Australia and Australian Film

Over at the Age, Peter Costello is holding forth about Baz Luhmann’s film Australia. In Costello’s eyes, ‘As a love story the Baz Luhrmann film Australia is pretty good. If only the filmmaker had left it at that.’ Costello’s objection is, of course, that Luhmann’s film criticises the policy which resulted in the stolen generations. Costello criticises the historical accuracy of the film and writes:

It ends by telling us that the policy of assimilation ended in 1973. (Nobody ever explained what that policy was). It tells us that the Government apologised to the stolen generations in 2008 (which solves the indigenous problem). But it doesn’t give us much other historical information. Such as what happened when the missions closed and the welfare system started. How a whole new generation of boys and girls like Nullah fared under that system.

Certainly some of Costello’s points about the details of the film are well made. Nevertheless, details aside, his main target is Australia’s left-liberal politics. By quibbling with the details of the movie, Costello is actually criticising a political position. We might note that this technique has been used often by the right in the history wars.

Still, there is something odd in the coexitence of the national hero depicted in the film, called the Drover (played by Hugh Jackman) and that character’s passionate defence of indigenous rights. Part of this oddity is perhaps the epic scale of the film, in which the characters don’t quite seem real, but rather seem like archetypes. I did wonder, anyway, just how plausible the character of the Drover is. He sits oddly in the film.

For those more interested in a cinematic assessment of the film, I could recomment David Denby’s review in The New Yorker, which is most entertaining though probably a little too harsh. Denby, one of the sharpest film reviewers around, does a thorough critique of Luhmann’s style and its inability to adapt itself to the task he has set himself. Denby writes, for example:

In his previous movie, “Moulin Rouge!,” his inability to stage anything clearly was disguised by spasmodic camera movements and abrupt cutting; the fragments were glued together to form a bumpy continuity of sorts. But in “Australia,” when not much is going on in the big open spaces, Luhrmann is lost. His camera sweeps along the ground as if searching for something, or, more frequently, it rises rapidly into the air while gazing downward—the receding ground might have been photographed from the space shuttle as it took off. But once Luhrmann is up in the air, where can he go? He can only cut to the ground again.

Rjurik Davidson

Rjurik Davidson is a writer, editor and speaker. Rjurik’s novel, The Stars Askew was released in 2016. Rjurik is a former associate editor of Overland magazine. He can be found at and tweets as @rjurikdavidson.

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