australia. It was a surprise bombing run, like the bombing of Pearl Harbor. So pure fiction was added to misrepresentation.
Then there were the things that they singled out to make Australia look bad that were in fact pretty universal. For example, not letting Nicole Kidman into the bar and directing her to the separate ladies’ section of the pub. There were, in the 1930s, almost no bars anywhere in the world that allowed women to stand shoulder to shoulder with the boys—and in fact, in my own experience, in England, separate rooms for ladies in the pubs and even some restaurants didn’t go away until the late 1980s. On the other hand, women in Australia had the vote well before women in the United States did. So again, an element is taken out of context with the sole purpose of making Aussies look bad.
I still enjoyed the movie. It was Australia, and it included areas where I’ve traveled, so I was pleased to see what was shown. The love story was predictable, but it was still pleasant. Jackman and Kidman are pretty to look at and good enough actors to sell the idea that they were in love. The little pseudo-Darwin they created looked very much like a small town in Australia, which gladdened my heart. But the movie as a whole was out of control. It’s not really true to Australia, the people or the history. I might consider seeing it a second time, for the scenery, but don’t really care if I see it again, and I will not be adding it to my collection of Australian movies.