Two movie releases at the beginning of the 2020 (i.e. pre-lockdown) cast a spotlight on the thriving genre of the Australian ‘Bushranger’ Western. The first was Stephen Johnson’s 1930s-set High Ground which stars Simon (The Mentalist) Baker as ‘a bounty hunter who enlists the help of a young Aboriginal man to track down the most dangerous outlaw in the territory — his uncle‘.
The movie also stars Oz national treasure Jack Thompson who has appeared in many of the best known Australian pictures since the 60s, including The Man From Snowy River, Breaker Morant and The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith. Incidentally, Thompson also picked up international roles in movies including Steven Soderbergh’s The Good German, George Clooney’s Leatherheads, George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones and fellow countryman Baz Luhrmann’s Australia/Great Gatsby. He even featured in a Marvel movie – 2005’s largely forgotten Man-Thing playing greedy oil tycoon F. A. Schist – yep, as in Fascist… a bit on the nose there, Marvel Studios.
Another new release in the genre is The True History of The Kelly Gang, yet another look at the 1870s outlaw hero, with a strong cast including Russell Crowe, Nicholas Hoult and Charlie Hunnam. The movie represents a comeback of sorts for director Justin Kurzel after the failure of his video game adaptation Assassin’s Creed (2016).
Back to the long-running Bushranger (outlaw)/Australian Western genre – also called the Kangaroo or ‘Meat Pie’ Western, an Oz take on Italian ‘Spaghetti’ cowboy pictures.
More often than not, the movies followed the route of a pursuit of the anti-hero protagonist by the forces of repression. The setting ranges from the 1800s to the present day. You’ve no doubt seen one or two, such as 1990’s Quigley Down Under, with Tom Selleck in ‘White Saviour’ mode as an American marksman pitted against Alan Rickman’s genocidal rancher.
Quigley Down Under (1990):
Or maybe other versions of the saga of bushranger Ned Kelly, played in films of the same name. One by a terribly miscast Mick Jagger in 1970 and the other in 2003 by Heath Ledger. But there’s a wealth of other movies set in the Australian Outback, which sometimes served to highlight the mistreatment of the indigenous Aboriginal population at the hands of the British settlers, mirroring the plight of Native Americans in the US.
Ned Kelly (Heath Ledger):
Ned Kelly (Mick Jagger):
An Aboriginal actor familiar to international audiences is David Gulpilil, who first came to prominence in Nic Roeg’s Walkabout (1971) and went on to feature in a number of Meat Pie Westerns as well as mainstream pictures including Crocodile Dundee I & II and on TV, the third season of HBO’s The Leftovers.
For some, a stand-out Bushranger movie is John (Triple 9) Hillcoat’s The Proposition (2005), which follows an outlaw manhunt in the 1880s, with a cast that includes Ray Winstone, Guy Pearce, Emily Watson, John Hurt and Danny Huston.
Without further ado, a selection of a few scenes and trailers from many films from this often overlooked genre:
Mystery Road (2013):
The Proposition (2005):
The Outlaw Michael Howe (2013):
The Tracker (2002):
Raw Deal (1977):
The Legend of Ben Hall (2016):
Mad Dog Morgan (1976) – Dennis Hopper stars as the title character:
Sweet Country (2017):
Inn of the Damned (1975) – Meat Pie/Horror mash-up:
Red Hill (2010):
Name any I may have missed in the comments section below!