Now I had seen and read enough previews, articles and reviews about Australia, that I personally was unable to create any coherent opinion for myself about the movie. However, a few points that stood out in my memory before I finally got around to watching the movie was that (1) it had reasonably long running time (2) there was more to the movie that just the obvious love story between Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman (3) it was probably the best advertisement that Tourism Australia could ever choose for themselves.
Armed with this profound knowledge, I got down to watching “Australia” and man, was I more than pleasantly surprised or what. The movie dealt with much more than just the above three points. The movie begins with Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) coming down to Faraway Downs (her husband’s cattle ranch in Northern Australia) to try and force him to sell his holdings and come back to England. However, she arrives only to find out that her husband has been murdered and his manager Neil Fletcher (David Wenham) was responsible for that. Fletcher, in cahoots with Lesley ‘King’ Carney (Bryan Brown) was trying to gain control of Faraway Downs so that he could become the undisputed Cattle King of Northern Australia. Sarah unwittingly gets herself entangled in the middle of this business spat by just arriving there at exactly the wrong time.
Sarah learns from Nullah (Brandon Walters) that Fletcher was the one who killed Lord Ashley and cleverly accused his own grandfather, an aborigine called ‘King George’ of the murder. Further, Nullah also tells Sarah that Fletcher is his biological father, thus making him a ‘creamy’, the local name for a ‘half caste’ (born of mixed parents, whites and aborigines). Now historically these children were removed from their families by the Australian Govt agencies and Church Missions so that they could be taught ‘the ways of God’ by missionaries. Some of the real underlying motives included fears of miscegenation and a desire to attain white racial purity. In fact, the current Australian Prime Minister offered a formal apology to all the families who suffered the indignities of the ‘Stolen Generations’ as recently as 2008. This underlying theme is given reasonable importance in this movie by making Nullah an important character in this movie. Maybe this movie was Luhrmann of paying respect to the struggles of the aboriginals of those days.
When Sarah learns of Nullah’s story, she decides to keep Faraway Downs running as her husband would have liked to. Assisted by Drover (Hugh Jackman), she then undertakes a challenging mission to sell 1500 head of cattle to the English Military located at the Northern port of Darwin. Drover himself is sympathetic to Sarah’s cause as he is close to the aborigines and is therefore shunned by many of the other whites in the Northern Territories. Assisted by Sarah, Nullah and 3 others, the hotch-potch group of untrained riders manage to get the cattle to Darwin despite various obstacles thrown their way by Fletcher at the behest of Carney. One particular scene where Nullah manages to stop the cattle from stampeding over a cliff by apparently using magic learnt from his grandfather will remain in my memory for some time to come, simply because of the surreal way in which the situation develops and how it is handled in the movie.
During the course of this journey Sarah and Drover discover their romantic feelings for each other and end up living with each other at Faraway Downs, which courtesy the delivery was back in profits again. Two years pass, when Fletcher manages to kill Carney and inherit his cattle empire by marrying his daughter. Nullah who wants to perform the ceremonial coming-of-age ritual of ‘walkabout’ is captured by the authorities and sent to live on Mission Island alongwith other kids of mixed race descent. All of this happens when Drover is out driving cattle to Darwin again to fulfill the military’s request for more food. Sarah, who is also working as an Army Radio Operator in Darwin promises Nullah that she will come back to find him and bring him back.
This incident co-incides with the Japanese bombing of Darwin in WW-II. This sets the stage for a montage of scenes where the devastating effects of the war on the Northern Territories is picturized in the movie. I personally didn’t quite like this portion of the movie as I felt that the CGI was not up to the mark. Sarah’s offices are bombed and so is Nullah’s mission on Mission Island. Drover, on his return to Darwin learns of Sarah and assumes her to be dead. Grief-stricken, when he learns that Nullah has been taken to Mission Island, sets out to rescue him and the other kids from the island, if they had survived the attack. How and if Drover succeeds in rescuing Nullah makes up the rest of the story.
As mentioned earlier, this movie reminded me a lot of some of the romantic movies of the 40s and 50s. You have a hero who is romancing a heroine, with a conduit such as a small kid acting as the messenger or the common element between them. Here you have Sarah and Drover who initially cannot stand each other, but then are forced to come together to keep Nullah safe, and ultimately end up developing an affection for each other. Although the movie itself is a love story at the heart of it all, it deals with some inherently Australian themes that non-Aussie audiences might probably not relate with. For example, the whole underlying concept of the Stolen Generations, the recurring motif of ‘King George’ who seemingly has magical powers and keeps re-appearing to assist Sarah, Drover and Nullah, might not hold too much relevance to all viewers. But then, in my opinion, it is these things that make this movie an ‘above-average’ and a ‘must-watch-at-least-once’ movie to me.
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