Musical pastiche in Australia
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
The music (by composer David Hirschfelder) accompanying the stirring title sequence emphasizes a diversity of views of Australia But it also simultaneously provides 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 soon realise the familiar few notes from 'Waltzing Matilda' (the beloved 19th century bush ballad written by Banjo Paterson in 1887). But there are also other references to famous pieces such as Johann Sebastian Bach’s ‘Sheep May Safely Graze’ (occurring from around the 28 second mark in minor key). Such a reference is (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 voiceover 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-stylized performances, original compositions, covers and medleys and synchronizes them to a story set during World War Two in the outback. This hyperbolic and intertextual approach to the score is echoed in Luhrmann's other productions. These include films such as Moulin Rouge (2001) and The Great Gatsby (2013).
Additional notes by Johhny Milner (with thanks to Tom Dexter)