Australian movies and books

While in Australia, we've been trying to watch movies and read books which enhance our understanding of the country, its history and its people. Without a doubt, the book we've found most fascinating and descriptive of Australia's founding history is The Fatal Shores by Robert Hughes. It is a painstakingly grim and accurate account of the the UK's settlement of Australia as a penal colony. We read the book before traveling to Tasmania's west coast and visiting Macquarie Harbour and the infamous Sarah Island. The squalor and execrable living conditions of the convicts were almost palpable as we walked around the island and vividly remembered its deplorable history. When we visited Strahan, the only town in the Macquarie Harbour area, we also saw the play The Ship That Never Was, a comedy (hard to believe considering the subject matter) based on fact about a group of convicts that escaped on a non-commissioned ship they were responsible for building. In A Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson is a light-hearted look at Australia from a travel writer's point of view. Bryon's previous book, Lost Continent, based on his travels through small town America whet our appetite for his humorous exploits in Oz...from cities to the bush to the Outback.

There are lots more Australian movies beyond Crocodile Dundee. We've recently watched the film, Van Diemen's Land, the true story of Alexander Pearce, aka the cannibal convict, who escaped with seven other convicts from the infamous Sarah Island. The group found themselves lost and unable to cope with the savage harshness of the Tasmanian bush. The film is brutal, but reckons to be a fairly accurate account of what may have happened as the men struggled to survive starvation and the wilderness.

We've watched The Rabbit Proof Fence aka Long Walk Home several times. It is the poignant, true story of three young aboriginal girls who were plucked from their family home by the government in 1931 and placed in a native settlement camp. The girls escaped and began a 1500 mile trek across the Outback back to their home village with a tracker close on their heels.

On the lighter side, The Castle is an Australian classic in which a working-class family's home is to be taken by eminent domain in the name of progress and the expansion of the Melbourne Airport. Filmed in 11 days on a budget of less than $20K, this film was evidently not widely distributed outside of Australia and New Zealand, but was quite the hit down under. You'd be hard pressed to find an Aussie or a Kiwi that hasn't seen it.

We just watched Kenny the other night on loan from a friend. It, too, is a comedy … off the wall. A fellow who installs and services port-a-loos at public events narrates his escapades in the business. Irreverent Aussie humor is evident and we really needed to concentrate on the dialogue to understand what he was saying. Beyond the accent, the vocabulary itself sometime required an Aussie dictionary. Yes, we have one!

As an FYI, there have been quite a few actors/actresses from Australia that we never realized were Aussies like swashbuckler, Errol Flynn, for instance, who was born in Hobart, Tasmania! There's a long list that you'll recognize like Mel Gibson, Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Nicole Kidman, Dame Judith Anderson and Geoffrey Rush. It's the novelists and writers that surprised me even more like Thomas Keneally, Schindler's Ark (inspiration for Schindler's List), Paul Brickhill, The Great Escape, Morris West's The Shoes of the Fisherman and little did I know, Pamela Lyndon Travers' Mary Poppins.