There are few better ways to get into the mood for an adventure and learn about a countries history and culture than through books and films. Here is a collection of essential reading and viewing material for any backpacker preparing to backpack around Australia or head off on an incredible road trip.
Films About Australia
Although the seventies, eighties and nineties – Crocodile Dundee anyone – are viewed by many as the golden years of Australian cinema, there are sime awesome Australian directors producing some great films. To keep this list fresh, I’ve mixed in some of these more recent films alongside the more internationally renowned hits.
100 Bloody Acres
If you’ve ever been told that backpackers are about as useful as a bag of compost, then this film should be for you. 100 Bloody Acres is and Australian comedy horror, which was released in 2012 and tells the story of two brothers who run a small fertiliser company. Not to be missed.
Mystery Road us a story of racial tensions and mystery in this gritty story which follows the tale of an indigenous cowboy detective hot on the trail of a murder suspect. The film was released in 2013 to significant aclaim.
Bran Nue Day
It is the summer of 1969 and a young man is enjoying his youth with friends in the laid back pearling port of Broome. However, his straight laced family think he is going astray and send him to a religious mission in the middle of the desert to set him straight. Escaping from the missionary, he sets off on a long winded journey to his home. The film was released in 2010.
Ten Canoes is an Aboriginal story set in the Northern Territories about the history of the Aboriginal people in Australia. The dream story attempts to set out lessons from the past and is both entertaining and moving offering an Aboriginal perspective of what it is to be Australian. The film was originally released in 2006.
When a lawman captures an outlaw he is given a tough choice; kill your older brother or I will send your younger brother to the gallows. The catch, he has nine days to complete his mission. The proposition is an Australian Western set in the late 1800’s and was released in 2005.
Rabbit Proof Fence
The year is 1931 and three half caste aboriginal girls are taken from their home and sent thousands of miles across the country to work as servants for a white family. The three girls decide to escape from their new homes and set off across the desert persued by government agents. Will the intrepid trio survive?
Rabbit Proof fence was released in 2002. The forced relocation programme, which is such a key part of this film, was a real government policy inflicted on half caste aboriginal children.
One Night the Moon
One Night the Moon is a true story about a girl who went missing in 1932. The offer of help from an Aboriginal tracker is turned down by the girls father, because the tracker is black. Instead a group of white locas go out in search of the little girl. They inevitably fail and it is up to the mother to mend bridges in the hope that the tracker will be able to find her daughter before it is all too late. The film was released in 2001 and is just an hour long.
When NASA decides to set up a satellite dish in the middle of a sheep farm in Australia in preperation for the moon landings, the local population has second thoughts. Though the tale is fictional, the story is based around real events. Released in 2000, the film offers some funny insights into the cultural differences you can expect as an American visiting Australia.
When an Austalian family are threatened with eviction by the Government to make room for the expansion of the local airport, the head of the family makes a stand. Refusing to leave, they take their case all the way to the High Court. This fun comedy, set in Melbourne, was released in 1997.
Muriel’s Wedding is a romantic comedy about a girl who listens to ABBA all day and dreams about her perfect wedding day. However, she has never had a date and things look to stay that way until she meets an old school friend, moves to Sydney and changes her name to Mariel. The film was released in 1995 and won a couple of international prizes at local film festivals.
Priscilla Queen of the Desert
Priscilla Queen of the Desert was released in 1994 and tells the tale of an unusual road trip. The film follows two drag queens and a transsexual who travel in their bus called Priscilla from Sydney to Alice Springs, where they have been hired to perform a cabaret show. The film won an Oscar and caused a sensation at the Cannes film festival.
Picnic at Hanging Rock
Picnic at Hanging Rock is an Australian mystery drama that was released in 1974. The story, which is set at the turn of the 20th century, is about a group of school girls and their teacher who disappear during a picnic. Based on a book of the same name, this film has become an Australian classic.
Walkabout was released in 1971 and is a story about two siblings who struggle to survive after their father goes crazy and leaves them in the middle of the desert after committing suicide. The cinematography is beautiful and the story is engaging with great acting from the two children.
Books About Australia
The True History of the Kelly Gang
A 19th century Robin Hood, revered by many ordinary Australians and vilified by the British imperial elite, Ned Kelly left a permanent mark on the country. This novel, is a great work of dramatised historical fiction. No reader will be left unmoved by this great story, which paints such a vivid portrait of rural Australia in the 19th century.
The Fatal Shore
The Fatal Shore is an epic history of Australia’s founding. The book explores the complex web of relationships between convicts, settlers and aborigines as the English Empire established another colony on the far side of the world. Well researched and extremely well written, the book is a must for anyone who wants to scratch the surface of Australia’s post colonial history.
The Future Eaters
The books full title is: ‘The Future Eaters: An Ecological History of the Australasian Land and Peoples.’ The scope of the book is just as vast as the title suggests and covers everything from the first human settlements through to modern time and how humans have affected the environment over 60 thousand years.
Dirt Music is a taught thriller written by one of Australia’s finest novelists, Tim Winston. Set in the Australian outback, the novel is a tale of loss and redemption. The novel expertly weaves together the stories of three characters who have moved into the Outback, but can’t escape their pasts.
A Short History of Australia
A Short History of Australia, looks at the cultural, religious, political and ethnic problems that have beset Australia since its colonisation by Europeans. The book is a hard read and the prose is over the top, but if you can manage it does offer interesting insights about the countries history.
The Rush that Never Ended
The Rush that Never Ended: A History of Australian Mining, paints a picture of how Australia managed to avoid the recession that ravaged European and North American financial markets. The book delves into the history of mining and mineral resource extraction om the continent and explores the impact that these industries have had on society, politics, trade unions and race relations.
Kings in Grass Castles
Kings in Grass Castles is an Australian classic and a family biography. The story starts with a poor Irishman who emigrated to Australia in 1853 and went on to found a family and a cattle ranching empire. Written by the great granddaughter of the rancher, the story crosses generational divides and ends in the 1950’s.
The Floating Brothel
The Floating Brothel is a riveting true story of a group of 240 young women – women ranging from ladies of the night to petty criminals – who were shipped over to Australia to provide sexual comfort and eventually beget families to the hordes of lonely convicts that had been sent to the country. It’s a great read and highly recommended.
Death of a River Guide
Death of a River Guide is an internationally acclaimed novel written by Richard Flanagan. Set along the banks of Tasmania’s Franklin River, a guide called Aljaz Cosini has his life flash before his eyes as he drowns in the river where he made his living. It is a sweeping novel, with a powerfully driven narrative.
One thing that you will notice about many Australian films and a lot of the literature is this focus on outback and the importance of open space – both as a backdrop for metaphorical and real journeys as well as this idea of the sheer size of the country and how small we all are in the whole scale of things. The second thing of course is the rocky relationship between the aboriginal peoples and white Australians. Two issues that are still relevant to this day.
If you are planning a working holiday to Australia, check out this in depth guide to fruit and vegetable picking.