starring Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, David Wenham, Bryan Brown, Jack Thompson, Ben Mendelsohn, David Gulpilil and Brandon Walters
screenplay by Stuart Beattie and Baz Luhrmann
directed by Baz Luhrmann
Australia was pretty good, although not really what I expected when I rented it. I was expecting some kind of historical epic, like a James Michener novel; a story of the building and growth of a nation from a miniscule colony to a great, modern nation, one of the largest countries in the world; a story of adventure, tragedy, love, lust, crime and virtue. What it was instead was an adventure tale - a good adventure, too - about a slight English nobleman, Lady Jane Ashley, who follows her husband to the Australian Outback in order to take over his failing cattle station in the Northern Territoryin 1941. Then she accidentally falls into a cattle war with Australia’s major beef producer, King Carney - beautifully portrayed by Bryan Brown.
The film culminates in the first Japanese air raid on the northern city of Darwin. (There were a total of 62 raids on Darwin throughout the war.) On February 19, 1942, just four days after the fall of Singaporeto the Japanese, 242 Imperial Air Force planes attacked the city of 6,000 intending to knock it out and neutralize it as a possible Allied military hub. The attack dropped more bombs and sank more ships than at Pearl Harbor two months earlier, although fewer people died owing to the fact that the American ships in Hawaiiwere larger and more heavily manned. Just as in Hawaii, the populace feared an imminent Japanese invasion that never came. How could the Japanese have seized the entire continent nation, and what would they do with it if they had?
The story is a narrative from the perspective of a young, half-white-half-aborigine boy, Nullah (Brandon Walters), telling us how the feisty Missus Boss (Lady Sarah) quickly adapts to the hard Outback cattle station life, and teams with her husband’s cattle drover, called simply “Drover,” or “Boss” (Hugh Jackman) to drive the cattle to port and market in Darwin. (Just like in the American west, this was the job of cowboys, to drive herds of cattle cross-country - until railroads and trucks made the cowboy almost obsolete.) Predictably, a romance develops between the two.
But Australia is not just about this romantic narrative. It tells the very serious story of Australia’s experience with the government policy - not discontinued until 1973 - of forcibly removing Aboriginal children and mixed-race children from their families into state foster care at the hands of the Church. “To get the black out of them,” or “To civilize them” as some characters in the film explained. It is Australia’s great shame, creating what are called the “Lost Generations,” and for which the white government officially apologized in 2008. Incidentally, Canada had a near identical policy regarding its aboriginal peoples. Policies like these grew from the notion of the White Man’s Burden to civilize the world under the British Empire.