With its rugged good looks and effortless quirks, Australia was always destined for the screen. The country's pristine beaches, scorching deserts and eclectic cities have set the scene for a string of soaps, TV series and films, from homegrown cult hits to Hollywood blockbusters.
Melbourne: Silver-Screen Suburbs
The world's first full-length feature film, The Story of the Kelly Gang, was shot in Melbourne in 1906 and today the city remains home to Australia's longest-running TV series, Neighbours, which began in 1985. The soap's world-famous Ramsay Street is actually Pin Oak Court, an unassuming cul-de-sac in suburban Vermont South, and a pit stop on backpacker rite of passage Neighbours Tours.
Melbourne is also the location of Netflix boxed set Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, featuring 1920s private detective Phryne Fisher wearing some of the most beautiful frocks on the box. You can explore the locations with the Big Bus, such as Phryne’s historic home Wardlow, in Parkville. A feature film of the series is mooted to begin shooting in mid-2018.
Country Victoria: Fantastic Settings
Evocative beach scenes blur into fantasy in Where the Wild Things Are, the 2009 Spike Jonze film that makes great use of Victoria’s misty light in locations such as Gembrook (terminus of the Puffing Billy steam train), the wind-whipped coastline of Flinders and further west, rock-climbing mecca Mt Arapiles.
A 70km drive northwest of central Melbourne leads you to the ancient volcanic boulders of Hanging Rock, setting of Peter Weir's haunting film Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975). Fauna including wallabies, koalas, kookaburras and wedge-tailed eagles are an untamed setting for this true story of missing schoolgirls. Foxtel has revisited the story and its spooky location for a television series starring Natalie Dormer (Margaery Tyrell in Game of Thrones) released in May 2018. Other locations where the miniseries was filmed include Werribee Mansion and Como House.
Sydney: Drag Queens and Beach Scenes
It's from Sydney that two drag queens and a transsexual set off on a dazzling road trip in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994). Their starting point is the Imperial Hotel in inner-city Erskineville. This queer icon has bounced back after some troubled years with a fabulous reopening just in time for Sydney’s 2018 Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.
Sydney sequins make way for surf on reality TV series Bondi Rescue, filmed on fabled Bondi Beach. From mid-January to February, the famous surf strip hosts Bondi OpenAir Cinema, a season of mainstream and classic flicks, as well as live music gigs.
Further north, the languid suburb of Palm Beach doubles as fictional 'Summer Bay' in Home & Away, Australia's second-longest running television series. Fans can even take a Home and Away tour of the neighbourhood (with viator.com).
Back in the city centre, Sydney's Manhattanesque central business district makes a futuristic backdrop in sci-fi action film The Matrix (1999), including the fountain in Martin Place, while sprawling Centennial Park moonlights as Gatsby's Estate in Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby (2013). The park itself draws cinephiles each summer for Moonlight Cinema, held from mid-December to late March.
Outback NSW: Max Madness
A short 1160km drive west of Sydney will bring you to the rough-and-tumble mining town Broken Hill, its garishly hued Palace Hotel also featured in Priscilla. More than half of the film was shot in and around the town, including the Mundi Mundi Plains, an epic, rust-hued sweep of outback 29km to the north.
The Plains were also used in post-apocalyptic Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981), a fact not lost on the nearby mining town of Silverton, which claims a dedicated Mad Max 2 Museum.
Gold Coast: Superheroes and ABBA Fans
Another Game of Thrones star who’s been working in Oz lately is Jason Momoa (aka Khal Drogo). He’s been on location in the Gold Coast for upcoming DC superhero flick Aquaman, scheduled for release in December 2018. The Gold Coast also played its part as the pastel-hued kitsch of 'Porpoise Spit' in Aussie cult classic Muriel's Wedding (1994).
Great Barrier Reef: Pirates and Battlefields
It's Hamilton Island that moonlights as 'Hibiscus Island' in the Muriel’s Wedding, the place where the dowdy Muriel Heslop (Toni Collette) and hedonistic Rhonda Epinstalk (Rachel Griffiths) kill the competition with their lip-sync version of Abba's ‘Waterloo’.
A gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, this well developed island stands in for the Bahamas in Hollywood adventure-romance Fool's Gold (2008) starring Matthew McConaughey. In the same film, Key West is actually the North Queensland resort town of Port Douglas. Known for the sandy sweep of its Four Mile Beach, the town saw more clapperboard clicks with the shooting of Pirates of the Caribbean 5 in 2015. Port Douglas makes a handy base for exploring Daintree National Park; its thick jungle was used to shoot much of American war epic The Thin Red Line (1998).
Outback Oz: Red Dirt and Dogs
Meanwhile in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, it's in Uluru's shadow that Meryl Streep plays real-life Lindy Chamberlain in Evil Angels (A Cry in the Dark) (1988), about a woman wrongly accused of murdering her infant. The soaring sandstone formation was also set to make a cameo in Priscilla, but the refusal of a shooting permit saw it substituted with the vertiginous red wonder of Kings Canyon, wedged between Uluru and Alice Springs.
The area was also a location in Tracks, the 2013 film based on the epic 2700km solo desert journey Robyn Davidson made in 1977 with her dog and four camels. It was shot in South Australia and the Northern Territory, including Kings Creek Station west of Alice Springs. Heart-warming family favourite Red Dog was shot in the Pilbara, where the red dirt is almost a character in itself.
The Top End: Crocs and Canoes
A sun-scorched wonderland of wilderness, rugged characters and ancient customs, no place captures the Australia of the world's imagination like the Northern Territory. Archetypal Aussie ocker Paul Hogan plays on numerous stereotypes in global box-office hit Crocodile Dundee (1986). Part of the film was shot in the World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park, which has 10,000 resident crocodiles. Acclaimed 2006 flick Ten Canoes, based on an ancient Yolngu story, was the first feature film in an Aboriginal language and was shot in Arnhem Land, to the east of Kakadu National Park.
Tassie: Stunning Natural Scenery
With six Oscar nominations, 2016 box-office smash Lion shows off the beauty of Tassie in a number of standout locales, including the lookout over the city of Hobart from Kunyani/Mount Wellington and Bruny Island Neck isthmus. While coming out in the same year, The Light Between Oceans was filmed in historic Stanley in northwest Tasmania, with locals rubbing shoulders with award winning actors Rachael Weisz and Michael Fassbender on set. Many grew full beards to look the part as extras for the post-WWI setting.
This article was first written by Cristian Bonnetto in May 2015 and updated in March 2018 by Monique Perrin.