• Industry

Australians & Hollywood: An Exhibition Down Under Tells the Story

Australia’s National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA) is celebrating the country’s biggest stars in front of and behind the cameras.

For decades, Hollywood has been asking for the recipe of the secret sauce that has put so many Australians on the global stage. Actors include Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Naomi Watts, Hugh Jackman, Cate Blanchett, Mia Wasikowska and Margot Robbie. Filmmakers including George Miller, Peter Weir, Baz Luhrmann, Cate Shortland, and David Michôd. And then there’s the long list of Oscar- and Emmy-winning cinematographers, producers, production designers, costume designers, visual effects masters and sound editors too.

Now, the National Film and Sound Archive – located in Australia’s capital city of Canberra – attempts to answer that question by exploring all the ingredients in the sauce with their first show in 20 years, titled Australians & Hollywood: a tale of craft, talent and ambition.

The exhibition features rare behind-the-scenes footage from Mad Max – now widely viewed as the start of the Aussie film invasion in 1979 – and other on-screen moments from iconic films as well as never-before-displayed costumes, memorabilia, and props from the NFSA’s collection of over three million items. It also showcases personal treasures loaned from some of Australia’s most celebrated creatives in cinema, with highlights including the spectacular costumes from Moulin Rouge! (2001), The Sapphires (2012), customized steering wheels from Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), art concept books for Romeo + Juliet (1996), and a commissioned video essay on First Nation filmmaker Warwick Thornton, winner of a Venice Film Festival jury prize for his 2017 film, Sweet Country.


NFSA Curator Tara Marynowsky says the exhibition not only examines the past relationship between Australia and Hollywood, but also hopes to shed light on the national identity and culture and provide suggestions on where it’s going. “Films can help us make sense of the world, inspire social change and reflect who we are,” she says. “This isn’t only a celebration of Australian cinematic success; these stories and memories provide an insight into our national character, and where we might be heading, while highlighting the importance of preserving them for future generations.”

In the online companion Zoom series, NFSA Presents: Inspired, many of those featured had a chance to offer their own theory on how Australia conquered Hollywood. Hugh Jackman says, “I remember George Miller telling me that you have to be incredibly disciplined as an Australian filmmaker because the budgets aren’t there, so you can’t just throw money at a problem; you have to solve it with wit, ingenuity and creativity. I also think there’s a sort of real courage that Australian filmmakers and actors have, it’s a real ‘have-a-go’ quality and we go for it.”

Mad Max filmmaker George Miller adds, “Australians tend to be very egalitarian, especially crews, so being relaxed but doing something well is deep in our culture. And because Australia has a relatively small population, you’re allowed to try many things and can explore not just one discipline, but a multiplicity of things.”

Marynowsky’s own background – as an accomplished artist in her own right known for her work across a variety of media – brought that inspiration to the exhibition as she assembled an audiovisual feast of over 700 video clips, hundreds of costumes, props, podcast excerpts and even a makeup kit used by the original Mad Max makeup artist, Vivien Mepham.

Costume highlights include the dress worn by Toni Collette in Muriel’s Wedding, the red satin dress worn by Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge! and the prison garb worn by Eric Bana in Chopper. Props include the famous knife and hat that Paul Hogan wore in Crocodile Dundee, the clapperboard from Dune (shot by Aussie cinematographer Greig Fraser) and several Oscars and a BAFTA on loan. Woven into the exhibition is a unique digital layer, giving visitors an interactive experience as they download a QR code that will gather bonus content on their phones to take home and explore further.


NFSA’s chief executive officer Patrick McIntyre says, “A generation or two ago, to make it big you had to relocate to L.A. and be part of Hollywood, but through the talent and achievement of Australian filmmakers and artists over a period of time, and through changes in technology and changes in the industry, Hollywood has now come to Australia.”

Australians & Hollywood hits back at the “tall poppy syndrome” – a term coined to describe the criticism Australian talent often endured when they came home for being “too successful.” The cultural cringe seems to have finally been replaced with a well-deserved celebration of what has been achieved by so many Aussies on the global stage and leaves us secure in the knowledge there is much more to come.

Australians & Hollywood: a tale of craft, talent, and ambition runs from 21 January 2022, through to 17 July 2022, exclusively in Canberra at the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia. Go to www.nfsa.gov.au for more information and to see episodes of the Zoom video series NFSA Presents: Inspired by HFPA member Jenny Cooney.