Movies can help us learn more about ourselves and better understand the world around us, conveying a multitude of experiences and perspectives we might otherwise never be exposed to.
From my suburban home on the east coast of Australia, I grew up loving movies for their elements of escapism, drawn to places on screen that seemed to only possibly exist within the realm of my loungeroom television. Some of my favourite films were set in remote parts of Australia, places I believed only a true adventurer would endeavour to explore.
I still love a good Aussie flick and as an advocate for Australian exploration, these are five films I recommend to anyone considering an adventure into remoter parts of the country. They’ll have you packing a swag, donning an Akubra and planting your Blundstone-clad feet off the beaten track in no time at all.
Based on the true trek of Queensland born Robyn Davidson, Tracks relays Davidson’s epic pilgrimage through the Australian desert from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean in 1977. Following an apprenticeship as a cameleer in Alice Springs, Davidson (played by Australia actress Mia Wasikowska) decides to embark on a 1,700-mile trek across the desert with nothing more than four camels and her loyal dog, Diggity. Craving isolation and a true nomadic experience, Davidson is only joined briefly on her nine-month journey by American photographer Rick Smolan (Adam Driver), documenting the trek for National Geographic, and a Pitjantjatjara man, Eddie, who guides her to water from Docker River to Warburton in Western Australia.
Don’t expect glamourisation or embellishment from the movie adaptation of Davidson’s journey – the desert landscape is realistically portrayed as harsh and unforgiving, and her journey is harrowing in its true moments. While the bulk of Davidson’s actual journey took place in Western Australia, the movie was mostly filmed in the Northern Territory and South Australia, a testament to how inaccessible most of the places Davidson travelled by camel really are. Nonetheless, Tracks manages to capture something enchanting and beautiful about the remote, inhospitable regions of Australia and an aching to explore and see more of it will be stirred after seeing the film.
Many Australians will be familiar with homegrown author Tim Winton and his propensity for writing the Australian landscape in ways that few do. Having spent his childhood and early writing years on the west coast, Winton’s connection to Australia’s rarely written west is reflected heavily in many of his novels, particularly Breath. Set in the small town of Sawyer near Perth in Western Australia, Breath is a coming of age story about two teenage boys, Pikelet and Loonie, who discover the world of surfing under the guidance of a mysterious guru, Sando (Simon Baker). In true Winton fashion, Western Australia’s rugged beauty and unique terrain are on display in the film adaptation of Breath, shot in the remote coastal town of Denmark, five hours south of Perth.
Those that have read Winton’s novel before seeing the film will be impressed by the story’s accurate visual conversion. From filming locations at Crusoe Beach, Elephant Rocks, Poison Point Track, Conspicuous Cliffs to the suburban streets, every shot and scene feels stolen from the page, capturing the distinct Western Australia scenery that informed the written version of Breath. As for the surfing scenes, even if you don’t surf, a simple appreciation of the ocean will suffice to enjoy the surfing aspects relayed in Breath. And if the displays of incredible scenery throughout the film has you inspired to head west on a trip, Winton has even suggested a list of places for visitors to the south coast to tick off, including what he regards as some of the best beaches in the world between Walpole and Cheynes Beach.
Based on one of Australia’s incredible true stories, Rabbit-Proof Fence was inspired by Doris Pilkington Garimara’s book Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence which tells the story of her mother, Molly, who was part of the Stolen Generation. As the movie title suggests, the rabbit-proof fence, also known as the State Barrier Fence of Western Australia (constructed between 1901 and 1907 to keep rabbits out of WA’s agricultural areas) is central to the movie’s narrative. When sisters Molly and Daisy, and their cousin Gracie, are forcibly removed from their remote community in Jigalong, in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, and sent to Moore River Native Settlement, a plan to escape and return home is soon devised. The movie trails the girls as they follow the rabbit-proof fence 2,400 kilometres home through arid Australian country, all the while carefully concealing their tracks and evading capture. If you thought Davidson’s journey with four camels through the desert was arduous, imagine three girls aged 14, 10 and 8 trekking for nine weeks on foot through that kind of landscape.
The movie adaptation allows audiences to better understand the Stolen Generations and see the effect these policies had on Indigenous communities. The interplay between the girl’s journey and the land is well reflected throughout Rabbit-Proof Fence and you can’t help but marvel at the girls’ sheer bravery and defiance in embarking on such an expedition to return to their home and mothers. As was the case for Tracks, even though the actual story takes place in Western Australia, it was shot at Nilpena Station, Flinders Ranges in outback South Australia. The film will no doubt stir a longing for Australian exploration and discovery, albeit perhaps not solely on foot.
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
26 years on from its cinematic release, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is still a testament to Australian humour and our diverse and distinct landscape. For those unacquainted with this classic, Priscilla follows two drag queens and a transgender woman on a journey from Sydney to Alice Springs aboard a bus to perform a drag show in the centre of Aus. Along with compelling characterisation, their adventure through the Australian outback by bus is rivetting, exploring everything from the environmental diversity of the places they travel through, to the diversity of the people who inhabit them.
You’ll never forget the scene where Adam (Guy Pearce) sits atop the bus under the glaring midday sun, miming to an opera belter as the vehicle speeds through the red Australian desert. You’ll feel equally enthralled by the scene where, stranded in the outback, the three decide to perform traditional drag anthem I Will Survive to a group of Indigenous Australians, who soon join in with their didgeridoos. And who can forget the epic finale featuring the film’s trio decked in drag, climbing to the top of the Northern Territory’s Kings Canyon? A scene made complete by Bernadette (Terrance Stamp) who, staring out towards the desert plain at a setting sun, turns to her travelling companions and says, “It never ends does it? All that space.”
True History of the Kelly Gang
Of all the adaptations that have brought the iconic Australian bushranger Ned Kelly and his infamous legend to light, True History of the Kelly Gang is one of the most eccentric and compelling. Released on Australia Day of this year, the film is based on Peter Carey’s novel of the same name and, as per most Ned Kelly films, recreates one of Australia’s most notorious figures and his gang as they flee from authorities during the 1870s. There is quite the cast bolstering the credit notes on this one, including George Mackay (as Ned Kelly), Russell Crowe, Nicholas Hoult and Charlie Hunnman.
Casting and screenplay aside, it is the stark scenery and cinematic landscape shots that stand out in True History of the Kelly Gang. The movie, shot in Victoria, captures “Kelly country”, taking audiences into the Winton Wetlands, located in Chesney Vale around three hours north east of Melbourne, to the snow-topped Lake Mountain and Clunes in the state’s west. In fact, where they shot in the Winton Wetlands was close to the old Kelly home at Greta and Glenrowan, the place where Ned and his gang had their final, armour-clad shoot out with police. The fascination with Ned Kelly is often tied to connotations of Australia and what it means to be Australian, but also our belonging to this place and land. As a film delving deeper into Kelly mythology, it does so against a spectacular Australian landscape. Dense bushland, snow-laden mountains and sweeping panoramic shots will inspire a horseback ride through the bush, less the fatal shootout.