'Australia' the Film — the Story, Characters, Locations
If you don't want to know details of the 'Australia' movie story (plot), actors and the characters they play, actual filming locations etc, before you see 'Australia', then don't read the film synopsis below, until afterwards.
Once you have seen the film, the information below will be helpful explaining anything you missed or would like to be reminded of. There is a huge amount of detail crammed into the 'Australia' movie - a lot of this interesting detail can be better appreciated during a second or third film viewing.
Running for 2 hours 45 minutes, 'Australia' involves a few issues. The main ones are indigenous history and cultural traditions, colonisation & migration; WWII and the Japanese bombing of Darwin; and life on a remote northern cattle station; with a poignant story of love, humour and tragedy woven amongst it all. Despite what some film critics say, it's not actually a cut-and-dried story - conflicting angles are brought up - but unfortunately the average film reviewer isn't bright enough to realise that Baz has presumably been very deliberate in raising complicated issues (from indigenous drinking, encouraged by well meaning whitefellas, to the racism by recent arrivals in the country, adoption, etc).
In addition to outlining the story and explaining some of the locations, some of the many authentic details that Baz Luhrmann wrote into the sets, the dialogue and the story are highlighted below. These are details that have been missed by the average film reviewer.
This page includes:
- A synopsis of the 'Australia' film - what is the story (plot)?
- Information on the 2 extra scenes included in the DVD
- Translations for Australian words used in the 'Australia' movie
- What is the aboriginal language spoken in the 'Australia' movie?
- 'Australia' movie story & set details - are they authentic?
- Who are the actors in 'Australia' the movie, and what characters do they play?
- 'Australia' film score (soundtrack) - the musicians/songwriters involved
- Where was 'Australia' the movie filmed?
'Australia' begins in September 1939 with Nullah (Brandon Walters), a young boy with an aboriginal mother and a white father, telling the story.
While in the midst of horse riding on what is presumably the family estate in England, Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) interrupts her ride to tell 'Ramsden', her butler, that she intends travelling to Australia to sell the cattle station she and her husband own, called 'Faraway Downs', and that she believes an affair is the only explanation for her husband wanting to remain on the station rather than sell it and return home to England. This is the setting featuring 'Camelot', the beautiful heritage-listed home with an English-style garden in Camden, near Sydney. The fabulous 'Camelot' brick stables, with a distinctive high, arched ceiling supported by timber struts, also feature.
Lady Ashley flies to Australia (on a Qantas plane of the era - a Catalina flying boat), and is pictured reading (with irritation) telegrams that went to and from her husband Lord Maitland Ashley, in Australia, which end with him telling her that as he'll be busy mustering he's sending a 'trusted man' - 'the drover' - to Darwin to collect her and bring her to 'Faraway Downs'.
At the same time, in a billabong attached to the 'Marmont' River (actually the Ord River) on 'Faraway Downs', Nullah is getting a fishing lesson from his grandfather, King George (David Gulpilil), referred to as 'Gulipa' - 'magic man' - by Nullah. He is an aboriginal elder visiting from quite a distance away - Arnhem Land (the north-eastern side of the Northern Territory). King George spots a mob of Faraway Downs cattle being moved over the river onto neighbour (Lesley) King Carney's land, and tells Nullah to hide. The just-murdered husband of Lady Ashley falls into the water amongst the water lilies, right on top of Nullah who is holding his breath under water. Nullah jumps on Maitland's floundering horse, covered in fresh blood, and canters back to the station (homestead).
In the meantime, the drover (Hugh Jackman) is in the Territory Hotel on the Darwin waterfront, awaiting the arrival of Lady Ashley. He tells his aboriginal brother-in-law (and ringer), Magarri (David Ngoombujarra), to wave his hat when he spots the plane approaching (with Lady Ashley). The drover soon ends up being the centre of a brawl which spills out onto the street. The Administrator of the Northern Territory (Barry Otto) also spots Lady Ashley's arrival, through his conveniently placed telescope on the balcony of government house, overlooking the wharf. The army captain, Emmet Dutton (Ben Mendelsohn), has a look through the telescope and is also suitably impressed by her appearance. (Government House in the Australia movie is actually Strickland House in the eastern Sydney suburb of Vaucluse.) Several women, including Cath Carney, greet Lady Ashley on the wharf (and they get the instant brush-off).
Lady Ashley, absolutely dressed to the nines (complete with Ferragamo shoes and white kid gloves), marches into the 'Territory Hotel' and asks the publican, Ivan (Jacek Koman), about the whereabouts of the drover. He is busy brawling in the street, and Lady Sarah emerges from the hotel just in time to see him crowning his opponent with her hat box - then accidentally scattering the delicate contents of one of her many matching blue Prada suitcases amongst the spectators. Murphy's Law being what it is, it was of course the suitcase containing the absolutely most embarrassing items to have scattered amongst a crowd of rowdy blokes (Darwin always having been a blokey town, the crowd were no doubt mostly men who were short on female company, so fairly starved for the sight of undergarments, to boot). Her silk underwear flies everywhere. Not what you'd call a very auspicious introduction; played sensitively and absolutely perfectly by Nicole Kidman, and one of the most well done scenes in the whole film. (Guessing by his accent, Ivan didn't leave Europe very long ago - and he's a great reminder that racism - and sexism - is as old as the hills and exists in all countries; it's not confined to the stereotypical 'white Australians of English descent'. And sometimes recent arrivals are more racist than those who have been born in the country. Ivan's character also drew attention to the common attitudes of around 70 years ago, towards women and aboriginals. I think this point was totally lost on 100% of the film critics who reviewed it - who've clearly never conversed much with taxi drivers, or not given the conversations much thought; or read much Australian history.)
Next, Lady Ashley is dolled up to the nines in distinctive 1930s style safari-wear, complete with long leather boots, round 'driving' glasses (spectacles) and a fly veil, as they head west towards 'Faraway Downs' with 'the drover' driving and the cattle dog cheerfully sitting between them. Magarri and another bloke sit up on top of the overloaded truck. One of the most hilarious scenes of the whole film is when Lady Ashley waxes lyrical about the beauty of the red kangaroos bounding across the flat beside the truck - only to be rudely interrupted by the crack of a gunshot. 'Dinner' (kangaroo) is unceremoniously tied to the top of the cab, and cooked that night over the camp fire.
They arrive at the house on Faraway Downs just as the station has begun mourning the death of the boss, Maitland Ashley, who is laid out on a table inside. The smoking ceremony (burning of gum leaves) is in full swing, and the drover realises there has been a death immediately when he spots the green leaves that have been piled onto the fire outside the house. Nullah hides in the empty water tank, thinking it is the 'coppers' (police) coming to forcibly take him to the Mission, where 'half-caste' children are taken. (The 'Faraway Downs' film set was on Carlton Hill Station, beside House Roof Hill and the Ord River, near Kununurra. The 'smoking ceremony' is traditionally done by aboriginal people to ward off bad spirits when a person dies. As mentioned in the film - mentioning the name of an aboriginal person who has died is taboo, as is viewing their photograph.)
Neil Fletcher (David Wenham) is the station manager, but 'Faraway Downs' was owned by 3 generations of Fletchers, prior to being owned by the Ashleys, and forebears are buried on the stony hillside overlooking the station buildings. Fletcher is Nullah's father, who is still shacked up with his unhappy mother Daisy (Ursula Yovich), on Faraway Downs. It later transpires that Neil Fletcher had murdered Maitland Ashley when he discovered them stealing the mob of Faraway Downs unbranded fat cattle and walking them onto King Carney's land. Fletcher had used a glass-tipped spear which was on display as one of several souvenirs in the homestead, in order to make the murder look like it was committed by King George. (Not what you'd call your ideal father.)
King Carney (Bryan Brown) owns all the cattle country in the top end, except for Faraway Downs, and he's been stealing their best fat cattle and trying to buy the station from Maitland Ashley. Alcoholic station bookkeeper (referred to as an 'accountant' in the film) Kipling Flynn (Jack Thompson) admits there is two sets of books, and shows Lady Ashley the records kept for her husband, showing that Faraway Downs was about to go broke, and the other set of ledgers kept for King Carney, which recorded profits made from all the unbranded cattle taken from Faraway Downs.
Lady Ashley confronts Fletcher, and when he tries to belt Nullah, for pulling the pin out of the windmill to show that Fletcher lied about it being broken, Lady Ashley clouts him across the face with her riding crop and sacks him. The fat shorthorns to be walked to Darwin and sold as army supplies are in the yard waiting for the drover to take them, but Fletcher's blokes (including the red whiskered 'Bull' - Ray Barrett) let them out and hunt them away, while departing.
Knowing his interest in horse breeding, Lady Ashley offers the drover her husband's prize black thoroughbred mare, Capricornia, if he agrees to walk the sale cattle to Darwin for her. An offer he found difficult to resist, especially as it's too late in the season to obtain another droving contract. So he agrees, though shorthanded with just Nullah, Kipling Flynn, Lady Ashley, Magarri, Daisy and Bandy Legs (Lillian Crombie) for help - plus the station cook, Sing Song (Wah Yuen).
Fletcher tips the police off about Nullah, and they arrive with black trackers to take the 'half-caste' off to the mission. Now the windmill is functioning again the rusty water tank is half-full of water, but Nullah hides in it again, with his mother. Though the black tracker knows he is there he turns his back on them rather than reveal their whereabouts. One policeman turns on a tap for a wash, reducing the level in the tank so that the float dropped and the water tank started to fill up. Nullah can swim but Daisy can't, and the rusty internal ladder they cling onto breaks. They cling onto the float (causing the tank to keep filling), and Daisy drowns just as the police drive away.
Kipling Flynn promises to ditch the 'Poor Fella Rum', mounts a wild looking steed and they head off with the mob. Lady Ashley can ride (pony club style) but has to receive some much needed lessons on how to move cattle (which is very typical of horse enthusiasts who don't know one end of a cow from the other). While overnighting with the cattle in a gorge at Purnululu, Neil Fletcher and three others cause a rush (stampede) in the early morning, by setting fire to the bush (Nullah and Kipling Flynn are on the 3am 'watch'). The cattle are narrowly prevented from heading over a cliff. In the melee Kipling Flynn's horse stumbles and breaks a leg, and Flynn is trampled by the mob and dies. (These droving scenes were filmed around the Cockburn ranges and salt flats, and Purnululu National Park - between Wyndham/Kununurra and Halls Creek.) That evening, in memory of Kipling Flynn, the others share the emergency ration of rum he had hidden under the buncart and Nullah is given his prized J. Albert & Son 'Boomerang' mouthorgan (harmonica). They camp near a boab tree beside a lagoon, and feeling more relaxed than usual, due to the unaccustomed rum and Sing-Song's fireside music, Lady Ashley persuades The Drover to try the Foxtrot (dance). Nullah climbs the boab and looks down on them, asking if they are up to 'wrong-sided business'. Nullah renames the Foxtrot the 'Fox Dance'.
Instructed by King Carney to prevent the mob arriving in Darwin and breaking his monopoly of the army beef supply market, Fletcher persists - poisoning a waterhole they were depending on to water the cattle at. They are forced to take the Faraway Downs mob in another direction by walking the mob across a notoriously long, dry and featureless plain called 'The Kuraman', also referred to as 'the Never Never', but King George guides them to waterholes along the way. The newspaper headline says they have perished when crossing the Kuraman, however they arrive in Darwin with the mob just as army captain Emmet Dutton (Ben Mendelsohn) signs a contract to purchase King Carney's cattle at greatly inflated prices. But the contract is not binding until the cattle are loaded, so there is a mad scramble to load the cattle onto the ship. Neil Fletcher rushes Carney cattle down the loading race (chute) towards the ship but the drover cuts the ropes holding the race gate up, and urges Lady Ashley to lead the 'cheeky bullocks' (Nullah's words) straight down the wharf. (These cattle scenes were filmed on the waterfront in Bowen.)
Lady Ashley decides to keep Faraway Downs and offers the drover the job of managing it, but he declines her offer ('no man hires me, no man fires me') and also declines her offer to attend the ball, saying he would not fit in. Bandy Legs takes Nullah to see the Wizard of Oz at the open air theatre, gaining him entry by blackening his face and arms with charcoal. Before the film, everyone watches dramatic black & white newsreels with the latest government-sanctioned war news.
King Carney bids up big to win the charity auction at the government house ball, winning the right to dance with Lady Ashley. He almost has her wheeled to sign the sale contract for Faraway Downs, but in the nick of time the drover appears - in the flash new white suit she bought him. The drover's presence at the ball is greeted with much displeasure by the other ball attendees, in particular King Carney's wife Gloria (Sandy Gore). (Thus pointing out that the social pecking order, that still exists today, especially in Sydney, is not just based on race.)
The drover and Lady Ashley strike a deal and he goes droving during the dry season and returns during the wet, and the 'Faraway Downs' homestead, garden and tennis court look loved again rather than neglected and run down. Then Fletcher arrives unexpectedly to threaten Lady Ashley. Nullah disappears and the drover refuses to help search for him, presuming he must have gone walkabout with King George. The drover is also determined to go on the 'army cattle drive' that may take as long as six months, and Lady Ashley gives him an ultimatum - stay home or never come back - and he leaves.
Nullah and King George have in fact been caught by Sergeant Callahan (Tony Barry), who 'stopped drinking Missus Boss's tea' and noticed him again (Carney got at him with a threat or bribe of some sort, no doubt after observing that the drover and Lady Ashley were settling in to life on Faraway Downs, which he wanted to buy).
A while later, Magarri and The Drover are camped beside the same lagoon that they spent the night at after the death of Kipling Flynn, when walking the mob to Darwin, and The Drover is most annoyed with Magarri for whistling 'Over the Rainbow' and the same tune that Sing-Song played that night, as it's bringing back memories of 'fox dancing' with Lady Ashley. Then Magarri discovers Nullah and King George have gone and that no-one knows for sure that they went walkabout, and they see an American army convoy in the distance, heading towards Darwin. So the drover and Magarri head off to investigate.
It is now 1941. Croc-skin booted Neil Fletcher belted King Carney on the back of the head with a rifle butt, beside a conveniently croc-infested river, thus ensuring they'd finish the job he started and eat the evidence (something that is said to have often happened in northern Australia, including here in Townsville, in early settlement times). Fletcher then married Carney's daughter Cath (Essie Davis), thus becoming the head of the Carney empire. King George has been locked in a Darwin cell, accused of murdering Lady Ashley's husband. Lady Ashley arrives in Darwin just as Nullah is being taken on the boat to the 'mission island' also referred to as 'Lok Lok' (presumably 'Mission Island' in the film is meant to be similar to Bathurst Island, one of the Tiwi Islands, where in real life a priest radioed information regarding the bombers flying towards Darwin). At the same time the women and children of Darwin are boarding ships as they are being evacuated to relative safety in southern Australia. Lady Ashley ends up spending weeks working as one of the telephone operators for the 19th Infantry Battalion. (The Tiwi islands off Darwin are flat, not hilly, so the 'Mission Island' that appears in the movie 'Australia' is probably one of the Whitsunday Islands, not far from Bowen. However there doesn't seem to be any published information confirming the exact location of the real island that appears in the film. In real life, like the white children, mission children were actually evacuated to safer places, not sent to islands in the path of the Japanese navy.)
One morning a few months later Darwin is bombed by the Japanese, and the mission island is bombed first as there is an important communications tower on the island. Lady Ashley is thought to be dead however it turns out to be Neil Fletcher's wife Cath. The drover and Magarri arrive on their horses in the still-burning town that evening. When the drover discovers that no-one has checked whether the mission children really were killed in the bombing raid or not, he, Magarri and Ivan the cantankerous publican head off on a sloop (small sail boat) to check. In the most poignant scene of the film, the drover spots the boys pitifully tatty shoes lined up in a neat row outside the burning mission building, suggesting they were all inside when the bombs hit, and presumes the worst. However the young boys cautiously emerge from the undergrowth they had been hiding in. Japanese soldiers turn up, and the older children swim back to the boat with Ivan. The drover steers a piece of timber debris back to the boat with children who are younger and non-swimmers clinging to the edges. Magarri stays hidden behind one of the wharf pylons to cover their return to the boat and ascent up the rope ladder, but his rifle jams, and he is shot by the Japanese when he makes a desperate dash along the beach. (The majority of the Darwin bombing scenes were filmed at Bowen.)
Darwin's waterfront is in tatters, with the harbour full of sinking ships, and more air raids are expected, so the last evacuations are taking place. Lady Ashley is about to leave, being ushered onto one of the last departing trucks by the army Sergeant (John Jarratt). She hears the mission children singing 'over the rainbow' in the distance, and heads to the wharf; the boat appears through the smoke and she is reunited with the drover and Nullah. The mission boys are bundled onto the back of the evacuating trucks. The drover is collecting a couple of suitcases from inside the hotel, so they can depart, and a very relieved Lady Ashley is trailing back from the wharf after Nullah. Neil Fletcher spots them, grabs a rifle and aims at his son - but King George has climbed the water tank, breaks off a piece of pipe and spears Fletcher.
The closing scenes show 'Faraway Downs' after the wet season - grassy landscapes and full waterholes. King George appears and Nullah says goodbye to Lady Sarah - ditches his whitefella shirt and shoes with enthusiasm - and heads off on walkabout with his grandfather. (This boab and waterhole appeared throughout the film, and are probably located on Digger's Rest Station, south of Wyndham, in the East Kimberleys.)
The DVD released in April 2009 includes two extra scenes, not included in the finished 'Australia' film. One scene is titled 'Angry staff serve dinner'. It shows Lady Ashley being waited on by staff at the Faraway Downs homestead - presumably on the first night she arrived. The finished film shows no hint or suggested cause of friction between Lady Ashley and Sing-Song, Bandy Legs and Daisy so in the absence of additional information, it's hard to know where this scene would have fitted in. More omitted storyline would have fitted in around it.
The second, longer scene is also on Faraway Downs, around the same time. Called 'What about the Drove?' it shows Neil Fletcher in the car loaded with Lady Ashley's many suitcases, about to rush her off the place and back to Darwin, soon after she arrived on Faraway Downs (presumably, just the following day after she'd arrived there). However the Drover, not happy that he is missing out on the droving job he was depending on, tells Lady Ashley that Fletcher's stockmen told him there was only one more day of mustering to do, and that the mustered mob would be worth '10,000 quid' (10,000 pounds). This stops her in her tracks. Much as staying on Faraway Downs clearly doesn't appeal, Lady Ashley decides it would be unwise to potentially throw away that much money by rushing off a day before the mustering is completed, and gets out of the car, to stay on longer. This is an excellent scene, that was presumably only cut to shorten the film.
I'd like to think that Baz Luhrmann may one day dig out the acres of discarded film footage and release a 'directors cut' of his 'Australia' film - a revisited version; longer than the current version, or cut into two parts. Re-editing would involve months of work, but the result, unhindered by financial backer's ideas on 'acceptable' film length, could be spectacular.
Translations for words used in the movie 'Australia', and in reviews of the movie:
Australian English — American English
crocodile - alligator (close relative)
dinner suit or 'black tie' - tuxedo
mob - herd (of livestock)
mouthorgan - harmonica
rush - stampede (re. a mob of cattle)
sacked, dismissed - fired (as in kicked off the job, 'don't come Monday')
station - ranch
station bookkeeper - accountant
willy willy - twister
windscreen - windshield
Drovers go 'droving'; they don't go on a 'drive' or 'drove' (unless it's car related!).
(There are many other pages of translations listed on the website, and 'A Million Acre Masterpiece' contains a large glossary of quirky words and expressions used almost exclusively on remote cattle stations.)
Miriuwung (also spelt 'Miriwoong') is the aboriginal language spoken in the film. It is commonly spoken in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia, i.e. it is spoken in the area where 'Faraway Downs' was situated. Indigenous Kununurra locals greeted the speaking of their language with much enthusiasm, at the film premiere.
Many critics and urban bloggers have accused the film 'Australia' of being cliched and false. In doing so, they have illustrated their ignorance of life on remote cattle stations. The myriad of details built into this film are accurate, and such a large amount of authentic detail on the Australian bush has never been written in to a film before — ever. So these details certainly don't qualify as cliches. But I suspect that 99% of film critics didn't even observe the raft of authentic details that Baz has built into his film, anyway. A good many of them have made amazing errors in their reviews (the most spectacular of which was a vitriolic Scottish Guardian writer, who said Lady Ashley inherited a 'sheep station' then walked a mob of cattle off it.)
Baz Lurhmann lived up to his reputation as a stickler for detail prior to and during filming, and during the production stage. For weeks prior to filming in 2007, people scoured north Queensland for everything from authentic 1930s office furniture and vehicles to genuine 1930s 44-gallon drums. Great care was taken over the furnishings featured in the house interior scenes and the historical accuracy of the clothing worn (including army uniforms).
750 'Kimberley Red' shorthorn cattle that were typical of the era were sourced especially for the film and waited on agistment for more than twelve months. They were kept until November 2008 in case they were needed to film late scenes. Many of these beautiful bullocks sported impressive sets of horns and naturally they became very quiet. When they were sold, several were purchased to form part of a bullock team. The specially trained horses used in 'Australia' were auctioned in April 2008. A few months prior to the commencement of filming the book with the largest number and widest variety of cattle station images was purchased for visual research purposes - Second Unit Director Guy Norris bought a copy of A Million Acre Masterpiece in November 2006, then Cinematographer/ Director of Photography Mandy Walker purchased a copy in December 2006.
The movie 'Australia' is filled with authentic set and story details. The language and terminology is also authentic. Despite what some critics may believe, Steve Irwin didn't event the expression 'crikey'! It has been part of the Australian language for many decades, and still is part of the everyday language for many Australians. Along with 'drongo', 'strewth', and a raft of other expressions that aren't so common now, but were then, such as 'jokers', 'sunshine', 'g'day luv' and 'quid'. (The only expression in the movie 'Australia' that I hadn't heard before was 'shut your damper hole', which was presumably Baz's variation of the common 'shut your cake hole'. There's never cake in a traditional drover's camp, it's not that flash!)
Comments have also been made about the 'heavy' Australian accent. This is laughable - clearly some urban Australians live very sheltered, isolated lives - mixing only with others who speak similarly to themselves. Because the accent in 'Australia' is actually not nearly as pronounced as it should have been, especially the aboriginal accents. The character's accents were undoubtedly kept low-key to avoid the need to subtitle the film for overseas viewers (in particular, Americans). Those who wrote that the accents were exaggerated need to get out more! (In any case, has anyone ever criticised an American or English film for having an accent that is too heavy?!) To discover a heavy Australian accent, read C.J. Dennis, and puzzle through the plethora of rhyming slang of the era. Or head to Cape York Peninsula and yarn with long-term locals. Again, the comments on the accents are a great example of ignorance. Many film critics have written 'Mrs Boss' when in fact Nullah says 'Missus Boss'; I suspect few of them have met an aboriginal person who doesn't live in a city, and what they are keen to believe is racial subservience is more like the respect/deference for elders that was expected of the era - from both white and black children.
Unfortunately the authenticity of a lot of the more specific set and story details will only be appreciated by the small percentage of the population that are familiar with large Australian cattle stations. For example: the weathered gidyea rails on the fence surrounding 'Faraway Downs', the very typical garden plants and white-painted rocks, the round timber horse yard, the tennis court, station sheds, the vehicles used - including the camels pulling the broken down car - and the drover's cook's wagon; plus the water tank.
Plus other details that were also a delight to observe. When the pin is pulled from the windmill and it begins pumping for the first time in a while, the first water is a milky rusty-brown colour, then it ran clear (which is absolutely accurate). And I had to explain the lounge scene to a viewer who scoffed at the idea that someone would 'take a brand new lounge out camping'. I explained that the drover and Lady Ashley were on their way to 'Faraway Downs' from Darwin, and that as the road was so rough it took more than a day to get there, necessitating an overnight camp (there were no towns to stay in - there still isn't a lot of accommodation on offer, between Katherine & Kununurra). (This road west from Darwin towards Perth, via Halls Creek, only began to have serious work done on it - grading, straightening and bridges built - in the 1950s-60s. It is now an excellent road however part of it remained single-lane bitumen until about the late 1990s and there are still bridges that need raising to avoid wet-season closure. )
Even today, whenever a truck returns to a cattle station that is a long way from town, it will usually be loaded to the hilt with absolutely everything required - an opportunity is never wasted. Every conceivable requirement will be included - from a couple of current newspapers and loaves of fresh bread, to furniture that has been ordered and perhaps taken weeks to arrive, clothing, parcels of all descriptions, plus machinery parts, saddlery and other station necessities. Plus boxes of tucker (stores). Presumably Lord Ashley had ordered a fashionable lounge suite (a typical floral tapestry 'genoa' lounge of the era), which the drover had picked up for him, along with all the other orders, and strapped to the top of the load. Exactly as many blokes would do, when there wasn't a nagging woman there to demand otherwise - without putting a tarp or blankets on it to protect it. Being handy on top of the load, when they stopped, presumably the blokes had the bright idea of unloading it so they could have a rare luxury - proper chairs to sit on around the fire - rather than the usual log perches. This scene is an entirely likely one. Baz may well have been inspired by the sight of a retired lounge suite reclining outside station jackeroos quarters!
It is in the myriad of story details that Baz's attention to detail really comes to the fore. These authentic details may be too subtle for many to notice however they still work to create an overall impression. There are too many to mention - but some examples are: the curled, rusty sheets of tin laying around the homestead, the assorted sheds out the back - including the stack of old newspapers (everything had more than one use; nothing was thrown away until it was absolutely worn out or useless, and even then it would be left in the rubbish tip just in case it came in handy for some other purpose); the fact that station owners of the era often had a thoroughbred stallion and sometimes thoroughbred brood mares as well (the only social events held in the local region were race meetings, and good thoroughbred stock obviously helped thrash the neighbour's nags and win a few bob on the side), the typical canvas tent and the note that the drover didn't usually use one; the small branches of green leaves that had been broken off and placed on the fires at 'Faraway Downs' (green leaves create more smoke; this scene was indicating that someone had died, because the aboriginal people were deliberately creating smoke, according to cultural traditions, to keep bad spirits away) .
Many people may mistakenly presume these details are the result of guesswork, when in fact they're very deliberate, historically accurate, and illustrate the thorough research by Baz Luhrmann.
The only odd thing I noticed was how clean the faces remained. It didn't seem to matter how dusty or dirty it was, and how long it was since a bath could be had, the faces of Lady Ashley and The Drover remained pristine. They also never seemed to sweat. On the night of the charity ball in Darwin everyone would have been sweating buckets as later that night the first downpour fell, heralding the beginning of the wet season. The humidity around this time of year is typically above 90% and the temperature above 30 degrees C. Faces would have been covered in sweat, and clothes would have been wet from it. Sweating illustrates the oppressive heat, which is an integral part of the seasons in northern Australia, that has a big bearing on what happens and how people behave. However, the fact that Lady Ashley and The Drover stayed clean & dry fits in well with Baz's love of the classic big screen epics - where heroes and heroines only ever have token smudges artfully placed on a cheek or forehead, and clothes that are only ever dirty and ripped in a very artistic manner (never actually making the wearer ugly). So no doubt this glaringly obvious cleanliness was deliberate.
At the very start of the film the unusual call of the pheasant coucal can be heard, and at the very end, the cacophony of blue winged kookaburras (a quite different call to that of the larger and better known southern cousin, the laughing Kookaburra). I first heard both these types of native birds when I worked on a remote cattle station in northern Australia. Their distinctive, haunting calls would echo along the splendid isolation of the Mitchell River - families of blue-winged Kookaburras would raise a racket early and late in the day, and solitary pheasant coucals would mainly call plaintively to prospective girlfriends in the hotter humid months during the storm and wet seasons. The memorable calls of these birds are absolutely typical of rivers and creeks in the northern Australian bush, and this is a great example of a splendid gem of a detail that has gone totally over the top of the average film critic's head.
Nicole Kidman — Lady Sarah Ashley (an English aristocrat, whose husband Lord Maitland Ashley has bought a cattle station called 'Faraway Downs' in northern Australia)
Hugh Jackman — 'the drover' (engaged by Lord Maitland Ashley to walk the 'Faraway Downs' fat cattle to the army supply ship in Darwin, and who later falls in love with Lady Ashley)
Brandon Walters — Nullah (a part aboriginal/part white boy who lives on 'Faraway Downs' with his aboriginal mother. His father is station manager Neil Fletcher)
David Gulpilil — King George (a tribal elder from Arnhem Land, and Nullah's grandfather)
David Wenham — Neil Fletcher (unscrupulous station manager of 'Faraway Downs' who eventually marries King Carney's daughter and takes over her father's empire; later to be widowed and then speared with a broken piece of water pipe, by King George)
David Ngoombujarra — Magarri (a stockman who is the drover's brother-in-law and loyal friend; tragically shot by Japanese invaders on mission island)
Bryan Brown — King Carney (owner of all the cattle country in the top end except for 'Faraway Downs', which he is determined to own, to complete his monopoly of the beef market. Halfway through the film Neil Fletcher knocks him unconscious with a rifle butt and pushes him into the saltwater crocodile infested river.)
Ursula Yovich — Daisy (Nullah's aboriginal mother; King George's daughter, who is tragically drowned in the station water tank she was hiding in with Nullah)
Essie Davis — Cath Carney (King Carney's good hearted daughter, who eventually marries Neil Fletcher, and is killed in the Japanese bombing raid)
Sandy Gore — Gloria Carney (King Carney's purse-mouthed wife)
Jack Thompson — Kipling Flynn (the alcoholic station bookkeeper - called an 'accountant' in the film; who is badly injured in a horse fall then killed when the mob of cattle run over the top of him)
Jacek Koman — Ivan (grumpy publican with a European accent [presumably Polish] who barks out orders throughout the film, sending women to the ladies lounge and barring aboriginals access to the bar)
Wah Yeun — Sing Song (Chinese station cook on 'Faraway Downs')
Lillian Crombie — Bandy Legs (aboriginal station domestic employee)
Ben Mendelsohn — Captain Emmett Dutton (appears throughout the film, and clearly takes a shine to Lady Sarah Ashley from the moment he spots her marching down the wharf on arrival in Darwin. However his fondness for her is never voiced. If the film ran longer, no doubt this would have been played out in more detail.)
Barry Otto — Allsop (Administrator of the Northern Territory and resident of Government House, and host of the charity ball held there)
Ray Barrett — Bull (a red-whiskered accomplice of Neil Fletcher's who appears throughout the film, most often on a horse — helping to let the drover's mob out, causing the cattle to rush, and attempting to stop the 'Faraway Downs' cattle being loaded onto the army supply ship)
John Jarratt — Army Sergeant (who officiously loads trucks of evacuees, including the mission children, at the end of the film)
Bruce Spence — Doctor Barker (patronising head of the Mission — he and Lady Ashley argue over the treatment of 'half caste' children during the charity ball at Government House)
Aaron Pederson — apparently, Nullah when he was older. However this part was not included in the finished film — presumably because the film run time had to be shortened. Exactly what Aaron Pederson's part in the 'Australia' film story was, has not been made public.
The soundtrack was created by Australian composer David Hirschfelder. Musicians include Broome's Pigram brothers (in particular, the exceedingly catchy music that camp cook 'Sing Song' was playing when they were sitting by the fire, after a toast of rum in memory of Kipling Flynn — an unnamed piece most often referred to as the 'La, la la' song!); Ted Egan's (from Alice Springs) 'foster fone', and Rolf Harris's 'wobble board'. Elton John composed and sang 'The Drover', the closing song.
'Australia' was filmed across in four different states and territories - Western Australia, the Northern Territory, Queensland and New South Wales.
Two months of filming took place in the north Queensland town of Bowen because it doubled as the Darwin waterfront as it appeared more than 60 years ago. Bowen had sufficient land that was vacant - and leasable - in the ideal spot. This enabled film sets - including cattle yards - to be built right on the waterfront.
The mob of 750 shorthorn cattle was walked right into these beach-side cattle yards, which would not have worked, for the film, in the large city that Darwin has become. The Darwin bombing scenes were also filmed in Bowen. 'Australia' filming also took place for a couple of weeks at the real Stokes Hill Wharf in Darwin, and scenes of both were fitted together seamlessly in the film. The bombing raids actually took place, but it was in 1942, and prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbour, not afterwards. In total more than 2,000 Australians were killed in Japanese bombing raids.
Weeks of on-location filming also took place in several locations in Western Australia's East Kimberley region, in the far north-east corner of what is Australia's largest state. The film's 'Faraway Downs' homesteadwas built not far from the eastern bank of the Ord River, near the very distinctive and aptly named 'House Roof Hill' on Carlton Hill Station. In fact 'Faraway Downs' is shown on the map which appears in the film, relatively close to the real locations where much of the filming took place. The Cockburn Range also features in 'Australia'. As the crow flies, this spectacularly beautiful range, dotted with boab trees, is not very far away from Carlton Hill (to the west, on the other side of the Ord River). The Cockburn range is located on El Questro Station(more recently known as 'El Questro Wilderness Park'), located south of Wyndham, but it is visible from a number of neighbouring properties as well. Filming also took place on two of these properties, Home Valley Station and Diggers Rest Station, with a focus on some of the particularly special boab trees located on Diggers Rest and the Pentecost River Crossing on Home Valley, which are probably the ones that feature at the start of the film, in the droving scenes and during the wet-season near the end of the film.
Scenes were also filmed at the spectacular King George Falls, not far from the mouth of the King George River on the Kimberley's remote north coast, and the striped beehive-shaped sandstone domes and cliffs of Purnululu National Park. The 'Bungle Bungles' featured in one of the most dramatic droving scenes in the film, when the cattle rush. Purnululu is located between Halls Creek and Wyndham/Kununurra, near Warmun (Turkey Creek).
'Australia' filming took place in Sydney in-between the on-location filming in other states. Weeks were spent filming at the Fox Studios near Centennial Park, as well as a historic property called Camelot, in Cambden on Sydney's outskirts, which featured as Lady Sarah Ashley's home in England. Camelot's beautiful and distinctive brick stables with an arched, slat timber ceiling featured in the film. Strickland House, a heritage-listed house in Vaucluse, one of Sydney's oldest-settled eastern suburbs, doubled as Darwin's Government House in the 'Australia' film. Though also beautiful, Darwin's Government House is actually of far more modest proportions, design and building materials, as is typically the case for northern Australian architecture generally, including station homesteads. But Strickland House has a distinctive design and a magnificent outlook, and obviously it was a very convenient location for filming, being situated only a couple of suburbs away from Fox Studios in Sydney. Both Camelot and Strickland House fitted the roles they played in 'Australia' perfectly.
Reliable, first-hand information on travelling in rural and remote Australia in Outback Travel information.
The coffee-table book A Million Acre Masterpiece was purchased by 'Australia' movie Second Unit Director, Guy Norris, in November 2006, then a copy was purchased by Cinematographer/ Director of Photography Mandy Walker in December 2006 (just prior to the commencement of filming). Order your personally signed copy of this unique book of outback cattle station photographs, and the sequel 'Life as an Australian Horseman', both of which include photographs taken on the station where the 'Faraway Downs' homestead film set was situated.