In the grand manner of epic films, Australia opens in 1939 on two continents -- beginning in Australia with an aboriginal boy named Nullah (Brandon Walters). While on a fishing expedition with his grandfather King George (David Gulpill), the youngster accidentally witnesses the death of a rich British cattle baron. Meanwhile in England, Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) is convinced her husband is spending his time on prurient interests under the guise of running a beleaguered ranch in the outback. Determined to check on the state of affairs herself, the aristocrat embarks on the lengthy journey regardless of the threats of World War II.
Bringing these two divergent characters together is the job of an Aussie local known only as Drover (Hugh Jackman). A rough-hewn cattleman who lives a nomadic life and mingles easily with the Aboriginals, he reluctantly meets the polished Lady Ashley at the port in Darwin and escorts her on a tumultuous trek to their land. When she arrives at Faraway Downs she discovers that what ever her husband was playing around with has left him dead from a spear wound. The shock of seeing his corpse lying on the dining room table is only the beginning of the many unexpected difficulties she will face on the long road (and movie) ahead.
It is at the cattle station that the British heiress finally meets young Nullah. Appealing to her maternal side, the boy begs her to finish her husband's work. Along with revealing some of the secrets surrounding his murder, he also hopes she will stay and help his mother, a hired servant who is being exploited by some of the white male workers. He needs protecting too, even though he knows his grandfather is using the power of traditional magic to keep him safe as he watches over him from a distance. But Nallah is of mixed blood, and his danger comes from local authorities that have been ordered to round up all half-cast children and put them in religious compounds where the "black" can be taken out of their nature.
If those aren't enough ingredients to thicken this plot (we do have close to three hours to cover), there is a competing beef producer as well. The Carney Cattle Company is biting at the heels of the dilapidated Faraway Downs, in an effort to have an industry monopoly. Helmed by King Carney (Bryan Brown), he and his future son-in-law (David Wenham) are constantly pressuring Lady Ashley to sell out in their favor. And then there is the impending war, with the Japanese air force waiting in the wings for the perfect opportunity to bomb Darwin Harbor.
In this Australian equivalent of a "Western," the men show no hesitation in solving disputes with their fists -- especially during drunken brawls. While these are destructive, this violence pales in comparison to the lives lost due to peril and murderous plots. Bloody injuries, corpses (some with spears piercing straight through the body), explosions, threats to children and on-screen shootings are depictions parents will want to be aware of before sharing this film with older teens. Other concerns include frequent drinking (to overcome stress, sorrow and fear, as well as to prove manliness), brief sexual relations between an unmarried couple (bare shoulders and carefully concealed nudity are shown), and verbal sexual references and innuendoes. As well, a traditionally dressed aboriginal male's buttocks are exposed. There are also frequent mild and a few moderate profanities, and the single use of a sexual expletive.
It won't be any surprise to discover who is still standing when the credits eventually roll. While the predictable production takes its dear sweet time, it does however deliver a reasonably engaging story. Fortunately, some great scenery helps the pacing along, and considering the down under origins of most of the performers and director Baz Luhrmann, it's little wonder this cinematic piece has a patriotic feel.