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Looking back through the past century of Australia’s history alone will uncover a treasure trove of stories full of interesting characters, twists and turns. It is no wonder that some of these stories have been brought to the ‘silver screen’ over the years. Ranging from the uplifting stories of people doing good in the face of seemingly insurmountable opposition, to the suffering inflicted by historical and personal hardships, these films will show you just how far Australia‘s culture has come, and the lengths people have gone for others.
A mainstay of the true Aussie story is the battle between the weak who can see the opportunity for good, and the powerful ruling class that ignores them for fear of change. Oddball translates this well-known ‘David vs. Goliath’ storyline into the normality of Australian life. A chicken farmer known as Swampy (Shane Jacobson) from the south-western coastal Victorian town of Warrnambool owns a quirky maremma sheepdog named Oddball. When he hears the news that a nearby fairy penguin population is being reduced by foxes, he comes up with the idea of using Oddball to protect them. What follows is an uplifting story for all ages of a town coming together to get Oddball in shape to help out.
Based on the alleged death of two-month-old baby Azaria Chamberlain by a dingo in August of 1980 near Ayers Rock and the ensuing court case and media circus against her mother, Lindy (Meryl Streep), this 1988 film paints a haunting picture of hysteria. Seventh-Day Adventists Lindy and Michael Chamberlain (Sam Neill) travel on a holiday to Uluru to witness the wonders of the Australian outback but are thrown into horror when their child is stolen right before their eyes. Featuring an Oscar-nominated performance from Meryl Streep, it is a shocking reminder of the dangers of nature and man.
The Dish tells the story of four scientists who operated the largest satellite dish in the Southern Hemisphere (based in Parkes, a small NSW town) to keep in contact with Apollo 11 while it was over the Southern Hemisphere. As the pressure builds, they have to use that classic Australian ingenuity to help man land on the moon. Featuring the acting of Sam Neill, Patrick Warburton, Kevin Harrington, and Roy Billing, this is a hilarious look at what happens when you leave one of the largest scientific events in the hands of rural Australia.
As is the case with history, it is more often than not filled with hostility and hatred than compassion and kindness. However, more than anything, it also proves the resilience of the human spirit. Both of these concepts are realised in Rabbit-Proof Fence, a story about the journey of three Aboriginal girls after escaping from a settlement for those from the ‘Stolen Generations’ in 1931. Travelling 2400 kilometres along the ‘rabbit-proof fence’ back to their families, the film is a harrowing look at a dark part of our past.
Taking pages from the saga of the Pettingill crime family, Animal Kingdom takes a brutally unflinching look at Melbourne’s criminal underbelly. Seventeen-year-old Joshua Cody (James Frecheville) is thrust head-first into drug deals and armed robberies after he moves into his grandmother’s (Jacki Weaver) house after his mother’s death from a drug overdose. He follows the rise and fall, as tensions between the police and the family reach a boiling point. With command performances from Guy Pearce, Ben Mendelsohn and Joel Edgerton, it is a nail-biting look at the lengths people can go to for those they love.
Sprinkled with just the right amount of whimsical humour and fiction, Red Dog follows the journey of the eponymous Kelpie across the mining region of Pilbara in Western Australia. A truck driver passing through the town of Dampier accidentally walks in on the euthanasia of a dog in the local pub. However, the patrons can’t go through with it, as they have grown attached to the dog over the years. They then tell the lonely driver the story of Red Dog and his travels. Featuring performances from Josh Lucas, Rachael Taylor and Noah Taylor, this is a story which is fun for the entire family.
As is the case with any nation, most of our recent history surrounds the horrors of war. In Gallipoli, director Peter Weir (e.g. Dead Poets Society, The Truman Show) vividly realises the infamous battle on the Turkish beach during World War One, as well as the tensions back home. A young unemployed railwayman (Mel Gibson) and farmer (Mark Lee) are living from job to job and are pushed into working for the army out of desperation. However, they get caught up in one of the worst battles in recent history. Lest we forget, this film reminds us of the perseverance of man in the face of certain death.
In Her Skin is a gripping re-telling of the case of the disappearance of 15-year-old Rachel Barber in 1999. Told from the perspectives of Rachel, her family and her attacker, the film follows the investigation as clues begin to point towards suspicious circumstances. With big names filling out the cast, such as Miranda Otto, Guy Pierce, Sam Neill and Ruth Bradley, this is a deeply personal look into one of Australia’s most tragic stories.
Sometimes a great story comes from being spontaneous. This is definitely the case for Robyn Davidson, who in 1977 travelled 2,700 kilometres from the town of Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean. Played by Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland) in the 2013 film, the writer takes her dog and four camels through the unrelenting desert landscape, as she encounters many classic Australian characters along the way. Look out for appearances from Adam Driver (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and Jessica Tovey (Home and Away) .
Some of our most inspirational stories do not even take place on our soil. For instance, Balibo brings to life the story of five journalists captured during the Indonesian invasion of East Timor during 1975. Focusing on the protection of journalistic integrity in the face of certain death and foreign correspondent Roger East (Anthony LaPaglia), the film shows how part of our multifaceted history weaves itself through many nations.