It may have something to do with the founding of the country by a shipload of exported criminals, but Australian popular culture has a high tolerance for outlaws, misfits, and mavericks (on par, it might be said, with the United States). Here is a sampler of some brief reviews from my Movie Archive:
Burke and Wills (1986)
This Australian film chronicles the real-life trek (3,000 miles) of the title characters across the continent in 1860-61. They were the first to make the full south-to-north crossing, beginning at Melbourne and bound for the Gulf of Carpenteria directly to the north. Setting off in August, they are a caravan of horses, camels, and supply wagons. What begins as a pioneer adventure ends as an ordeal. Aside from the study of the male competitive urge (they are trying to beat another group attempting the same thing from a different direction), it is the brief encounters with nomadic bands of Aboriginals that make this film interesting. In the end there is a lone survivor, a Mr. King, who is found in a rude shelter constructed by Aboriginals. He returns on infirm legs to accept a gold watch from the Royal Geographic Society, and to narrate the last days of the lost Burke and Wills. They tragically console themselves with the boast that they were “the first white men to do it.” King acknowledges that it was “the blacks” that saved him, and that Burke never understood the blacks. His last memory of Mr. Burke is of him enthusing, “We’ll give ‘em a show, we’ll give ‘em a show they’ll never forget!”
Quigley Down Under (1990)
This is one of the few of Tom Selleck’s feature films that broke the mold for him. It is interesting primarily for its treatment of Selleck’s gunslinger character and the Aborigines he encounters. Set in 1860s Australia, Selleck plays a Wyoming sharpshooter called to this part of the world to ply his trade. There are some fine scenes as he travels across the Outback to his destination. He discovers that his employer wants him to use his long-range sharp-shooting skills to kill Aborigines who stay out of normal gun range. There is a falling-out that leaves him and a deranged girl (Laura San Giacomo) wandering in the desert. They are rescued by a small band of Aborigines and spend time teaching each other their lore. Twice, they are besieged by white horsemen intent on killing the Aborigines. Quigley has only limited success in preventing the murders. This is a rough place to live. Laura rescues a baby. Quigley leaves her and the baby in a cave and rides for help. She is menaced by dingoes, but she survives. He brings her to a seaside village and leaves her there. The evil rancher is lying in wait for Quigley. They capture him and drag him at full gallop to the ranch. The villain forces a shootout, but Quigley outguns him. Laura turns up at the boat and it looks as if she might be going along to Wyoming.
The Sundowners (1960)
This is a pleasant enough film and atmospheric in its portrayal of life for white sheepherders in the green areas of Australia; full of brawling and rough talk. Robert Mitchum stars as a nomadic sheepman married to the admirable and stabilizing Deborah Kerr. They travel in a small wagon with their teenage son. The boy sleeps in the wagon and the parents have a tent. There is a sweet moment of ordinary intimacy as he contemplates his wife washing before bed. She has the dream of settling down and buying a farm and he has little interest. It’s a fading world of rigid male and female roles. Key scenes involve a sheep-shearing contest and a horse race. Peter Ustinov is featured as a colorful old rogue with Glynis Johns as his female counterpart. Ultimately the film is defeated by the fundamental problem of Australia. It is vast and desolate.
The Man From Down Under (1943)
Set in the north of Australia, this film stars Charles Laughton as a gruff military man named Jocko, veteran of the fighting in World War I. He has feelings for a pretty British cabaret singer (Binnie Barnes) who does a classic number in the beginning of the film. He gets it in his head to adopt two little French children and take them back to Australia. He opens a tavern. The little boy grows up to be a prize fighter, and the girl grows up to be Donna Reed. The action bounces between Britain and Australia.