Concept analysis – National Identity in Cloudstreet

Production year: 2011

Runtime: 3 part mini-series

Directors: Justin Kurzel

Cast: Stephen Curry, Emma Booth, Kerry Fox and Geoff Morrell

Cloudstreet, a novel by renknowned Australian author Tim Winton was published in 1991 and became a cult hit which reflected nostalgia for the Australian identity before Americanisation. The novel was adapted as a three-part mini series and released in 2011 on the small screen. Winton himself was a co-screenwriter helping to bring the novel to life along with the director Matthew Saville (Noise, The Secret Life of Us and episodes of The Slap).

Cloudstreet is a gripping mix of family saga’s and secrets with a mystical edge. It follows the lives of two Australian families, the Pickles and the Lambs who are like chalk and cheese, yet come to live together over a period of twenty years, 1943 – 1963 at One Cloud Street. As a novel it reflects a distinct social climate of values and interests felt by Australians during the 90’s, right after a period of ‘recession we had to have, that Keating period where people started to feel slightly differently about their country and the prospects for their future’. [1] National Identity is a strong theme in the book with concerns of Australian regionalism, nationalism and internationalism and a fascination with Australian traditions and their place in the modern world.

Cloudstreet is set in urban Perth on the cusp of modernization, however for these two families it is as if the modern world does not exist. The plot ‘enfolds the regional in the national, the traditional in the modern…the extraordinary within the ordinary…the metaphysical into the physical and the everyday’.[2] There’s a house that seems to have its own life, boats which fly and a talking pig, amongst other supernatural elements. It’s the weird and wonderful combination of the social and spiritual, which lends itself well to filmic portrayal, and creates this sense of nostalgia that Winton has running through his novel for ‘a nostalgia for lost places, for an Australian accent and culture that are pre-American, pre-modern, pre-1960s’.[3] A noble Australia which some might wish we always could be, especially older generations.

These qualities find expression in the mini-series through the rich registration of Australian idioms of the 1940s and 1950s, and in the beautiful depiction of places and landscapes in and around Perth. It also focuses on a sense of community, family and connections in a time of great upheaval, which relates back to characteristics many feel shape the Australian national identity like mate-ship. In it’s great attention to the movements in time, history and memory, a vision of an Australian National Identity is created for the viewer through a depiction, which posits our modern society against this absent, old-Australia. We have changed, grown, our modern world is very different to that of earlier generations, typically we construct the Australian identity through binary opposition of what we are not in relation to other nations, in Cloudstreet it is through reflecting our own now absent nation self.

Fox says: ‘It’s very significant for Australia and if you try to work out what it is about the piece [Cloudstreet] that makes it so extraordinary and moving, I think it has a naivety to it because [Winton] was so young when he wrote it. It has this weird truthfulness and observations without sophistication and trickery.’[4] It opens a window onto contemplation of an Australia many of us will never know. Winton reveals his own thoughts on the reason for this ‘I was re-imagining it…the city of your parents, the city of your grandparents…thinking about the destruction of community, the destruction of neighborhoods…the loss of the corner shop, all the kinds of things that people get nostalgic about for good reason…Plus I was documenting all the verbal history and the nonsense and the tall stories I’d grown up with…listening to all these people talking in accents and inflections that had become pressed out of reality, out of existence by the Americanisation of our culture’.[5]

These thoughts reveal another aspect of the Australian National Identity in Cloudstreet, the fact that we have always come under the influence of other nations, before our country created strong ties with America, it was strongly influenced by Britain, surely it is naïve to think the nostalgia for a lost Australia is for a pure Australian national identity as this does not exist because of the nature of our country’s history and founding.

Cloudstreet is a mystic and beautiful depiction of an older era in Australia when our National Identity was influenced by the Anglo-Celtic imprint, and shows nostalgia for these older times.


[1] Michael Bodey: Cloudstreet: Australia’s best-loved novel arrives on the small screen, From: The Australian May 21, 2011 12:00AM. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/cloudstreet-australias-best-loved-novel-arrives-on-the-small-screen/story-e6frg8n6-1226057281445

[2] Robert Dixon: Tim Winton, Cloudstreet and the field of Australian Literature, Westerly 2005, Volume 50, November, Pages 240-260.

[3] Robert Dixon: Tim Winton, Cloudstreet and the field of Australian Literature, Westerly 2005, Volume 50, November, Pages 240-260.

[4] Michael Bodey: Cloudstreet: Australia’s best-loved novel arrives on the small screen, From: The Australian May 21, 2011 12:00AM. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/cloudstreet-australias-best-loved-novel-arrives-on-the-small-screen/story-e6frg8n6-1226057281445

[5] Robert Dixon: Tim Winton, Cloudstreet and the field of Australian Literature, Westerly 2005, Volume 50, November, Pages 240-260.

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Film Review – Snowtown

ImageProduction year: 2011

Runtime: 120 mins

Directors: Justin Kurzel

Cast: Craig Coyne, Daniel Henshall, Louise Harris, and Lucas Pittaway

Snowtown is a look at the life of serial killer John Bunting and the infamous ‘bodies in the barrels’ case in a South Australian town between 1992-1999. Not running from a challenge for his first feature film, director Justin Kurzel has picked a dark cross-genre story about the loss of innocence that reflects Australia’s recent fascination with true crime coming to the big and small screen.

Snowtown is an immersing experience for the audience, and engaging from the opening scene, set in the outer northern suburbs of Adelaide where the real murders took place. We follow the plight of 16-year-old character Jamie Vlassakis (Lucas Pittway), who lives with his mother Elizabeth (Louise Harris), two kid brothers, plus one older stepbrother. Jamie longs for an escape from the hopelessness that surrounds him in the disenfranchised town he lives, and his salvation arrives in the form of John Bunting (Daniel Henshall), a charismatic bearded man with a constant grin who unexpectedly appears to be at Jamie’s aid. Here begins the plot of Snowtown, Jamie falls under the dangerous influence of John who turns out to be much more murderer than meets the eye.

The set-up of the story and characters is a little confusing at first, with the on-screen relationships difficult to track, yet this only seems to add to the madness of the true story being depicted rather than detract heavily from the film. Snowtown is one part gritty social-realism, one part thriller and all parts gruesome and often un-watchably violent. The film is drenched with chillingly stomach-turning events (chilling event number 1 – whilst on a date, unhappy Elizabeth accepts the offer of a babysitter who then sexually molests her children at their house). This somehow leads to a new man moving in with Jamie and his mother. This is John, who takes it upon himself to act in driving this paedophile out of the community and influences Jamie and his brothers to help (chilling event number 2 – somehow through splattering this perverts porch with dismembered animal corpses, Jamie and John grow closer).

John insists on becoming the patriarch of Jamie’s family, hosting boozy evenings at Elizabeth’s house, with conversations around protecting the community from pedophile’s, homosexuals, drug-takers and anyone else he doesn’t like. It all starts to get serious when John begins plotting murders, erecting a giant target board with arrows and photographs (chilling and down-right creepy event number 3!).  The emotional status of this somewhat glum community is reflected as John is posited as a person to look up too.

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The mind of a serial killer is a strange and disconcerting place, and often there is some sense of justification for why they commit such horrific acts. Daniel Henshall does a terrific job portraying this unsettling characteristic through the strange dysfunctional quasi father-son relationship he develops with Jamie. John moves from the role of Jamie’s protector to that of a mentor, indoctrinating Jamie into his world, a world brimming with bigotry, righteousness and malice. Like a son mimicking his father, Jamie soon begins to take on some of John’s traits and beliefs as he spends more and more time with him and his select group of friends. One scene where John gets Jamie to shoot a gun for his first time and forces him to kill the dog without flinching is incredibly hard to watch because of the realism and perturbing emotional display between the characters, which is remarkably calm in light of the morally wicked situation.

It’s in scenes like this one described above that Snowtown really draws an emotional response. The plain gruesome horror and shock scenes are easy to feel repulsed by, but it’s the scenes where the loss of Jamie’s innocence is highlighted that become most unsettling. Lucas Pittaway gives an outstanding and very real performance as Jamie, evocative of Edward Furlong’s character in American History X.

What saves Snowtown from being tasteless like other gruesome Australian movies such as Saw or Wolf Creek, is the fact that it never glorifies the characters, and furthermore doesn’t try to lighten the subject with the typical Australian humour which is present in many Australian movies. The film has a more art house/documentary feel with washed out look that drives home the reality and bleakness of the story without much flowery.

So in short, Snowtown is a depressing, brutal and hyper-real bogan story about manipulation, the loss of innocence and gruesome crimes, which possibly teaches us something about not putting your faith in the wrong people? Peachy stuff (not really), but a great Australian film that gets 4/5.