06 February 2021

Aussies on Hossies


I like Australian Westerns. I think the first one I ever saw was The Sundowners, which I've always remembered because of its music--I'm a sucker for movie soundtracks--and since then I've seen a lot of 'em, some good and some not so, and several of them many times. These oaters from Oz have also been referred to as Kangaroo Westerns, or--in a play on the term Spaghetti Westerns--Meat Pie Westerns. 

Something I've found interesting about all this: The first in the genre was The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906), but after that there was a 30- or 40-year gap in the production of Australian Westerns, because of a law there that banned the depiction of so-called "bushrangers" in films. The down-under horse-opera industry picked up again in the forties, and the one I remember most from that time period is The Overlanders--it was filmed before I was born, but I've seen it several times, most recently on YouTube this past week.

Anyhow, here are a dozen of my favorite Australian Westerns, with, in my opinion, the best ones listed first:

1. The Man from Snowy River (1982) -- I'm crazy about this movie. Great acting (especially Kirk Douglas in a double good-guy/bad-guy role), a good coming-of-age plot, and maybe most of all a good love story. And I know I get hung up on this sometimes, but it has a fantastic musical score.

2. Quigley Down Under (1990) -- Mostly American and British actors in an Australian Western, but it works. Who in our universe doesn't like watching Tom Selleck, or Alan Rickman? There's even (spoiler here) a final stonefaced showdown

3. The Sundowners (1960) -- Dated now, but still fun. I liked a lot of movies made in the sixties, and this is the only Australian Western I remember from that decade. Robert Mitchum, Deborah Kerr.

4. The Proposition (2005) -- A different kind of story, ultra-gritty and violent. Interesting plot and great characters, but don't expect many pretty faces. (I'll watch Guy Pearce in anything, ever since L.A. Confidential.)

5. Mystery Road (2013) -- More of a contemporary mystery than a Western, but it features Old West themes and values, and an interesting plot.

6. The Tracker (2002) -- The title character is a Native Australian hired to help a posse of white men find one of his countrymen who killed a white woman.

7. Australia (2008) -- This movie tries to be an epic and falls a bit short, but with native sons and daughters Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman it worked anyway, for me. Not that it matters, but it has one of the best trailers I ever saw.

8. The Overlanders (1946) -- A story about a cattle drive across the Northern Territory from Wyndham to Brisbane. A very old movie but still fun to watch.

9. Ned Kelly (1970) -- Probably not as as good as some of the later movies about the Kellys (I haven't yet seen 2019's True History of the Kelly Gang), but I enjoyed it. Mick Jagger, believe it or not, in the title role.

10. The Legend of Ben Hall (2016) -- More bushrangers and their mites. Everybody in this movie looks like Jason Robards in Once Upon a Time in the West.

11. Sweet Country (2017) -- Another story of Aussie racism: A Northern Territory Aborigine shoots a white man in self-defense in the 1920s and then goes on the run. (Sort of The Tracker from a different perspective.)

12. Mad Dog Morgan (1976) -- Dennis Hopper in Australia, which is interesting in itself. Low-budget and a little sloppy at times, but enjoyable.

As for other genres, I usually also like Australian comedies (Crocodile Dundee, Muriel's Wedding), mysteries (Dead Calm, Animal Kingdom), war movies (Gallipoli, Breaker Morant), drama (On the Beach, The Dish), and the uncategorizable (Mad Max, Picnic at Hanging Rock). There's just something about Australia.

If you have any favorites--or any I should steer clear of--please let me know. My Netflix queue needs updating.

And that's that. Be safe, keep writing, and help me pray for an early spring. See you in two weeks.


  1. WALKABOUT (1971) directed by Nicholas Roeg, PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK (1976) directed by Peter Weir, GALLIPOLI (1981) also directed by Peter Weir.

  2. I liked those, O'Neil. The thing I remember most about Walkabout was its beauty, Hanging Rock its strangeness, and Gallipoli its heroism.

    I meant it when I said there's just something interesting about movies made in Australia. One that I liked fairly recently (and my wife hated) was Mad Max: Fury Road. Not for all tastes, I know . . .

    Take care, down there, and get things under control in New Orleans so we can have Bcon in person there this fall!

  3. Temple and I enjoyed Mystery Road (2013). That led us to Goldstone (2016) and the Mystery Road TV series (2018-2020), both of which feature the same protagonist, Jay Swan. If you haven't seen them, you might give them a try.

  4. Yes, I saw Goldstone only a few months ago, Michael--but I'd not even heard of the Mystery Road TV series. I thought both movies were really well done.

    I love getting information like this! Thanks, and hi to Temple.

  5. I find it odd that Australians send actors here, there, everywhere to play FBI agents and buddy cops in the US, barristers and NÂș 2 in the UK, and we and the UK send or actors down there.

    But you've sold me, John, not to mention your wonderful, brilliant title. The first of the Australian westerns I recall was a Ned Kelly feature I saw on television in the distant past. Now I have more to catch up with.

    1. The most unusual Western locale I know of was set in, I believe, the Austrian Alps. In it, a mysterious stranger arrives and begins to clean up the town. Naturally I have to look up its title… Dark Valley!

    2. Odd or not, Leigh, it sure happens a lot. I'm often surprised when I find out a certain actor is from Australia, because they seem to be able to lose the accent completely when on-screen.

      If you have time, do check out the first five movies on this list--I think you'll enjoy 'em.

  6. Whoa, I only just noticed your second comment, Leigh. I have NOT seen Dark Valley, so I guess I need to check and see what an alpine cowboy looks like. Must tell you, I saw a surprisingly good Western a few years ago called The Salvation (2014) that was filmed entirely in South Africa.

  7. I fell in love with Peter Weir after seeing Picnic at Hanging Rock and Gallipoli, and have made a point of watching every movie he's made since - and there have been too few, in my opinion.
    Another great Down Under movie? The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey. If you haven't seen it, get it now, and enjoy it - I can guarantee you that the plot twists are amazing, and the visuals fantastic.

  8. Eve, Peter Weir won me over with Witness, and then with Dead Poets Society.

    I have NOT seen The Navigator, but I promise that will change. Thanks for the recommendation!


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