Australia, the movie

Written by Reg Henry on .

Crikey! I went to the movie "Australia" on Saturday night, as you might have guessed I would eventually. I think it ran longer than the time I actually lived in Australia. A man had to have the bladder of a bull just to get to the end of it.

Why, it was so long that for the first time in my memory the movie started at the advertised time - no trailers or anything. I reckon the cinema owners knew they would have to pay the projectionist overtime if they kept people in their seats any longer.

The movie had mixed reviews, so here's mine: It was ridiculous and entertaining, in fact, irresistibly so, even at 2 hours and 35 minutes of stereotypes and cliches.

One part of the ridiculous element was that you knew everything that was going to happen before it happened. You just knew the English aristocratic lady - Nicole Kidman - who takes over the cattle ranch (station, in the Australian vernacular) was going to fall in love with the rugged cowboy - Hugh Jackman.

You just knew a cattle stampede was going to occur and, of course, the good guys would bring it under control. And so on and so on, every happening utterly predictable.

In fairness, the movie is one long homage to the grand old Westerns, films like "Red River" - except that "Australia" starts in the days before World War II and takes the action up to the Japanese bombing of Darwin.

The Hugh Jackman character goes by the name of Drover, which is a profession, not a name. A drover is someone who takes part in cattle drives. If professions are going to be people's names, I suppose we should be grateful that the English lady didn't fall in love with a proctologist or an aluminum siding salesman.

The film is pretty much stolen by the little Aboriginal boy Nulla (Brandon Walters), who is engagingly cute as a half-caste lad of about 7 or 8 caught between two cultures. Of course, it is easy to be cute at that age - the real trick in this life is to be cute at age 60.

Still, it's a great performance. To get to know the boy, the English lady teaches him a song out of "The Wizard of Oz" and later he goes to a movie house in Darwin and sees the flick for himself.

This would seem to provide a nice little inside joke, because Australians often call their country "Oz" and the boy's grandfather is an Aboriginal shaman and the boy himself claims some magical powers. In short, the grandfather, a haunting presence in the film, is a Wizard of Oz in his own way.

As it happens, my mother spent part of her childhood in Darwin, where my grandfather was a federal magistrate. She would have been a young woman about the time the movie was set, probably going to balls like the one portrayed in the movie (although she married my dad in 1939 and was in Singapore by the time the Japanese struck there and elsewhere. She escaped by ship back to Australia and spent the duration of the war in Sydney).

Mum fondly remembered the Aboriginals she got to know in Darwin. They indeed would go on walkabout, as the boy wanted to do in the movie. She also had a respect for Aboriginal magic. As a young trainee nurse in a hospital, she met Aboriginal men who had been cursed by having a bone pointed at them. Inevitably, they would lose all interest in life and die.

So, go see it by all means, but avoid bone pointers and don't have a drink beforehand.


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