Here are 12 must watch films before you go to Australia that will help you more learn more about Australian people and culture
Movies are both storytellers and influencers. On the one hand, they reflect the attitudes and beliefs of the culture that produces them, and serve to depict issues, events, and trends of their era. Conversely, movies also help to mould and set those same cultural beliefs. This is equally as true of movies produced in Hollywood, and movies produced elsewhere, like Australia.
For those planning to move to or visit Australia, movies about Oz can help provide insights about the culture, social values, beliefs, attitudes, and personality traits you’re likely to encounter. They can also be a great way to familiarise yourself with the landscapes of the country itself. Furthermore, culturally significant movies like Rabbit-Proof Fence may be included in your child’s school and college curricula.
We’ve identified 12 Australian movies you can watch that will help you understand more about the ‘land down under’ you’re contemplating calling home.
Previously we have talked about how to integrate into Australian life as a migrant these films will definitely help you be more prepared.
The 12 films to see before you visit or migrate to Australia
1: Rabbit Proof Fence (2002)
Loosely based on a true story, Rabbit Proof Fence was included in the 2005 British Film Institute list of the 50 films you should see by the age of 14 and is mandatory viewing for all Australian school children. It is therefore an important movie if you want to get up to speed with Aussie culture and some of the sensitive issues in Australian history.
The movie tackles a dark period in Australian history between 1905 and 1970 when mixed race aboriginal children were forcibly removed from their families and sent to live in state institutions with the aim of integrating them into ‘modern’ Australian society.
Based on the book Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington Garimara, the film is loosely based on a true story about the author’s mother Molly, as well as two other mixed-race Aboriginal girls, Daisy Kadibil and Gracie, who escape from the Moore River Native Settlement, north of Perth, Western Australia, to return to their Aboriginal families, after being placed there in 1931.
The film follows the story of the girls being forcibly taken from their mother and their journey home as they walk for nine weeks along 1,500 miles (2,400 km) of the Australian rabbit-proof fence to return to their community at Jigalong. All the while they are being pursued by white law enforcement authorities and an Aboriginal tracker.
Rabbit Proof Fence is both very touching and inspiring depiction of the controversial mistreatment of the ‘stolen generation’ saga which was only publicly acknowledged in the Bringing Them Home Report in 1997.
Australia has still some work to do to reconcile how Aboriginal people have been treated in the past and this movie has become an important part of the healing process.
2: Gallipoli (1981)
Every year on the 25th of April, Australians and New Zealanders around the globe get up before dawn to commemorate ANZAC Day. This is a national day of remembrance for both nations, and whilst the date itself specifically marks the landing of Australian and New Zealand troops at Ari Burnu Point on the Gallipoli Peninsula in 1915, ANZAC Day serves to remember all personnel who have served in conflicts and peacekeeping missions. It also reminds Australians about the culture of mateship that conflicts like Gallipoli brought to the fore, and which remain embedded in the Australian psyche.
‘Gallipoli‘ tells the tale of two intrepid Aussie lads, good mates who found themselves embroiled in one of the bloodiest battles of WWI! Whilst the characters in the film portray the courage, mateship, good humour and larrikinism that have come to be associated with Australians, the movie is much more than that. Ultimately it’s the story of a battle that was to become the defining founding event in Australian military history.
In 1915, when Australian and New Zealand troops landed in that insignificant cove on a remote Ottoman-owned peninsula a long way from home, the Commonwealth of Australia was just 14 years old. Authorities were eager to show the world what Aussies were made of. They were also keen to demonstrate that they could support the ‘Motherland’ (i.e. United Kingdom) and her allies in their war efforts.
To this end, shiploads of troops (and Australia’s famous Waler warhorses) were sent overseas to serve as part of the Allied forces. It was the first deployment of Australian troops since she’d become an independent nation.
After a short training stint in Egypt, the first Australian troops to be sent into battle found themselves on ships headed to the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey. They arrived at their destination (or in the vicinity thereof!) in the pre-dawn hours of April 25th 2015. Granted, it was a relatively minor deployment of ANZACS in the overall scheme of the war. However, it was the first time Australians had fought as Australian nationals and therein lies so much of the battle’s subsequent significance.
‘Gallipoli’ is a movie that will not only tell you a lot about the Australian character but will also familiarise you with an event that underpins so much of Australia’s identity as a nation. As it’s also responsible for one of the national public holidays you’ll enjoy living ‘Down Under’ we hope you’ll take the time to attend your local ANZAC Day commemorations too.
3: Crocodile Dundee (1986)
Hands up if you thought Australia was full of knife wielding, ‘crocodile tooth adorned’ black Akubra hat wearing Mike Dundee types! He’s laconic, laid back, not averse to practical jokes or accepting challenges, and he’s a professional crocodile hunter.
Mike Dundee is of course the central character in ‘Crocodile Dundee’, an iconic Australian movie largely set in the Australian Outback. The character of Dundee is based on Rod Ansell, a real life Australian buffalo grazier who shot to fame after he was stranded in a remote part of the Fitzmaurice River in Western Australia whilst on a fishing (crocodile poaching!) trip. He was out there alone for 56 days with just his 2 dogs for company, and meagre supplies.
The story of his survival made headlines, and attracted the attention of Australian actor/writer Paul Hogan, who subsequently wrote a screenplay based on the story. The film was hugely popular at the box office but, even more significantly, it introduced the world to the harsh beauty that is the Australian Outback, and to the remarkable people who live there. It’s a unique environment that has shaped an equally unique type of Australian.
‘CD’ is a great film for anyone interested in what lies beyond the towns and cities dotted around the Australian coastline and wants to see what Australia’s ‘internal’ countryside looks like. A word of advice though – you won’t find degree courses in crocodile hunting at any Australian educational institution, nor are there jobs listed for the position on Seek or CareerOne!
4: The Castle (1997)
You either love or hate this movie. In its defence, it is undeniably ‘Strayan’, which is a large part of the reason it evokes such black and white reactions! Many have called it the most ‘Australian’ movie ever made, and it’s worth watching from that perspective alone.
‘The Castle’ is a comedy come social comment about many things Australian, including the ‘great Australian dream.’ Namely, the aspiration to own your own plot of dirt upon which to build your very own ‘castle’. The ‘blue collar’ Kerrigan family from Melbourne had such a dream, and realised it when they purchased a small plot of land and built their own home on it.
However, the location of that plot of dirt is such that when Tullamarine Airport, one of the world’s busiest airports, wants to expand the Kerrigan’s dream home is in the way. A building inspector obligingly condemns the owner/builder constructed dwelling and issues orders for the family to move out. That’s when the fun begins!
Darryl Kerrigan and his family decide to fight back and take on the might of the Australian government. This is after all their piece of the great Australian Dream. What follows is an often-irreverent tale along the lines of what many call a David and Goliath struggle. It’s full of Australian wit and humour like these pearls:
Dad, he reckons powerlines are a reminder of man’s ability to generate electricity.
Steve could you move the Camira? I need to get the Torana out so I can get to the Commodore. (These are iconic Australian cars and piling them together in one sentence like this beautifully underscores the essential ‘Australianness’ of this movie).
Some of the ‘lingo’ may be difficult for non-Australians to ‘get’ but bear with it. As you settle into your new life in Australia, you’re going to hear many phrases from this iconic movie used in everyday life. Phrases like ‘Tell him he’s dreamin’, ‘Tell him to get stuffed’, ‘Farkin hell’, ‘How’s the serenity’, ‘Chockas’, ‘This is going straight to the pool room’ and many more. Now you’ll know how they evolved and when to use them appropriately!
5: Looking For Alibrandi (2000)
Australia is one of the world’s most multicultural countries. Around half the population were either born overseas, or have a parent who was. ‘Looking For Alibrandi’ is a movie about one of their number and provides some valuable insights into what’s referred to as the ‘second-generation-migrant experience’. The central character Josie is the teenage daughter of a first generation migrant whose Italian parents migrated to Australia before she was born
In Australia new migrants, particularly those who didn’t speak English well, tended to form communities that grew into small cultural ‘replicas’ of back home. They still do to a degree. Issues arise though when successive generations, born in Australia, are expected to become part of mainstream Australian culture. They’re torn between the ‘traditional’ cultures that prevail at home and the quite different cultural values that are the norm for many of their friends and peers.
‘Looking For Alibrandi’ explores this aspect of Australian society extremely well. It also takes a good look at the ‘universal human experience’ as it relates to first and second generation Australians who have very different cultural backgrounds.
Whilst there may not be the same cultural differences between British migrants and mainstream Australia, this film is still very relevant. Modern Australia, although underpinned by predominantly British values and mores, has nevertheless developed into a country with a unique blend of rich cultures that may seem strange to new migrants, even British ones!
6: Kenny (2006)
We’ve included ‘Kenny’ on our list of ‘must watch before you move to Australia’ movies because it says a LOT about ordinary Australians. For a start, it’s a mockumentary. This is a genre of film Australia does particularly well. It goes with their irreverent sense of self-depreciating humour.
Just to give you an idea – there is an international Water and Wastewater Equipment, Treatment and Transport Show held every year in Nashville, Tennessee (true story). It used to be called the Pumper and Cleaner Expo. Attending this Expo is very high on our hero Kenny’s ‘to do’ list but he’s also not backward about telling it like it is and refers to the prestigious event as ‘Poo HQ’.
Second, the film will get your ears accustomed to all the peculiarities of a fair dinkum Aussie accent. Third, there are phrases and words used in the film you’ll also hear in everyday speech down under. ‘Dunny’ for example is a commonly used Australian and New Zealand name for ‘toilet’, notably an outdoor toilet. The word has its origins in the British term ‘dunnekin’, which was a dung-house.
The film is also full of one-liners that are typical of the way Australians like to turn a simple thought into something unnecessarily elaborate. This line – ‘busier than a one-armed bricklayer in Baghdad’ is a classic case in point.
‘Kenny’ is the story of Kenny, a plumber who works for a portaloo company. He’s proud of the work he does – after all, someone has to do it! He also considers himself very good at his job. It’s his career, and you may be forgiven for thinking that only in Australia would someone be proud of the fact that they pump out toilets as a career choice!
Regardless of the film’s subject matter or perhaps because of it, ‘Kenny’ manages to be both uncomplicated without being stupid, self-deprecating yet still full of meaning, and earnest yet irreverent. Those are very Australian qualities and if you take the time to watch this movie, you’ll come away with an idea of the types of personalities, and the idioms, you’re almost certainly going to come across when you move down under.
7: 10 Canoes (2006)
First generation Dutch/Australian film maker Rolf de Heer collaborated with indigenous Australian actor/writer David Gulpilil to produce a trilogy of movies about various aspects of the country’s indigenous Australians. The first was ‘The Tracker’ (2002), a movie that looked at the interactions between Aboriginal and white men in the early 1900’s. These Aboriginal men were, in many cases, simply doing what it took to make a better life for themselves and their families, not because they enjoyed working for the ‘white fellas’.
‘10 Canoes’, the second of the trilogy, takes the viewer back into Aboriginal culture as it was around 1000 years ago and is a movie within a movie. The main story, shot in black and white to create an illusion of appropriate antiquity, is about a young man who is attracted to one of his older brother’s wives.
Traditional Aboriginal culture had ways and means of dealing with such issues! In this case, the young man is regaled with a tale of forbidden love, sorcery, kidnapping, mistaken identity and revenge from the tribe’s mythical ‘dreamtime’ past. It’s hoped the tale will show him the error of his ways!
The dreamtime story is shot in colour, which makes it easy to follow the two different storylines as they twist and twine their way through the movie. It also allowed the film’s producers to create a surreal atmosphere for these sections in keeping with their dreamtime aspect.
Adding to the film’s uniqueness is the fact that it’s written in the Ganalbingu language. This is one of the traditional languages from the Arafura Swamp area, a region in northeastern Arnhem Land in northern Australia. As English was not spoken in Australia until 1877 and the time the film depicts predates that, having the film’s characters use their traditional language gives it far more authenticity. Fear not though! It’s beautifully narrated in English via the dulcet tones of David Gulpilil.
’10 Canoes’ is an excellent movie for anyone who wants to understand a bit more about the culture and beliefs of the people who were living here some 60,000 years before white settlers arrived. It illustrates their affinity for the land, their traditional systems of law and order, and their mystical ‘dreamtime’ beliefs.
8: Ten Pound Poms (2007)
Once upon a time, or between 1945 and 1973 at least, British citizens who wanted to migrate to Australia could do so for the princely sum of £10 (the fee was increased to £73 in 1973). It was part of the Assisted Passage Migration Scheme, administered jointly by the British and Australian governments. The scheme came about as a direct result of the ‘populate or perish’ philosophies that abounded during the Cold War period, and was part of the infamous White Australia Policy.
At the time, the cost to come to Australia was £120, of which the Australian government paid the first £110. The only catch was that those who took up the offer, and 1.5 million Brits did, had to stay in Australia for at least 2 years. Those who chose to return to the UK earlier were obliged to repay the £110. In today’s terms, that would amount to around £5000.
(Which makes today’s skilled migration visas and the cost of shipping to Australia seem very reasonable!)
About 25% of the British migrants who came out to Australia under the scheme did get homesick and returned home before their 2 years were up. However, half of these folk then decided when they got back to the UK that they preferred Australia after all, and came back. In typical Aussie style, they were dubbed ‘Boomerang Poms’!
‘Ten Pound Poms’ is a documentary film that tells the stories of 6 British ‘ten pounders’ and their lives in Australia. It’s funny, moving, captivating, and enlightening. We also believe it’s a film you probably should watch if you’re thinking about moving to Oz as the experiences of these British migrant families in Australia could well parallel your own.
You may also be surprised by just how many well known ‘Aussies’ owe their Australian citizenship to this scheme too!
9: Rogue Nation (2008)
European settlement in Australia grew rapidly after the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788. Within 4 decades the colony had transformed itself from a glorified prison to a burgeoning community where opportunities and prosperity waited for those prepared to work for it.
Furthermore, as the original settlers began producing their own families in the colony, and those offspring in turn grew up and had children, ‘Britain’ quickly become just a name synonymous with the colonial government. It’s highly unlikely many Australian-born colonists ever visited their ancestral homeland so their only knowledge of that country would have been anecdotal. This paved the way for the growth of independence as those who knew no other home challenged the right of a remote country to dictate how they lived.
Successive colonial governors also came and went. Some were liberal characters like Lachlan Macquarie who sought to give ex-convicts and their families the same rights and privileges as free settlers. Others like authoritarian Ralph Darling were appointed to stamp down on the colonial ‘upstarts’ and return the colony to its original status as a ‘place of punishment’. All found themselves confronted by powerful colonial interest groups keen to ensure the governor complied with their wishes or faced the consequences.
‘Rogue Nation’ is the story of these formative times in Australian colonial history. It’s a 2 part documentary film chronicling the power struggles between powerful community groups and the government.
Ultimately, orders from London were to run the colony as a British prison with a very basic economy underpinned by ex-convict landholders and funded by government money. Local interests, notably the wealthy entrepreneurs, had different ambitions for their new homeland. Who won would determine how the colony evolved.
10: Mabo (2012)
If you do move to Australia, it won’t be long before you hear or see the name ‘Mabo’. This telemovie documents the legal battle Torres Strait Islander Eddie Mabo fought to have his traditional ownership of ancestral land on Murray Island in the Torres Strait recognised. In doing so, he got the High Court to overturn one of the fundamental premises upon which modern Australian land ownership was based – that of terra nullius.
Note: the Torres Strait lies between Cape York Peninsula in far north Queensland and Papua New Guinea. There are a number of islands in the straight and the traditional inhabitants of these islands are called Torres Strait Islanders. Whilst the islands are Australian territory (specifically they’re part of Queensland), the islanders themselves share many traits with the indigenous peoples of PNG to the north. For this reason they’re usually referred to separately from the indigenous Aboriginals of mainland Australia.
The designation ‘terra nullius’ came about when Captain Cook sailed his ship down the Australian coastline back in 1770 and assumed the country was uninhabited. He subsequently declared it ‘terra nullius’ or ‘no one’s land’ but, as it turned out, he couldn’t have been more wrong!
When the first settlers arrived on the First Fleet in 1788, they very quickly discovered their new home was far from unpopulated. In fact, according to the Australian Aboriginal Heritage Office, there were at least three quarters of a million people living in Australia at that time. They had well-established systems of land ownership, complex cultures, beliefs, languages, religions, and a way of life that blended harmoniously with the land.
However, British rule prevailed and most of Australia’s traditional landowners found themselves landless, homeless, and forced to relocate to native settlements where they were virtually imprisoned. Their traditional lands were assumed by the colonial authorities on behalf of the British government and sold or given to white settlers.
The concept of terra nullius continued until 1992 when, thanks to Koiki ‘Eddie’ Mabo, the High Court overturned the notion that Australia had been ‘no one’s land’ when white settlers first arrived. The landmark decision paved the way for other traditional landowners to claim back ownership of land that was ancestrally theirs, or on which sacred sites were located. It also meant famous landmarks like Uluru (previously called Ayers Rock) in central Australia were handed back to their traditional owners.
‘Mabo’ is a very significant Australian movie and worth watching if you’re planning to move there. It will help you understand the background to some of the well-publicised and complex land ownership issues that now exist in Australia.
11: Charlie’s Country (2013)
The way white settlement affected Australia’s indigenous peoples also led to complicated cultural conflicts that are still very much an aspect of 21st century Australia. This is the central theme in ‘Charlie’s Country’, the 3rd film in the Rolf de Heer/David Gulpilil trilogy. Where the previous two films took a step back into the past, this film explores the often-difficult contemporary relationship between white society with its British based laws and customs, and indigenous Australians and communities.
Charlie is an Aboriginal Australian living in a remote community up in Arnhem Land in northern Australia. Whilst he often co-operates with local white authorities, and offers his services as a tracker, he is finding it increasingly difficult to reconcile living in a type of no man’s land caught between the legal requirement to abide by ‘white fella’ rules, and his traditional culture. For example – he has a traditional hunting spear that no self-respecting traditional Aboriginal male would be without but according to white laws, it’s classed as a dangerous weapon and confiscated.
Eventually Charlie finds himself unable to deal with this type of conflicting existence and takes off into the bush to try and rediscover the ways of his ancestors. He builds a shelter in the bush to live in, makes a new hunting stick so he can catch fish to eat, and paints bark to keep occupied.
However, he’s not used to being on his own and it doesn’t take him long to realise the traditional world he wants so desperately to return to, and live in, doesn’t physically or culturally exist any more. The problem though is that it’s still very much alive in his mind and soul.
It’s this disparity between ‘real’ and ‘soul’ that lies at the heart of the intense feelings of displacement still experienced by so many indigenous Australians today. ‘Charlie’s Country’ captures it beautifully, which is why it made it onto our list of ‘significant must watch Aussie movies.’
After Charlie’s health deteriorates whilst he’s out in the bush, he winds up in hospital. Upon discharging himself, he hooks up with a woman buying illegal booze for her community and subsequently finds himself in trouble with white fella laws.
Whilst not arguing with the concept of ‘do the crime, accept the time’, viewers can nevertheless empathise with the series of unfortunate circumstances and painful events that culminate in his arrest. It’s a great insight into the challenging relationship between white laws and indigenous Australians.
12: That Sugar Film (2014)
Sometimes movies make enough of an impression they become a part of a country’s education system. In Australia ‘Rabbit-Proof Fence’ is one. ‘That Sugar Film’ is another; it also earned the praise of Britain’s doyen of the kitchen and iconic health crusader Jamie Oliver, who has run his own campaigns to free the world from the ‘evils’ of processed sugar.
Strictly speaking, this film is a documentary but don’t let that put you off watching it because it has some important health information to impart. According to the stats that accompany the movie, the average Australian consumes around 40 teaspoons of sugar per day. That’s not necessarily from lollies and soft drinks either. Refined sugar, as the movie explains, lurks in all sorts of unexpected places, many of which are believed to be healthy.
‘That Sugar Film’ follows the journey of Australian actor/director Damon Gameau as, for 60 days, he swaps his healthy sugarless diet for what is supposed to be an equally healthy, low fat one. Indeed, it’s a pretty typical diet for many Australians in their late teens to mid-30’s. It’s full of ‘healthy’ staples like low fat yoghurt, fruit juices, muesli bars and cereals, condiments like tomato sauce, and even tinned foods such as baked beans and wholesome soups.
What happens to Damon over the ensuing 60 days is enlightening, to say the least. Fatty liver disease, pre type 2 diabetes, 8.5 kilos of weight gain, an additional 10cm of visceral fat around his middle, and some serious mood and cognitive changes. And the reason? Well, it turns out his seemingly healthy diet was hiding a LOT of sugar, notably the type of sugar that turns to fat in the liver. Under the guise of healthy food choices, he was in fact consuming around forty teaspoons of sugar on a daily basis.
If you move to Australia, chances are your children will see this movie at some point during their schooling, which is why we’re giving you a heads up about watching it yourself. Ultimately, even if you don’t move, what you’ll learn about sugar by watching ‘That Sugar Film’ will still be of considerable value.
Move to Australia without any drama
That wraps up our list of Aussie movies we think you should consider watching before you move Down Under. They’ll alternatively regale you with amusement, abuse your ears with the distinctive accents of the characters, and clue you in about some of the bizarre words and phrases you’re likely to encounter!
You’ll also be given plenty of opportunities to ooh and aah over the gorgeous colour schemes of Outback Australia whilst being impressed by those unique individuals who choose to call it home.
Finally, you’ll be introduced to the irreverent type of personality that is universally associated with Australia. Take heed, because they could become your best buddies when you move Down Under.
And once you’re ready to move, don’t forget to give the PSS team a call and we’ll soon have your home removal organised without any drama!
Alternatively you can use our online cost calculator to get an estimate for your removal to Australia.