World premieres of the movie ‘Australia’

The ‘Australia’ movie publicity machine is in overdrive, with news of some sort appearing in the media every day now – from huge ‘Australia’ movie billboards appearing in L.A. (true), to pretend panic that Baz Luhrmann wouldn’t have the film finished in time, or that he was forced to change the ending (false).

The movie ‘Australia’ will premiere in four locations, simultaneously, on Tuesday 18th November. It is entirely appropriate that three of these locations are spread across northern Australia, where the Australia movie was filmed – Kununurra in the East Kimberley Region of Western Australia; the Northern Territory’s Capital, Darwin; and Bowen in north Queensland.

The film will be shown in the Kununurra Picture Gardens, Darwin’s Birch Carroll & Coyle Cinema, and Bowen’s Summergarden Cinema. Of course all are invitation-only events that many people would kill for the opportunity to attend. About 80% of Bowen’s premiere attenders will be the volunteers, extras and particular locals who had a specific hand in creating the film. There will be a similar audience of specific locals at Kununurra’s film premiere, although WA MPs are also tipped to attend the WA premiere, as well as the federal opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull. Kununurra’s premiere of ‘Australia’ will have a special atmosphere as the Pigram Brothers with be there, the fabulous Broome band who contributed to the Australia film soundtrack, and the screening will be held in the only cinema in town which is actually a drive-in theatre. It was built in 1964, just a few years after the town of Kununurra was created (when the Ord River dam and irrigation scheme was created). The fact that Kununurra’s theatre is an outdoor cinema was the cause of the delay in announcing that a premiere would also screen in Kununurra – Kimberley weather at this time of year is invariably exceedingly hot and humid, and there are often dramatic tropical storms in the evenings. Locals were naturally very relieved when the Kununurra premiere was announced, because so much of ‘Australia’ was filmed nearby, and the WA government contributed $500,000 towards the substantial costs of filming on location in the state. About 200 people are expected to attend, and without a doubt the Kununurra premiere will whip it in as far as character and atmosphere goes. You can’t beat being outdoors on a beautiful tropical evening, although it will be stinking hot and humid. No doubt the film’s screening will be interrupted by the calls of storm birds (Koels), as an extra reminder to any blow-ins about exactly where they are sitting. Given a choice, this is the ‘Australia’ premier I’d be fronting up for, although it’d be a tough choice between Bowen & Darwin too.

Darwin’s film premiere will have a different atmosphere again because people who lived through the bombing of Darwin have been invited to attend the first screening of ‘Australia’. This is a fabulous; this screening will indeed be a special event for those in attendance, given how little publicity the real bombing raids on Darwin received at the time – or since.

In Sydney, the walk down the red carpet for the premiere of ‘Australia’ is set for a 5.30pm start in the Greater Union Cinema in George Street. The choice of Sydney is entirely logical as post production work was done in Sydney’s Fox Studios (and the greatest percentage of actors etc involved in the film, have homes in Sydney, although many of them don’t live there full-time). Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman and David Gulpilil are expected to attend, along with 20th Century Fox representatives and film production people etc.

All these film premiere locations make sense and the film producers are to be commended for going to the massive effort and not inconsiderable expense of arranging the extra premieres in regional locations.

However media reports and blogs already illustrate an astonishing amount of Australian parochialism and rivalry between states and cities that quite often can be most accurately described as vitriolic (unfortunately). Some Melbourne residents have gone online and savaged the film that no-one has even seen yet, and bagged Sydney in general (because they happen to be hosting the film premiere). Sydney residents have responded in kind, with the predictable ‘you live by a river of mud’ etc. Different media reports in the north have had the different states trying to claim greater ownership of the film by saying that their state helped finance the film, it was actually set in their location, or that more time was spent filming it there, or that it was really their local landscapes that were the highlight of ‘Australia’ – etc.

Having a black sense of humour I find this squabbling rather funny, viewed from the sidelines – it just looks ridiculously pathetic. However it has a serious side. It is quite depressing to see regional towns and tourism authorities so quick to compete rather than collaborate (what collaboration there is, is often just a thin veneer, scratch the surface, and they quickly start clubbing one another with sticks). To me ‘Australia’ is a film that belongs to the whole of northern Australia, from Mackay across to Broome, northwards. Because ‘Australia’ is a story of northern settlement; large, isolated cattle stations, big droving trips, the harsh northern climate, dramatic landscapes, aboriginal Australians, and the first-hand effects of WWII, the impact of which was most directly felt in northern Australia (not the south, where no bombs were ever dropped.) While ‘Australia’ is a historical film it has a great deal of relevance to northern Australia today – where settlement history is so much younger than the settlement history of the south. Much of Australia’s military forces are based in the north – in Townsville, Katherine and Darwin; and the road from Townsville to Darwin is dotted with WWII military sites. The big cattle stations still exist and so does droving, the dramatic landscapes, harsh climatic conditions and difficulties associated with isolation.

However what is most more depressing and concerning, is how readily many urban verandah-sitter critics write off a film they haven’t seen yet, partly because it has been set in the bush, which they clearly view as totally passe. Some people have even labelled it ’embarrassing’.

Criticism is easy and requires no talent whatsoever. It’s impossible to please everyone, there’s no such thing as perfection in the creative world, so there will always be people who aren’t satisfied. However one could be forgiven for thinking that half of Sydney and Melbourne is filled with ‘gunnas’ whose only talent is for rabidly criticising others who get off their backsides, stick their necks right out and give something a go. And before they have even viewed the results! I think it would be entirely safe to bet that not one of these armchair critics would ever have created anything from scratch, other than a nasty missive directed at someone else who has.

Thank goodness the other half of Australia’s population are positive people – I hope they all head off to see ‘Australia’, enjoy it, and live longer than the professional whingers.

More information on the film ‘Australia’ can be found on the ‘Australia’ film website page.