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Obama and Baz Luhrmann's Australia

  • 23 January 2009
One of the defining characteristics of an Australian summer is the large number of people who spend their days relaxing on the many beaches that grace our shores. This is our annual holiday time, when families gather to spend days swimming, fishing and surfing. Or, when not so active, people can find plenty of sand dunes and rocky cliffs to sit, rest and walk upon.

At the same time, our coastal hills continue to reveal signs of people who sat on these beachheads long before us. As we barbeque, relax and gaze out to sea we can forget that we often stand upon ancient middens, places where Aboriginal people sat, cooked, ate and shared the stories of their human life, much as we do today.

Our dining rooms and kitchens have replaced older ones. Signs of shell, charcoal and bone abound. They remain just below the surface. Sometimes the wind and erosion of time removes the top-soil and reveals them. Rarely is the history of our land so physically close and tangible. It lies beneath our feet.

Australia Day remembers one particular set of footprints that first appeared in 1788, and the legacy of those early footprints. In the months that followed the arrival of that First Fleet many of those who had only recently arrived, like our summer selves, would often sit upon various coastal hills and cliffs and look out to sea. They waited in expectation for signs of more Tall Ships and news from 'home'.

And, in the decades that followed, others would take up that annual pilgrimage to the coast and look out to sea. Much of our south-east coast is now marked by housing developments that sit on the edge of land and look out beyond it. It is as if we have preferred to look out to sea than journey into the land's heart and mystery.

The film Australia captures something of the mixed history of our Australian footprint. We are reminded of the colonial intruder, often an out-of-place and insensitive stranger, the cattle barons and their invasive stock, the Second World War and the bombing of Darwin.

This was a time when men prized their masculinity in wearing side-arms, risking great odds, being independent from authority and consuming large amounts of alcohol.

The film provides telling reminders of very insensitive and violent intrusions