With its rugged good looks and effortless quirks, Australia was always destined for the screen. The country’s pristine beaches, scorching deserts and eclectic cities have set the scene for a string of soaps, TV series and films, from homegrown cult hits to Hollywood blockbusters.
New South Wales
It’s from Sydney that two drag queens and a transsexual set off on a dazzling road trip in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert(1994). Their starting point is the Imperial Hotel in inner-city Erskineville. Despite terminating its Priscilla-themed tribute drag shows in 2014, the venue remains one of the city’s more laidback and friendly gay drinking holes.
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Sequins make way for surf on reality TV series Bondi Rescue, filmed on Sydney’s fabled Bondi Beach. From 22 January to 1 March 2015, the famous surf strip hosts Ben & Jerry’s Open Air Cinema (openaircinemas.com.au/sydney/home), a season of mainstream and classic flicks, as well as live music gigs. Further north, the languid suburb of Palm Beach doubles as fictional Summer Bay in Home and Away, Australia’s second-longest running series. Fans can even take a Home and Away tour of the neighbourhood (viator.com).
Back in the city centre, Sydney’s Manhattanesque Central Business District (CBD) makes a futuristic backdrop in sci-fi action film The Matrix (1999), while sprawling Centennial Park moonlights as Gatsby’s Estate in Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby (2013). Also a shooting location in the upcoming feature Gods of Egypt (2016), featuring Oscar-winning Australian actor Geoffrey Rush, the park itself draws cinephiles each summer for Moonlight Cinema (moonlight.com.au/sydney), held from mid-December to late March.
Not that Sydney gets all the glory. A 1160km drive west of the city lies the rough-and-tumble mining town Broken Hill, its garishly hued Palace Hotel also featured in Priscilla. More than half of the film was shot in and around the town, including the Mundi Mundi Plains, an epic, rust-hued sweep of outback 29km to the north. The Plains were also used in post-apocalyptic Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981), a fact not lost on the nearby mining town of Silverton, which claims a dedicated Mad Max Museum. Mad Max: Fury Road, the last of the Mad Max trilogy, was partly filmed around Western Sydney and in Namibia.
The world’s first full-length feature film,The Story of the Kelly Gang, was shot in Melbourne in 1906. The city remains home to Australia’s longest-running TV series, Neighbours. The soap’s world-famous Ramsay Street is actually Pin Oak Court, an unassuming cul-de-sac in suburban Vermont South, and a pit stop on backpacker rite of passage the Neighbours Tours (neighbourstour.com.au).
Suburbia gives way to inner-city cool in the now-defunct drama seriesThe Secret Life of Us. The relationship drama introduced viewers around the world to St Kilda’s seductive jumble of bars, Moderne architecture and bohemian locals. Although the series’ apartment block stands at 14A Acland St, those rooftop party scenes were actually shot atop the Spanish Mission-style Belvedere Flats at 22 The Esplanade, to show off neighbourhood icons like Luna Park and the Palais Theatre.
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Grit-hip Fitzroy gets its fair share of love in comedy-drama TV seriesOffspring, about a neurotic obstetrician navigating life and love, often in the neighbourhood’s battalion of indie cafes, nosh spots and pubs. Among these is the old-school Union Club Hotel, one of several stops on a two-hour Offspring walking tour (walkmelbourne.com.au/tours/offspring-tour).
Beyond a slew of cultish local films – including Dogs in Space (1986) and Death in Brunswick (1991) – Melbourne’s European air sees it standing in for London and Paris in Hollywood action flick Killer Elite(2011), and confidently playing itself in Salaam Namaste (2005), the first Bollywood film to be entirely shot in Australia. Melbourne’s architecture and natural sights get ample screen time, from the sandy sweep of Fairhaven Beach to head-turning Federation Square.
A 70km drive northwest of central Melbourne leads you to the ancient volcanic boulders of Hanging Rock, setting of Peter Weir’s haunting filmPicnic at Hanging Rock (1975). Fauna including wallabies, koalas, kookaburras and wedge-tailed eagles are an untamed setting for this true story of missing school girls.
The pastel-hued kitsch of Porpoise Spit in Muriel’s Wedding (1994) is actually the Gold Coast, a sinuous stretch of high-rises, golden beaches and theme parks. Hamilton Island moonlights as Hibiscus Island in the film, the place where the dowdy Muriel Heslop (Toni Collette) and hedonistic Rhonda Epinstalk (Rachel Griffiths) kill the competition with their lip-sync version of Abba’s Waterloo.
A gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, the heavily developed island stands in for the Bahamas in Hollywood adventure-romance Fool’s Gold(2008). In the film, Key West is actually the North Queensland resort town of Port Douglas. Known for the sandy sweep of its Four Mile Beach, the town is set for more clapperboard clicks with the shooting ofPirates of the Caribbean 5 in 2015. Port Douglas makes a handy base for exploring Daintree National Park; its thick jungle was used to shoot much of American war epic The Thin Red Line (1998).
Northern Territory and Western Australia
A sun-scorched wonderland of wilderness, rugged characters and ancient customs, no place captures the Australia of the world’s imagination like the Northern Territory. Archetypal Aussie ocker Paul Hogan plays on numerous stereotypes in global box-office hit Crocodile Dundee (1986). Part of the film was shot in the World Heritage-listedKakadu National Park, which has 10,000 resident crocodiles. A number of themed park tours are listed on the Parks Australia (parksaustralia.gov.au) website.
Meanwhile in Kata Tjuta National Park, it’s in Uluru’s shadow that Meryl Streep plays real-life Lindy Chamberlain in Evil Angels (A Cry in the Dark) (1988), about a woman wrongly accused of murdering her infant. The soaring sandstone formation was also set to make a cameo in Priscilla, but the refusal of a shooting permit saw it substituted with the vertiginous red wonder of Kings Canyon, wedged between Uluru and Alice Springs.
Across the border in Western Australia, the monumental Kimberleyregion delivers swoon-inducing panoramas in Baz Luhrmann’s epicAustralia (1998), not to mention some spine-chilling moments in Aussie horror flicks Wolf Creek (2005) and Wolf Creek 2 (2013). Although mostly filmed in South Australia, the latter two films are set atWolfe Creek Crater, a dramatic formation created some 300,000 years ago by a meteorite. Located 145km southeast of Halls Creek, a gateway town to the Kimberley region, its remoteness delivers a thrill for fans of the films as they ponder the game of cat and mouse serial outback killer Mick Taylor plays with his hapless victims. It’s a fact not lost on local entrepreneurs, now busy peddling the ‘I survived Wolfe Creek Crater’ T-shirt.