‘Australia’ Film Travel

Travelling to the locations where ‘Australia’ was filmed

‘Strickland House’ – heritage listed property in Vaucluse, Eastern Sydney, NSW:

Built in the 1850s, Strickland House was owned by William Charles Wentworth and originally called ‘Carrara’. The extensive grounds include a two-storey coachhouse and stables. It is registered by the National Trust and publicly owned. Strickland House is open to the public daily. For times, check with the National Trust. Strickland House is located at 52 Vaucluse Road, Vaucluse (Eastern Sydney). It can be viewed by walking along the beautiful Hermitage Foreshore Walk.

‘Camelot’ – historic homestead at Cambden, near Sydney, New South Wales:

‘Camelot’ is a privately owned home built in 1888, located in Kirkham Lane, Elderslie. Built of brick, it has an interesting, quirky design and the brick and timber stables have a great deal of character also. ‘Camelot’ was originally called ‘Kirkham’, after the first owners. The Macarthur region south-west of Sydney is one of the first farming areas of Australia settled by Europeans, so there are many historic buildings in the region. This area is an easy day trip from Sydney (New South Wales).

Bowen, north Queensland:

Bowen’s waterfront has not yet been ruined by ugly high-rises as is unfortunately the case in so many other Queensland coastal towns. It remains peaceful and natural and is accessible to anyone. Many hundreds of Bowen locals were actively involved in the filming of ‘Australia’, either as extras or services providers etc to the film crew, and many of Bowen’s businesses took an active interest in promoting the film. So you’ll find evidence of the ‘Australia’ film around town. Especially, of course, at Jochheim’s pie shop, where 72-year-old Merle Jochheim gave a visitor and his wife an in-depth run down on Bowen’s history, not knowing it was Baz Luhrmann and Catherine Martin sussing out good film locations. Bowen is located in north Queensland, between Mackay and Townsville. It is surrounded by farms producing fruit and vegetables such as mangoes, tomatoes and melons, and is a service town for the many coal mines further inland.

Darwin, Northern Territory:

Darwin’s beautiful harbour and wharf area is also in plain view of the general public. Darwin is the capital of the Northern Territory, located on the far northern coastline. It is easily reached by the excellent Sturt highway running north from Adelaide and Alice Springs, and it is on major flight routes heading to Southeast Asia and further afield.

East Kimberley locations, in the far north-east corner of Western Australia:

The ‘Faraway Downs’ film set was located not far from the eastern bank of the Ord River, near the distinct and aptly named House Roof Hill on Carlton Hill Station, owned by Consolidated Pastoral Company which was sold by the Packer family to Terra Firma recently. Like any other privately owned business, other than those that are set up as tourism ventures, Carlton Hill Station is not open to the public. In any case, where the ‘Faraway Downs’ buildings were located would not have been reliably accessible over the wet season months. In November 2008 the ‘Faraway Downs’ buildings were removed by contractors engaged by the makers of ‘Australia’. Key parts of the buildings were purchased by Tourism Western Australia, and the remainder was demolished. Tourism W.A. also purchased many of the Faraway Downs film props. The intention is to reconstruct a replica ‘Faraway Downs’ homestead closer to Kununurra, on an all-weather road, so it could be be open and accessible to the general public all year around.

The other cattle stations that ‘Australia’s was filmed on, are set up as tourism enterprises, so it is possible to visit for the day or overnight. Diggers Rest is only a few kilometres south of Wyndham, whereas Home Valley and El Questro Stations are located a bit further away, on the Gibb River Road, heading west from Wyndham/Kununurra towards Derby. Both these stations are cut off by road when wet season rain fills the rivers crossing the Gibb River Road. Diggers Rest Station is privately owned and specialises in horse riding tours lasting hours or days. Home Valley Station is managed by the Indigenous Land Council (ILC) for the Balanggarra people, and the station emphasis is on aboriginal culture and the native flora and fauna, in their natural state. Home Valley is unusual because an all-weather airstrip allows visitation year round, whereas most Kimberley accommodation off the main highway is not reliably accessible during the wet season months. El Questro Station (now referred to as ‘El Questro Wilderness Park’) was set up as a tourist facility a number of years ago by Englishman Will Burrell and Australian Celia Shelmerdine (part of the extended Myer family of Melbourne). They developed a range of accommodation, from basic camping to a spectacular and very luxurious 5-star homestead overlooking the spectacular Chamberlain Gorge. El Questro was run by Accor from 2000 until it was purchased by GPT in 2005 for $17.4m, and run by GPT subsidiary Voyages Resorts.

Cattle stations that are not set up to take regular visitors can be visited on a Quadrant agri-tour (there is more information on the outback travel page). The only other way to experience life on these cattle stations, the largest in the world, is to work on them. People from all walks of life can gain employment on cattle stations if they have a positive attitude and genuine willingness to work and learn. I meet a lot of people who have changed careers later in life and they usually say it’s the best thing they ever did. So if this is you, then don’t sit around thinking ‘what if’. There is more information on working in the bush in Rural Employment.

King George Falls are in a very remote location near the mouth of the King George River on the north Kimberley coastline, only 8km from the sea. These falls are most easily accessed via the ‘Faraway Bay’ 5-star resort, located nearby, however it can only be reached by air or sea. King George falls can be flown over on a charter plane or helicopter, or one of the regular tourist flights from Kununurra, and the cruise boats that travel along the Kimberley coastline between Broome and Wyndham can sail up the river to the foot of the King George Falls.

Mitchell Falls are not in the film ‘Australia’ but they do feature in one of the associated Australian Tourism Commission advertisements. There is a road in to the Mitchell Falls, heading north from the Gibb River Road, however plenty of time should be allowed to get there as driving slowly and carefully is wise, due to the rocks and corrugations on this famously rough road. It’s not a one-day round trip, by road nor is it recommended for low-clearance vehicles, trailers or caravans.

It also pays to remember that most of the water that flows over these Kimberley waterfalls does so during and immediately after the wet season, approximately Dec-April/May. Late in the year, around Sept-Oct, there’s not much water (if any) flowing over most waterfalls in northern Australia, unless the wet season rainfall was unusually late or heavy, or heavy rain has arrived unusually early (eg. storms in November). (Jim Jim Falls in the Northern Territory’s Kakadu National Park is always photographed in spectacular wet season full flight, but most tourists visit it in the dry season, so their greatly elevated expectations are unfortunately not met.) By the time roads are dry enough and creeks and rivers are low enough for vehicles to drive in to the waterfalls that can be reached by road, around May-June, there is usually an ever-decreasing amount of water flowing over all northern Australian waterfalls. So it is necessary to fly over them in the midst of the wet season to see them full of water. That said, most of these waterfalls really are spectacular oasis at any time of year.

The Pentecost River Crossing is featured in the film ‘Australia’, and it is where the Gibb River Road (heading west from Kununurra/Wyndham towards Derby) crosses the Pentecost River on Home Valley Station (see above).

Purnululu National Park (The ‘Bungle Bungles’) is open to visitors when 4 wheel drives can navigate the rough dirt road and many creek crossings on the way in. It’s only a relatively short distance (53km) but it takes a few hours to negotiate carefully (the rock surfaces on creek crossing banks are scarred with innumerable towball scrapes by drivers who thought their 4WD was invincible.) The road opening depends on the wet season, however the usual annual opening date is the 1st of April. Camp bookings are necessary as overnight visitor numbers are restricted due to the fragility of the sandstone. Like King George Falls, it is easiest to fly over Purnululu National Park – either by plane from Kununurra, or by helicopter. Choppers were based at Warmun (Turkey Creek) on the main Halls Creek-Wyndham road until 2009 but they are no more; however choppers are still based inside Purnululu National Park itself during the peak tourist season.  Walking around the beehive-striped domes and up the spectacular gorges is well worth the effort because it provides a different perspective to the aerial view. So if time allows, shake the spiders out of your wallet and get a view from the air and from the ground. This is a natural wonder that very few people are unimpressed by. Purnululu is my favourite national park – it is unique, huge and mysterious. The appearance of the Bungles changes during the day as the light shifts and it changes throughout the year. I’ve flown over this range at least a couple of dozen times when taking photographs for postcards – it is a simply stunning sight. View some of the Purnululu postcard images.

Boab trees are only found in Madagascar and parts of Africa, and the far north-western corner of Australia; from the Victoria River District in the Northern Territory, north and west towards the West Australian town of Derby. While there are several plausible theories, no-one actually knows for sure why these are the only places in the world where boabs (or boababs, as they are called in Africa) grow naturally. As the nuts travel well and are good bush tucker and for decorating, presumably they would have been carted about and traded. So why didn’t boabs end up growing naturally in northeastern Australia, where the climate is similar and boab trees are easy to grow? Boabs featuring in the film ‘Australia’ were photographed primarily on Diggers Rest station (see above). View the Boab greeting cards and Boab postcards.

The Kimberley region of Western Australia is massive, about the same size as the whole of the state of Victoria. There is an immense amount well worth seeing, from Broome’s bright red soil and beaches across more than 1,000km to the east to Kununurra’s thriving farmland and the Ord River Dam (Lake Argyle); with innumerable gorges, waterfalls and a number of uniquely different mountain ranges spread in-between; semi-desert open spinifex country in the south to the higher-rainfall ruggedly inaccessible country fringed by the deserted coastline in the north.

Sources of good quality outback travel information:

General facts on travel distances, accommodation available, town services and the commonly known attractions, can be obtained from state tourism organisations, prior to leaving home. However the most accurate and up-to-date details can always been obtained locally – either from local information bureaus or local service providers. For example the staff in motels and caravan parks, roadhouses, cafes, charter companies and shops of all kinds. It doesn’t matter where you are; if asked nicely most locals are pleased to be able to help (for example, Merle Jochheim giving Baz Luhrmann the rundown on Bowen’s history and where to go for views etc). Fellow travellers can also be handy, but bear in mind the influence of personal preferences and specifically individual experiences. When in doubt, seek several opinions, because what appeals to one person won’t be another person’s cup of tea.

Other information such as safe driving in the outback, can be found in Outback Travel.

Australia – The Film – Information has detailed information on the making of Baz Luhrmann’s movie ‘Australia’, such as details of the actors and characters they play, release dates for the ‘Australia’ movie around the world, when it was filmed etc. Australia – The Film – Story has details of the ‘Australia’ movie plot. Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Australia’ movie became available on DVD and Blue Ray in Australia on 26 March 2009.

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