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Stand Out Australian Movies Based on Historic Events

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by Gayle Beveridge (subscribe)
Gayle is a retired accountant and a photography enthusiast living on Victoria's beautiful Bass Coast. Gayle is passionate about writing and keen to showcase Aussie culture to a global audience. Gayle loves her family, dogs, sunsets, and chocolate.
Published December 27th 2014
Australian History, Entertaining us on the Big Screen
In 1906, The Story of the Kelly Gang, the first feature length movie in the world, was produced in Australia. It ran for over an hour and was shown in the Athenaeum Hall in Collins Street in Melbourne on 26th December, 1906. The Athenaeum still operates today.

Ned Kelly, film, Australian History, Kelly Gang
A poster advertising the world's first feature movie. (Image: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Following a tradition began more than a century ago, Australia continues to produce stand out movies. Since this nation holds an auspicious place in the history of movies, let's look at the place movies hold in the history of the nation.

Athenaeum, Melbourne, Movies, Theatre
The Athenaeum Theatre today. (Image: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

All these movies are based on true historic events but they are theatre, their purpose is to engage and entertain us. Be entertained.

In 2015, thousands will gather at ANZAC Cove in Turkey to commemorate the centenary of the landing of the ANZACs at Gallipoli. In 1981 the movie based on the Gallipoli campaign was released.

Gallipoli, Australian History, Battle of the Nek
The original Australian poster for Gallipoli (Image: Wikipedia)

The movie follows two young Australians who volunteer for service in the First World War. It portrays the nation's mood at the time; the patriotism and sense of adventure that led young men to enlist. The movie follows the friends through training to deployment and they eventually find themselves on the Gallipoli Peninsula. The movie ends with the attack at the Battle of the Nek on 7 August 1915, a futile action that became known as Godley's Abbatoir.

ANZAC, Gallipoli, Australian History, Battle of the Nek
ANZAC Cove 25th April 1915, after the first battle. (Image: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Much criticism was levelled at the British for continuing the attacks despite the high casualty rates. The campaign cemented the legend of the ANZAC's, the brave Australian and New Zealand soldiers who sacrificed life and limb in the pursuit of peace.

The Gallipoli campaign cost 8,141 Australian lives, amongst over 26,000 casualties.

The movie stars Mel Gibson and Mark Lee.

The Sapphires
In the 1960's, around the time Aboriginal people received the right to vote, four Yorta Yorta women, Laurel Robinson, Beverly Briggs, Naomi Mayers and Lois Peeler, had formed a singing group and were performing where they could get gigs including at Tiki Village in St Kilda. When the club's band offered the opportunity to tour Vietnam, two of the girls went, (not the four as portrayed in the movie.)

The Sapphires, Jessica Mauboy,
The Sapphires theatrical release poster. (Image: Wikipedia)

The movie, released in 2012 was based on the 2004 stage play written by Tony Briggs, Laurel Robinson's son.

The Sapphires, Laurel Robinson, Beverly Briggs, Naomi Mayers, Lois Peeler,
The real Sapphires - Laurel Robinson, Lois Peeler, Beverley Briggs and Naomi Mayers. (Image: Eva Rinaldi, Sydney, Australia via Wikimedia Commons)

The Sapphires believed that many gigs were not available to them because of their aboriginality. In August of 2013, that discrimination resurfaced when an American DVD cover relegated the girls to a monochrome background and instead featured the actor who played their manager. The original members of the group called for changes to the cover, prompting an apology from the US distributor.

The movie stars Chris O'Dowd, Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens, and Miranda Tapsell.

Rabbit Proof Fence
Rabbit Proof Fence, released in 2002, is a story based on the Stolen Generation, the period in Australia's history from 1909 to 1969, when Aboriginal children were removed from their families and placed into foster care where they could be indoctrinated into a 'white' lifestyle. There has been much debate about the Stolen Generation but in 2008 the Federal Government apologised to the Indigenous Australian Stolen Generation.

Rabbit Proof Fence, Molly Kelly, Stolen Generation
The movie release poster for Rabbit Proof Fence (Image: Wikipedia)

Rabbit Proof Fence is the story of two sisters Molly and Daisy forcibly removed from the care of their mother and grandmother at their home in Jigalong, along with their cousin Gracie and taken to a Government run re-education camp at the Moore River Native Settlement. The girls escape and begin the long walk home, guided by the Rabbit Proof Fence. Through trickery, Gracie is recaptured but Molly and Daisy make it back to Jigalong, a journey of 1,300 kms.

Rabbit Proof Fence, Stolen Generation, Molly Kelly
The Rabbit Proof Fence circa 1926-27 (Image: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

The film was set in 1931. Molly Kelly, on who the story was based, passed away in January of 2004, aged 86, at home in her country - Jigalong.

The movie stars Everlyn Sampi as Molly, Tianna Sansbury as Daisy, Laura Monaghan as Gracie, David Gulpilil as Moodoo and Kenneth Branagh as A.O. Neville.

Breaker Morant
Breaker Morant, released in 1980, is based on the court-martial during the Boer War (1899 1902) of Harry Breaker Morant. Morant was charged for participation in the execution of Boer prisoners and of killing a missionary who witnessed the crime. He was found not guilty of the latter crime but was executed by firing squad for the former.

Breaker Morant, Boer War,
The theatrical release poster for Breaker Morant. (Image: Wikipedia)

The court martial has given rise to much controversy. Was Morant acting on orders and therefore not responsible for what occurred? Was the court martial politically biased to facilitate Lord Kitchener's peace efforts? The location of the transcripts is to this day unknown.

Breaker Morant, Boer War
The real Harry Breaker Morant. (Image: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

The movie's underlying theme is the effect of war in creating abnormal behaviour in normal men.

The movie stars Edward Woodward, Jack Thompson, John Waters, Bryan Brown, Charles Tingwell, and Terrence Donovan.

The Lighthorsemen
The Lighthorsemen were mounted troops who served in the Boer and the First World Wars. At the outbreak of the First World War there were 9,000 personnel in 23 Light Horse regiments.

Lighthorsemen, Gallipoli, Australian Light Horse
The Lighthorsemen DVD cover. (Image: Wikipedia)

Australia eventually sent five Light Horse Brigades to the First World War. The 1st, 2nd and 3rd Brigades went to Gallipoli without their horses and fought as infantrymen. After Gallipoli these Brigades were reformed in Egypt and joined with the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade to become the ANZAC Mounted Division.

Australian Light Horse, Lighthorsemen, Gallipoli
The Australian Light Horse 1916 (Image: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

The movie, released in 1987 tells of the Lighthorsemen in the 1917 Battle of Beersheeba in Palestine. The story revolves around four men, and chronicles the lives of Lighthorsemen at the time. The Lighthorsemen are sent on what is expected to be a suicide mission but as a result of miscalculation by the Turks make it to the enemy trenches and win the day.

The movie stars Gary Sweet, Jon Blake, Tim McKenzie, John Walton, and Peter Phelps.

Phar Lap
Phar Lap was a champion Australian thoroughbred racehorse during the Depression. New Zealand born and Australian trained he was a Melbourne Cup winner in 1930 and a two time Cox Plate winner. In all he won 37 of his 51 starts and the love of a nation.

Phar Lap, Melbourne Cup, Tommy Woodcock
Promotional poster for Phar Lap (Image: Wikipedia)

There was a failed assassination attempt in 1930, three days prior the Melbourne Cup and when he died in 1932 in America it was suspected he had been poisoned. Forensic testing done in recent times has detected quantities of arsenic but it is unknown how this entered the great horse's body. At the time of his death Phar Lap was the third highest stakes winner in the world.

Phar Lap, Melbourne Cup,
Phar Lap circa 1930. (Image: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

The movie commences as Phar Lap dies in his trainer's arms and then flashes back to tell the champion's story, a rise spanning only five years.

The movie stars Tom Burlinson, Martin Vaughan, Ron Leibman, Judy Morris and James Steele.

Ned Kelly
Ned Kelly was a bushranger in the late 1800's. Kelly's father, convicted of possessing a bullock hide (cattle theft), was sentenced to six months hard labour and died of ill health shortly after his release. A few years later the Kelly family moved to untitled farm land at Eleven Mile Creek where they were constantly in dispute with established graziers. They were so often charged with horse or cattle theft it was believed they were being targeted by police. It is thought this and the treatment of Kelly's father by police played a significant role in him becoming an outlaw, although he had been in legal strife from the age of 14.

Ned Kelly, Kelly Gang, Bushranger
Theatrical release poster for Ned Kelly. (Image: Wikipedia)

In 1878 the Kelly gang murdered three police and in 1880 in a shootout with police at Glenrowan, an armour clad Kelly was captured and jailed. He was hung for his crimes in Melbourne Gaol in November of 1880.

Ned Kelly, Kelly Gang, Bushranger, Glenrowan
The trial of Ned Kelly. (Image: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

The 2003 movie, Ned Kelly, tells the story of Kelly's life from an early age when he heroically saved a young boy from drowning to his execution in 1880.

The movie stars Heath Ledger, Orlando Bloom, Geoffrey Rush and Naomi Watts.

The Dish
The Dish is a 64 metre radio-telescope near Parkes in NSW. The telescope operates 24 hours, 7 days a week and has been in service since 1961. The Parkes Observatory is only one of the Australian Telescope National Facility run by the CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation).

The Dish, Parkes Observatory, Telscope, Apollo 11
Promotional poster for The Dish. (Image: Wikipedia)

The Observatory has enjoyed much success over the years. Its design was adopted by NASA in their Deep Space Network and it is credited with the discovery of more than half the currently know pulsars.

The Dish, Parkes Observatory, Apollo 11
The Parkes Observatory. (Image: Parkes.arp via Wikimedia Commons)

In 1969 the telescope famously received television signals from the Apollo 11 moon landing and relayed them to a world wide audience of over 600 million. It is on this feat that the movie, The Dish, is based. The movie, released in 2000, puts a humorous and entertaining spin on this important event.

The movie stars Sam Neill, Kevin Harrington, Tom Long and Patrick Warburton.
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Why? To enjoy some stand out Australian Movies and get a s dash of Aussie history on the side.
When: Anytime
Where: Anywhere
Cost: Cost of rental, DVD or download. Likely to be shown on free to air TV from time to time.
Your Comment
They should add THE SETTLEMENT with John Jarrett, and YOUNG EINSTEIN by Yahoo Serious, to their list of great Aussie films, and make it a regular event! How about every month? Or every2 months? Aussies need to know and see more of our own films.
by fluffynut (score: 2|939) 1129 days ago
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