It's 1939 and when her husband's faltering cattle station threatens to swallow the Ashley fortune, Lady Sarah (Nicole Kidman) heads to Australia to put a stop to her spouse's reckless business venture. But on arriving at Faraway Downs, she discovers that he is dead - apparently murdered by Aboriginal elder 'King George' (David Gulpilil) - and that there's little for her to do but sell up and return to England.
However, matters change when sweet station kid Nullah (Brandon Walters) reveals that her cattle have been driven onto neighbouring land - essentially stolen by rival King Carney (Bryan Brown) who wants a monopoly on the Northern Territories. Determined to set matters right, Sarah makes a tough decision to drive the cattle to Darwin for sale, and enlists the help of rugged cattle man 'Drover' (Hugh Jackman) to help. Treacherous terrain and the underhand scheming of King Carney almost wreck her plan, but Sarah reaches Darwin and believes she has succeeded... until the onset of World War II and some enemies conspire to destroy all she loves.
It's not often that Baz Luhrmann makes a film so when he does, everyone's watching. Not since 2001's Moulin Rouge! has the bold director put his head on the critical chopping block, and with Australia there's been some hacking. Grumblings about the film's length and sentimentality took the edge off what was expected to be a triumphant release, but Luhrmann's brash, big-budget melodrama makes no apologies for its epic scope, and only benefits from his famously theatrical approach to film-making.
An epic story made by and starring famous Aussie exports, Australia scores highly for cinematography and earned an Oscar nomination for its costumes. But it is in young star Brandon Walters that the film finds its biggest success - the story of the young Aborigine and his 'magic man' grandfather is one of the film's most absorbing subplots and earned him three nominations and two wins - not bad for a 12 year old.