Australia is very big, and, for just about everyone on Earth, very far away. For someone who grew up in the United Kingdom, a place where you can drive from the top to the bottom in twelve hours, Australia can sometimes seem overwhelming. If you fly from Melbourne to Europe, for the first four hours of the flight you are still in Australia. Leave England and fly four hours east and you’re in Turkey. Australia is also very empty. It has a population of 24 million people. Texas, on the other hand, has a population of 26 million and its landmass could fit inside Australia 11 times. Even more crazily, South Korea has a population of 50 million people and could fit inside Australia 77 times. These three factors, size, distance, and emptiness, play a big part in the way cinema has taught us about Australia, or at least an idea of Australia.
Ask anyone who hasn’t visited the country what they know about it and they’ll usually mention barbeques, beers, and Crocodile Dundee. Ask people in Australia what they think of Crocodile Dundee and they’ll usually shake their head, mutter something under their breath, and change the subject. Crocodile Dundee, the hit movie of 1986, helped a generation of viewers to imagine Australia as this constantly dangerous wilderness full of people who would be wowed and amazed by something as a city full of people. It also painted Aussies out to be uncouth and a little backwards. This depiction of Aussies as being simple folk continues throughout a lot of Aussie cinema. If you boiled Aussie cinema down you would find two genres. The first is the feel-good story about quaint, good-natured people, who are also portrayed as being a little bit stupid, overcoming adversity. Movies like the aforementioned Crocodile Dundee, and it’s two sequels, Muriel’s Wedding, The Mule, The Dish, and The Castle all subscribe to this trend, while painting a picture of rural and urban Australians as not too bright, but solid and honest folk.
The other genre is horror. When me and my wife told our friends in England we were moving here the first thing a lot of them said was, “What about Wolf Creek?” Australia’s vast size and emptiness is what makes Wolf Creek as scary as it is. The opening third of the movie is mostly the three main characters driving for ages and ages until they are in the middle of nowhere and therefore as far away from help as possible. To break Aussie horror down it can usually be divided into Outback Horror and Animal Horror. Outback Horror contains movies like Wolf Creek and its sequel, Long Weekend, and 100 Bloody Acres. They are movies that use Australia’s vastness and remoteness as a way to create tension and fear, just by showing the audience that if something happens to you in the outback, there’s no one around to help. Animal Horror are movies about the many wild animals in Australia and how they might kill you. These are movies like Razorback, Bait, Black Sheep, Black Water, Rogue, Dark Age, and The Reef. It is a constant perception of Australia that every thing can and wants to kill you. This idea is partially because of how many deadly spiders I find in my kitchen but mostly because of movies like the above.
So what did cinema teach us about Australia? It taught us that the people are simple and good-natured and that the country wants to kill us all, whether its by deranged loners out in the vast nothing of the Outback or literally any animal you encounter. And it is a shame that this is the perception that cinema has created as Australia has a rich vein of fantastic movies that don’t fall into the above genres but are movies that haven’t received much overseas acclaim. Of course, I could be completely wrong about the above and all of our perceptions of Australia and Australians are just based on that one Simpsons episode. You know the one I mean.