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The only man in China who likes Australia…

…the movie.

And I am glad I saw it.


I had some time in Beijing, between the blizzard of social connects and meetings that are part of any trip I take outside of Guangzhou, to see the movie Australia. I don’t make it up north very much anymore so I  try to maximize my time while still managing to squeeze in a little enjoyment: seeing a movie, bravely foolishly curiously trying some new local dish, making new friends, enjoying a movie or cherishing a few moments with old acquaintances. I did all of that over two snow scattered days in the capital city.

The only movie showing at a time that would fit into my schedule was the aforementioned blunder from down under. Australia is a cinematic muddle of  magic, mystery, murder, military, melodrama megalomania, and memoirs from a bigot ridden outback….It is so bad that it is a sure bet we will see it again on Hong Kong’s ATV or CCTV here in mainland China.

But, I am glad I saw it.

The movie wandered the bush in search of a theme and stumbled over romance, history, allegory, and object lesson before falling down on a soft core adult tenor via a buffed up Wolverine bathing out of a bucket (and no, the consonance decided on itself…) in front of a barren, befuddled and buffoonish Nicole Kidman.

But I am glad I saw it.

All kidding aside, and man is that a Crocodile Dundelean feat, I learned a lot:

The Japanese rained down more bombs on the port at Darwin than it did two months earlier at Pearl Harbor in the 40’s. And they attacked another 63 times over the next two years to bring Australia as close as it has ever been to war on its own soil. That one reviewer of the film, and one Wiki entry, calls the assaults on Darwin “Australia’s Pearl Harbor” is exactly why I am glad I watched the movie….

A few days ago, if you will permit me a rare digression, I read a viral email sent to me by a “conservative” friend ( conservative is a euphemism, but as close as I can come without risking war on my own turf) who lives in America (the part with 50 states)… He and the email author somehow did not know that Australia had elected a new Prime Minister nor that the alleged PM had not boldly declared that Muslims should denounce their heretical ways and swim off to calmer spiritual waters–while hopefully meeting and greeting several sharks along the way–in an effort to ethnically cleanse Australia….The email was likely designed by an American and meant to give credence to some nationalist notions that U.S. borders should be closed, job stealing wet-backs flung back into the Rio Grande in order that we might realize a new prosperity: thousands of t-shirt assembly-line jobs, radish picking tasks and domestic helper slots that will vault us out of our recession far better than any stimulus package.

When did we become an ethnocentric melting pot? (That is only an oxymoron if you don’t believe that the National and American Leagues can collide at the end of the year and actually play a “World” Series in baseball.) And just so you know, I am guilty too of narrow thinking despite three decades abroad: You mean WWII was not just the U.S. against the forces of evil? The Allies (a close knit group of American G.I.s) didn’t single-handedly saved the world from the dreadful grammar of the Germans and the limited syllabary and endless bowing of the Japanese? I confess to never knowing before this movie that the country, who has battled and died alongside America in every major war and conflict in the last 70 years, suffered the loss of so many lives in Darwin.

Oh, and just for the record I learned from my good friend Des that “Waltzing Matilda” is no more the National Anthem of Australia anymore than “Danny Boy” is the musical representative of Ireland…;-)

We all need a culural wake up once in a while. I thank the the director of Australia–wherever he is in hiding–for mine…


6 responses so far

6 Responses to “The only man in China who likes Australia…”

  1. Sue Jameson Mar 1st 2009 at 6:24 am

    Great article! I enjoyed reading it and very much appreciated your sense of humour. :-)

    I’m beginning to think I’m the only Australian in Australia who hasn’t seen Australia. (I wonder if that’s a first – the word Australia three times in a 14 word sentence?)

    I will probably end up seeing it at some stage, just to satisfy my curiosity – and hope I will also be ‘glad I saw it’ as you were. :-) But I’ve not rushed out to buy a ticket, and your review certainly reinforces that decision!


  2. Expatriate Gameson Mar 1st 2009 at 8:09 am

    Yeah I had to chuckle when i read this, as I felt much the same way. The kid was cute enough and I kept thinking, “Man, this movie, this subject matter, had so much potential!” The only difference is that i saw the pirated Blu Ray DVD edition down here in Liuzhou and there was no snow to deal with.

    I did my share of quick internet research on Darwin and the war and, I am assuming like many others, received a bit of an education prompted by watching a cheesy film.

  3. Georgieon Mar 2nd 2009 at 6:18 am

    I too being an aussie feel like one of the last to have not seen Australia the movie ! I guess I can wait for the dvd seeing as the more I read about it the more I think its a flop LOL.
    Thanks for a great review though , if anything I have the cultural wakeup to atleast look forward to and yes that is something !

  4. Chris Carron Mar 2nd 2009 at 10:59 pm

    Good post.

    Good points.

    But damn, that movie was long and painful to sit through.

    Didn’t Nicole Kidman do this same basic “chase the cows and brumby” movie a few year’s back with ex-beau Tom Cruise? :)

  5. Fiona Lakeon Mar 4th 2009 at 9:17 pm

    Just for the record:
    – Yes the ‘Australia’ film had a lot of previously unpublicised facts; eg re. the bombing of Darwin (other northern towns were bombed too, from Townsville around to Broome). Most Australians know that the U.S. took very little notice of the war in the Pacific until Japan made the big mistake of dropping bombs on Pearl Harbour. Then the U.S. got busy – finally – helping their allies.
    – Like the Da Vinci Code book; fiction was bound up with non-fiction in the ‘Australia’ film in ways that casual observers might not have been aware of. Eg. aboriginal children weren’t sent to a mission on an island when bombing was imminent; they were evacuated elsewhere, as white children were. Yes children that weren’t full bloods were removed from parents – sometimes tragically, but sometimes because they were not being raised in very positive circumstances. (At the same time, children of all unmarried mothers were removed from them and adopted out; and English children were sent to Australia and many told their parents had died, when they had not. It was a tough era. Women who married were usually prevented from remaining employed as teachers and bank tellers etc – current generations are unaware of how much society in general has changed.)
    – The ‘Australia’ film is now the second highest grossing Australia film ever and has taken in more than $300 million at the box office worldwide. In other words, despite a lot of criticism from those paid to do it and the lack of fancy statues, the general public are voting with their wallets.
    – There is a perception amongst many of the general public that many film critics are simply jaded and/or jealous of success and that many other comments, eg from Australian expats, are simply from people who were embarrassed by the promotion of a rural view of Australia when they prefer to think of themselves, and their country, as being very urbane & sophisticated. Many people have been to see ‘Australia’ and told me they can’t understand the barrage of criticism they’ve heard – they say it’s as if they’ve seen two different films.
    – The ‘Australia’ movie included a degree of authentic detail (set details, language used etc) that has never been seen in a film before. (Unfortunately most Australians don’t know life beyond the suburbs, so it’s not something they’d be aware of.)
    – I suggest everyone forms their own opinion AFTER they have seen the film, not after reading comments by others whose primary talent is to criticise the efforts of others. Go along with an open mind. It’s not a perfect film, but they don’t exist; and it really is great entertainment, which after all is what it’s meant to be.

  6. Tsaion Mar 10th 2009 at 9:57 pm

    Hello, Professor Hodge! I’m Fanya Tsai. I saw this movie just the day before your class when you mentioned that you wrote this article. I held great expectation before the movie was released, because I like both of the main characters very much, and I love the director for Moulin Rouge! However, I find the movie very disappointing. It’s not grand enough to hold all the subjects, such as romance, war, aboriginal life, together in a right way. It’s like a comedy, that aims only to entertain the audience. I think it’s totally a waste.
    Also, I find it interesting that nowadays in the movie industry, such so-called “blockbuster” that has a golden cast and strong production team always fails to live up to the expectations; meanwhile, movies that cost a little and stared with actors unknown usually break out as miracles. So I guess a good story-teller is the most important thing in the movie-making.
    I don’t know too much about the movie business actually, but I always have my own way of understanding towards movies.

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