Australia

It is a movie with expectation and preceding hype from the media, word of mouth and a sense of belonging. What is the reality?

Not based on any best seller novel, but with a background of historical fact, Baz Lurhmann has tried to capture the quintessential core of what it has meant to be Australian in the portrayal on screen of three structured episodes - the harshness and beauty of surviving and adapting to the tropical Australian countryside; the circumstances faced by the stolen generation, whereby Aboriginal-blooded children were separated from their families to stay with white adoptive parents; and the impact of Darwin being bombed by Japanese planes more than sixty years ago on the heart and soul of Australian society.

The cinematography offered splendid vistas of dry and wet landscapes in all their detail and stirring of the senses. The shots of people at the city ball and of the aftermath of a city besieged evoked of both Christopher Doyle and graphic digitisation. The running cattle brought me back to weekend John Wayne movies. The passion between the two main characters, as played by Hugh Jackson and Nicole Kidman, reminded me of scenes from Gone With the Wind, circa 1930s. The most captivating acting naturally flowed from child actor Brendan Walters, but how many meaningful film roles can be offered to him in the future? I hope there are, as the world should see more of his talent, but not just confined to his "creamy" heritage.

I had been warned that this is a chick flick - and I have to concur. The teenage girl sitting next to me at the Shellharbour cinema was actually crying - and also swooning in an automatic response to the sight of a dressed-up Hugh Jackman suddenly appearing at the Darwin ball. Our emotions as an audience were carried up high and plunged to possible uncertain lows by the plot and specific scenes, as if this was a soapie. I was amused to find that Drover, as played by Jackman, looked more clean shaven and skin-sparkling in the desert than when he was supposedly in downtown Darwin.

There was a preponderance of references to the flag tune from the classic movie The Wizard of Oz - Over The Rainbow. When sung by the Sydney Boys Choir, it almost turned into a stage performance instead of being a film medium. It was with relief that this was balanced by episodic notes of Waltzing Matilda and Wild Colonial Boy.

For a three hour movie, I did not fall asleep once, nor even realise that I did not nod off. I was sufficiently captivated by the film not to notice the passage of time. Acknowledgement of outward and obvious racism by individuals, or as condoned by sections of the society of the time, was handled delicately and transparently, especially within a period of time even before the White Australian Policy was born. Challenges to this racism by Drover reminded me of James A Michener in his novel Tales of the South Pacific.

Facets of Aboriginal belief and practices are scattered throughout, without making a travesty of them but cleverly weaving them into the flow and pace of the plot. I was amazed by how multi-cultural Darwin was by the start of the Pacific War. When faced by outside threats, there is a suggestion from this movie that Australia can find stronger unity despite its diversity. The audience I was with spontaneously broke into applause as Australia the movie ended on a happy note. This was in a cinema hall which had specific seating, a practice long ago dropped in most capital cities. My cinema companion loved this experience as much as I did.

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