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Red Continent

5 minutes to read

The Opening lines of Aussie flicks are getting a little monotonous.

In 1939, Lady Sarah Ashley travels from England to northern Australia…

In 1926 in the Australian outback town of Dungatar…

In 1971, a truck driver, Thomas arrives in Dampier, Western Australia…

Set in the Australian outback in the 1880’s

In Broome, Western Australia in 1999…

Australia is red. It’s full of murderous highwaymen and country towns with dark secrets, accents that I don’t hear often and hats I’ve never seen on anybody but parking inspectors. It’s got heaps of white people in it. Many of them are Guy Pierce and Hugo Weaving. Some of them are Joel Edgerton. Russel Crowe occasionally appears to trick you into thinking that he’s not a Kiwi national.

Australia never plays itself.

A thought: imagine if every American film was set in Texas – a hotbed of racial tension and nationalistic feeling. Famous for its desert landscapes, deeply conservative mindset and basically loving itself sick. Guns and flags and huge swathes of normalised bigotry. That’d be pretty stupid, right? I wouldn’t watch American films if they were all set in Texas. It would get super boring.

Wolf Creek 2
Wolf Creek 2. source

So why would I watch Australian films?

They’re all set in the same place and are all about the same people. There’s no doubt that this image is immensely profitable – our most internationally profitable films tend to be set in the elusive outback – but it’s also kind of gross: like that kid in high school who figured out what aspect of his personality was most likely to make him popular and doubled down on it. Most Australian films don’t reflect the everyday life of the average Australian. They’re about Ivan Milat and Nicole Kidman and have pretty clear good/evil dichotomies. And they’re really fucking red.

Why is that?

UOW-based creative & filmmaker Keiden Cheung might have the answer:

“I think like all stereotypes, the image of Australia and the typical Australiana is based partially on truth. But it got blown up on the international stage by things like Croc Dundee and The Simpsons.”

“Initially, life in Australia took on that classic outback kind of vibe. It would be fair to say that it was a reality. But now, the international image of Australia generally centres on stereotypes and tropes. It’s an image that is comfortable for the mass audience because they’re accustomed to that image. It’s no mystery that change is an aspect that many tend to avoid, consciously or not.”

Australian films do seem to be obsessed with the past. It’s like they’re constantly longing for the good old days. Sure, you might be beset on all sides by serial killers, Japanese bombers and gangs of roving criminals, but you knew who the bad guys were. Things are a good deal murkier today. More and more it seems that the systems set up to protect us are doing

the opposite, and turning away from that is understandable. But, if Australian film doesn’t evolve in line with the nation’s demographics, it risks losing out on a massive audience at home.

This issue exists in conjunction with another point I’ve heard from a lot of aspiring film-makers and scriptwriters: people don’t like setting their stories here.

“I think it’s because I’m so inundated with stories from America that it felt easier for me to set stories there,” says Jean Williams, a film student. “Sometimes not even on purpose. I’d just realise that I wasn’t thinking about Australia. I feel you can do a larger-scale story in America; it’s a vast place with many culturally distinct areas.”

Our country has natural boundaries to story-telling. Its vast distances and plethora of remote locations do lend themselves to horror and crime, but the use of these locales discourages the creation of diverse narratives.

“Australia has severe limitations as a setting, but I’m sure there is something here that will make it a brilliant place in the future,” remarks Tom McGill, a UOW media and communications student. “The problem is that Australia has always been presented stereotypically in popular films. Indie hits like Animal Kingdom and The Rover show the real Australia – but nobody is interested.”

Animal Kingdom
Animal Kingdom. source

“The ‘real’ Australia is avoiding the idea that we all live in a country town with a rugby team. We’re a 21st century society, flaws and all. Animal Kingdom was great at showing aspects of modern Melbourne – a regular suburban society that had fallen to the drug trade, which is a very real and viable concept.”

The first time I remember realising that I was seeing Australia in a film was when I watched The Matrix. I could see Martin Place… and Centrepoint, and St James and the AWA Tower. A celluloid relic of the era when there were tax incentives for filming on our shores. That era is long gone. Funny that the only time I noticed Australia was in an American film.

All I notice now are murderous highwaymen and country towns with dark secrets, accents that I don’t hear often and hats I’ve never seen on anybody but parking inspectors. All I see is red.

Where are our films?