I love a sunburnt country: Why landscape cinema offers a myopic view of modern Australian

Films are powerful motivational and image-making tools to enhance the attractiveness of tourist destinations (Tuclea & Nistoreanu 2011, p.25). For Film set on sunny beachdecades, Australian films have represented the imagined perceptions of Australia and Australian values to a potential tourist market (Beeton 2001b, cited in Jewell & McKinnon 2008, p.155).

Despite being one of the most urbanised societies, Australian landscape cinema has privileged the countryside and wilderness, providing a key to Australia’s international differentiation (O’Regan 1996, p.209). In many films, the landscape is not only presented as a backdrop to the action but also as characters of the narrative (Beeton 2010, p.144). Consequently, filmic landscapes provide a level of emotional attachment for viewers, especially when the setting is integral to the story (Beeton 2010, p.144). In turn, this can create a desire to visit the locations of a movie’s setting in order to consume the myths created by the interplay of fiction and physical space (Connell 2004, cited in Macionis 2007, p.32).

New Zealand Hobbiton

Tourists on a guided tour of the set of Hobbiton in New Zealand

Baz Luhrmann’s Australia (2008), for example, pays homage to the landscape tradition, projecting the Australian outback as a magical place promising transformative experiences for those who visit it (Stadler & Mitchell 2010, p.173). This theme of personal transformation and self-discovery through connection with the land is reinforced in the film’s associated ‘Come Walkabout’ tourism campaign which invited stressed, unhappy urbanites to ‘find yourself in Australia’ (Stadler & Mitchell 2010, p.179).

Scene from Australia (2008)

Lady Sarah’s (Nicole Kidman) adventure in the Australian outback leads her to discover a stronger, more authentic self.

According to Tourism Australia (2009, p.10), both Australia and its related campaign increased international awareness and interest in an Australian holiday and resulted in a 60 percent increase in intention to visit. At the same time, however, the imaginative use of the landscape and the fantasy of Australianness that the film constructs was met with harsh criticism from the Australian public. Comments solicited by national newspapers revealed disagreement over the film’s portrayal of Australian national identity, with viewers characterising the film as a ‘sugary coated slice of Australiana’ and a ‘blatant piece of government sponsored propaganda’ (Hogan 2010, p.64).

Australia movie poster

These constructions of Australian national identity do not align with recent developments in the literature of film-induced tourism. Academic studies have revealed that audience empathy with storylines and characters is the main motive to visit places featured in films rather than scenic attributes (Frost 2010, p.724). An empirical study by Kim and Richardson (2003, p.222, cited in Frost 2010, p.709) found that the level of emphatic involvement with film characters can affect the perceptions viewers have of places depicted in films. Beeton (2005, p.229, cited in Frost 2010, p.709) has also identified the significance of the personal connections audiences forge with films, noting that “we view movies through ourselves in such a way to gain some personal meaning.”

Hugh Jackman in Australia (2008)

Stereotypical ‘national types’: masculine, matey, bushmen and drovers

For the Australian film industry, these findings present a key issue. The vast majority of Australian movies have contributed to the maintenance of a national mythology which defines Australianness as Anglo-Celtic, masculine and rural (Waitt 1997, p.48). This colonial and patriarchal representational bias of ‘real’ Australia has little resemblance to the diverse and rich experiences of contemporary global citizens (Waitt 1997, p.58). In this way, privileging past constructions of national identity may not effectively motivate contemporary tourists, especially those who fancy cultural enrichment experiences, to visit Australia.

In order for Australia to fully capitalise on the opportunities offered by the integration of film and tourism, Australian cinema needs to present compelling stories, characters Film & Tourism imageand situations that appeal to the multiple lived identities and experiences of international tourists. Projecting striking visual images of the Australian landscape and stereotypical ‘national types’ is hardly sufficient to fulfil contemporary tourists’ desires for cultural diversity and, indeed, to adequately capture and reflect the sophisticated national imaginings of Australian people.

Reference List:

Beeton, S 2010, ‘Landscapes as Characters: Film, Tourism and a Sense of Place’, Metro Magazine: Media & Education Magazine, no.166, p.114-118.

Frost, W 2010, ‘Life changing experiences: Film and Tourists in the Australian Outback’, Annals of Tourism Research, vol.37, no.3, p.707-726.

Hogan, J 2010, ‘Gendered and racialised discourses of national identity in Baz Luhrmann’s Australia’, Journal of Australian Studies, vol.34, no.1, p.63-77.

Jewell, B & McKinnon, S 2008, ‘Movie Tourism – A New Form of Cultural Landscape?’, Journal of Travel & Tourism Marketing, vol.24, no.2-3, p.153-162.

Macionis, N 2007, ‘Film-Induced Tourism: The Role of Film as a Contributor to the Motivation to Travel to a Destination’, PhD thesis, Griffith University.

O’Regan, T 1996, Australian National Cinema, Routledge, New York.

Stadler, J & Mitchell, P 2010, ‘Never-Never Land: affective land-scapes, the tourist gaze and heterotopic space in Australia’, Studies in Australasian Cinema, vol.4, no.2, p.173-187.

Tourism Australia 2009, Tourism Australia Annual Report 2008-2009, Tourism Australia, Sydney, viewed 10 January 2016, <http://www.tourism.australia.com/documents/corporate/Annual_Report_2008_2009.pdf>.

Tuclea, CE & Nistoreanu, P 2011, ‘How film and television programs can promote tourism and increase the competitiveness of tourist destinations’, Cactus Tourism Journal, vol.2, no.2, p.25-30.

Waitt, G 1997, ‘Selling Paradise and Adventure: Representations of Landscape in the Tourist Advertising of Australia’, Australian Geographical Studies, vol.35, no.1, p.47-60.

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