Musical pastiche in Australia

Musical pastiche in Australia
WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
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Nullah (Brandon Walters) thinks 'coppers’ are coming to take him away. The car in the distance is actually bringing Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) to Faraway Downs. Nullah describes her as 'the strangest woman I ever seen’.

Notes by Richard Kuipers


Additional notes on musical score

The music (by composer David Hirschfelder) accompanying the stirring pre-title sequence emphasises a diversity of views of Australia. But it also suggests an eclectic nostalgia for Australian mythology and popular culture more generally.

Underpinning sweeping aerial landscape imagery is a rhythmic pulse on orchestral strings and percussion, which combines with clapsticks and a didgeridoo drone.

A melodic string line adds a layer of texture and we can recognise a familiar few notes from 'Waltzing Matilda' (the beloved 19th century bush ballad written by Banjo Paterson).

But there are also references to famous pieces such as Johann Sebastian Bach’s ‘Sheep May Safely Graze’ (occurring from around 00:28 in a minor key). Such a reference (if intentional) is curious in this context. Is it a playful reference to Australia's economy riding on the sheep’s back?

As Nullah rides his horse and the clip progresses, Indigenous percussion finds unity with a high-strung acoustic guitar figure. The string line becomes more frantic, oscillating between major and minor tonality to underpin the script.

Here, we also encounter voice-over from Nullah, who describes Australia as having many names, the many forms of music and instrumentation resonating with his words.

In some ways, this passage of soundtrack follows typical action film music, but it also finds some exciting moments by blending Indigenous tones and instrumentation.

More generally, Australia's score features a pastiche of hyper-stylised performances, original compositions, covers and medleys, and synchronises them to a story set during the Second World War in the outback.

This hyperbolic and intertextual approach to the score is echoed in director Baz Luhrmann's other productions, including Moulin Rouge! (2001) and The Great Gatsby (2013).

Notes by Johhny Milner (with thanks to Tom Dexter)