‘Australia’ a lavish comic book

11 Feb 2009

By The Record

Australia (PG)
By Guy Crouchback
WITH a couple of misgivings, I recently joined some friends to see the film Australia. It turned out to be neither as good, nor quite as bad, as it might have been.

Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman star in a scene from the movie Australia. Photo: CNS/Fox

























It was nice of Mr Rudd to give what amounted to $80 million of our Australian taxpayers’ money to 20th Century Fox (owned by the umbrella company of that well-known pauper Mr Rupert Murdoch), to help finance the film, but at the end of the day one cannot call it much more than a moderately successful piece of entertainment.
The concluding wrap about the fact that an apology for the “stolen generation” was issued by the Prime Minister in 2008 might have been more informative with the words “This is a paid political advertisement by the present Australian government.”
In fact the whole story of the so-called “stolen generation” is complex and remains controversial. Some, not all, part-Aboriginal children were taken into care because they were not accepted by either white or Aboriginal society.
The number remains very uncertain. It is wrong to treat the matter in a simplistic, melodramatic manner, pushing a certain agenda.
Still, simplistic is what this film is about. It is basically a very lavish comic-book.
I was not quite sure that the first half-hour or so was not written by Barry Humphries as a caricature of Australian stereotypes, and this level of characterisation is pretty well maintained throughout.
I expected the Catholic missions, where the half-caste children dreaded being sent, to be portrayed as hell-holes staffed by hot-eyed fanatics or child-molesters, but in fact the only mission shown briefly looks a happy enough place, with the children playing by the sea.
The priest shown comes across as a rather silly-sounding young man very like Dougal in Father Ted, constantly invoking The Lord, but also brave and dedicated, taking a mission-boat back to a Japanese-held island to rescue children there.
He is shown in black clerical garb and dog-collar, though I have a feeling that missionaries in the Northern Territory tended to wear shorts and open-necked shirts.
The plot is not really, as some unkind critic stated, about Nicole Kidman discovering a Botox mine in the outback, but the first half is concerned largely with an equally improbable cattle-drive which seems to go to Darwin via the Olgas in Central Australia, the Bungle-Bungles in Western Australia, the Never-Never and various gorges in the North-West. Aboriginal life, to the small degree it is shown, is somewhat… er … romanticised. A small half-caste boy stops 1,500 cattle stampeding over a cliff by the use of magical powers. With Nicole Kidman’s arrival the parched wasteland of Faraway Downs station blossoms equally magically into lush grass and flowers.
There is a scene of a Japanese party landing on an island off Darwin in World War II, which didn’t happen, but is plausible   (there were probably some covert Japanese landings for reconnaissance).
Despite the geological mix-ups (Well, John Ford left us with the impression that most of the American West was like Monument Valley), the scenery is spectacular and some of the camera-work very impressive.
It would be a mistake to treat Australia too seriously.  It is three hours of pretty harmless entertainment and easy to watch.
It is just a pity that we didn’t get a film with a little more depth for our money.