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Australian Film  
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The 1970s also saw the beginnings of a lesbian tradition in independent, experimental film. Often informed by feminist debates and academic gender theories, it includes fiction shorts such as Megan McMurchy's Apartments (1977) and Ann Turner's Flesh on Glass (1981), Digby Duncan's documentary Witches, Dykes, and Poofters (1979), and Leone Knight's confrontational, queer theory inflected In Loving Memory (1992) and The Father Is Nothing (1992).

The 1990s and After

The explosion of queer Australian films in the 1990s was, arguably, heralded by the stunning success of Baz Luhrman's Strictly Ballroom (1992). The romance plot may be straight but the film is saturated with camp and kitsch, and is a forerunner of Luhrmann's later international extravaganzas, William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet (1996) and Moulin Rouge (2001).

Ann Turner's feature length Dallas Doll (1992), starring American comedienne Sandra Bernhard as a bisexual adventuress let loose on an "ordinary" Australian family, was a patchy yet intriguing venture that failed to find mainstream cinema release.

In 1994, however, three seminal films, all comedies, and all with serious thematic underpinnings, were released to critical acclaim and commercial success: P.J. Hogan's Muriel's Wedding (1994), with its friendship between two young women on the loose in Sydney, saturated in camp and grounded in an (unrealized) lesbian subtext; Stephan Elliot's exuberant Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994), the story of three Sydney drag queens (one transsexual, one homosexual, and one bisexual) who embark on a bus journey to Ayers Rock, scandalizing the local yokels on the way; and Geoff Burton and Kevin Dowling's The Sum of Us (1994), starring Russell Crowe as a working-class gay plumber, living with his sympathetic straight father.

The comic vein continued with Emma-Kate Croghan's Love and Other Catastrophes (1996), a witty take on the screwball genre focusing on the romantic misadventures of five young students in Melbourne, two of whom "just happen" to be lesbians.

Yet towards the end of the 1990s a more serious tone began to emerge. Lawrence Johnson's Life (1996)--acclaimed by critics but too confrontational to attract the crossover success of Priscilla--offered a searing, timely study of relationships between men in an HIV division of a state prison.

Ana Kokkinos's Only the Brave (1994), a sometimes scrappy, yet engaging, short film about the lesbian awakening of a working class Greek-Australian girl, paved the way for Kokkinos to direct and co-write Head On (1998), a technically impressive adaptation of Christos Tsoilkas' grunge novel Loaded, featuring a striking performance by Alex Dimitriadis as the antihero Ari.

Novel to film adaptations have also provided the impetus for the work of Samantha Lang who, with Kokkinos, heads the vanguard of younger queer-focused directors. The Well (1997), a visually stunning version of Elizabeth Jolley's story of closeted lesbian obsession, stumbles a little, perhaps due to uncertainty about the veiled strains of the original, but The Monkey's Mask (2000) works creditably to capture some of the intelligence and eroticism of Dorothy Porter's complex verse detective novel, eliciting powerful performances from Suzie Porter and Kelly McGillis.


Australia's diverse and distinctive contribution to queer film has secured increasing international recognition. While the halcyon highs of 1994 have yet to be matched, the tradition is, it is hoped, sufficiently solid to withstand the strands of social conservatism and fiscal restraint that mark Australian life in the new millennium.

Deborah Hunn

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arts >> Overview:  Australian Art

Historically, Australia has produced some important gay and lesbian artists, but only recently have openly glbtq artists felt comfortable in Australia.

literature >> Overview:  Australian and New Zealand Literatures

In the past two decades Australia has come to occupy a leading place in gay and lesbian literature, and New Zealand has recently produced some significant gay and lesbian texts.

arts >> Overview:  Australian Television

Despite some important breakthroughs in the depiction of gay men and lesbians in the past, Australian television today lacks any regular and open discussion of queer issues and lives.

social sciences >> Overview:  Australia

Given its history, it is somewhat surprising that Australia now has exceptionally gay-friendly laws and public attitudes, with widespread public tolerance and acceptance of the glbtq community.

arts >> Overview:  Film

Since cinema began, Hollywood has been fascinated with finding ways of representing homosexuality.

social sciences >> Overview:  Sydney

With thriving glbtq communities, an accommodating atmosphere, and a mammoth Mardi Gras celebration, Sydney is a center of glbtq culture and a favorite destination for tourists of all genders and sexualities.

arts >> Overview:  Transsexuality in Film

Representations of transsexuality in films range from freak-show exploitation, to dramatic and documentary depictions, to the use of transsexuality as a metaphor for exploring the crossing of all kinds of borders.

arts >> Overview:  Transvestism in Film

Too often cinematic drag is reduced to a mere joke, a harmless tease that tacitly reassures us that people can change their clothes but not their sexual identities.

arts >> Bernhard, Sandra

Sharp-tongued comedienne, writer, singer, and actor Sandra Bernhard is known almost as well for her amorphous sexuality as for her cynical wit.

literature >> Porter, Dorothy

The work of Australian lesbian poet Dorothy Porter presents a cheeky challenge to a literary establishment whose poetry has often been defined by pretension and obfuscation.

arts >> Roberts, Ian

At the height of his athletic career, Australian rugby superstar Ian Roberts made the courageous decision to come out as a gay man.


Bertrand, Ina. Film Censorship in Australia. Brisbane: University of Queeensland Press, 1981.

Hunn, Deborah. "'It's Not That I Can't Decide, I Don't like Definitions': Queer in Australia in Christos Tsiolkas' Loaded and Ana Kokkinos' Head On." Territories of Desire in Queer Culture: Refiguring Contemporary Boundaries. David Alderson and Linda Anderson, eds. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000. 112-129.

McFarlane, Brian, Geoff Mayer, and Ina Bertrand, eds. The Oxford Companion to Australian Film. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Murray, Scott. Australian Film 1978-1992. Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1993.

_____, ed. Australian Cinema. St Leonards, NSW: Allen and Unwin, 1994.

O'Regan, Tom. Australian National Cinema. London and New York: Routledge, 1996.

Rayner, Jonathan. Contemporary Australian Cinema: An Introduction. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000.

Robinson, Jocelyn, and Beverly Zalock. Girl's Own Stories: Australian and New Zealand Women's Film, London: Scarlet Press, 1997.

Sabine, James, ed. A Century of Australian Cinema. Port Melbourne: William Heinemann Australia, 1995.

Willett, Graham. "Minorities Can Win: The Gay Movement, the Left and the Transformation of Australian Society." Overland 149 (1997): 64-68.


    Citation Information
    Author: Hunn, Deborah  
    Entry Title: Australian Film  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated December 28, 2004  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
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    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  


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