15 Australian Documentaries to Watch if You Haven’t Already

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If you haven’t watch these documentaries about Australia, get them on your to-watch list now! 

1) Great Australians with Alan Jones

Great Australians with Alan JonesIn GREAT AUSTRALIANS, popular media personality Alan Jones talks to a selection of talented and influential Australians who have achieved greatness in their respective fields. Eponymous without seeking the furnishings of fame, these individuals have risen to considerable challenges to become world figures of media, science, exploration, fashion, politics, sport, the arts and entertainment.

Bringing us face to face with the likes of: Ita Buttrose, Ian Frazer, Carla Zampatti, John Howard, John Singleton, Richard Bonynge, Ken Rosewall, Anthony Warlow, Matt Mitcham, Sydney Kirkby, Harry Messel, Nancye Hayes and Raelene Boyle, host Alan Jones talks frankly about their lives, their achievements, their ups and their downs – each story is richly illustrated by archive imagery from the subjects life.

2) The Tasmanian Tiger

The Tasmanian TigerRecorded by pioneers as far back as 1805, THE TASMANIAN TIGER has become an intensely mystifying Australian icon, whose entire existence has become the stuff of both fable and legend.Originally identified as Thylacinus Cynocephalus, considered a pouched dog with a wolfs head, the Tasmanian tiger has both baffled and challenged the scientific community for centuries. With very little evidence there has been much speculation about the Thylacines existence, behaviour and sudden extinction from the otherwise lush Tasmanian wilderness.

This program investigates a chequered past and puts the speculation into perspective, taking into account the tragic culling and bounty era where the carnivorous creatures were thought to be solely responsible for a considerable loss of farmers livestock.Balancing the facts with personal reflections from Tasmanian locals, scientists and other informed practitioners, The Tasmanian Tiger is a thought-provoking and revealing look at the extraordinary life and death of one of Australias most mysterious marsupials.

3) Trams, Tracks and Trolleys

Trams, Tracks and TrolleysFor 70 years trams were a way of life in Tasmania. Designed and built locally, they provided the cities of Hobart and Launceston with considerable character and movement. From the early days of settlement and the necessity of horse drawn transport through to the mighty rise of steam power and electricity, Tasmania’s rich heritage of trams, tracks and trolleys is explored in great historical detail.

Operating on a direct current system at 500 watts, these double-decker beauties crafted out of Tasmanian wood carried passengers around the bustling cities from September 1893, gradually transforming into trolley buses around the mid 1930s, with the last tram making its final journey in 1952. Trolley buses lasted until 1965 as demand for transport shifted in favour of automobiles and petrol power.

Incorporating archival film footage, detailed photographs and insightful anecdotes from residents, historians, conductors, drivers and engineers, TRAMS, TRACKS & TROLLEYS captures a fascinating era of transportation in Australia’s Apple Isle, celebrating a triumph of engineering endeavour and metropolitan development.

4) DNA Nation

DNA NationWho are we? And where do we come from? Australia’s greatest Olympian Ian Thorpe, iconic Indigenous actor Ernie Dingo, and TV presenter and Queen of Eurovision Julia Zemiro set off on an epic journey of genetic time travel to find out. DNA is the instruction manual that helps build and run our bodies. But scientific breakthroughs have discovered another remarkable use for it.

As they experience life as hunter-gatherers in Tanzania, dig for fossils in the Arabian desert, ride horseback in Kyrgyzstan, and take to the high seas in Timor Leste, Ian, Ernie and Julia discover the remarkable journey their ancestors made from Africa to Australia across 200,000 years. As the three continue their globetrotting adventure, a unique genetic census is also underway in Australia. Everyday Australians across the nation are donating their DNA. It’s the first survey of its kind, and the results will help reveal the hidden story of our identity.

DNA is collected from Australians from six distinct ethnic groups – Greek, Chinese, Anglo-Celtic, Indian, Lebanese and Aboriginal. The census represents more than 90% of the Australian population, and will deliver a snapshot of the nation’s genetic ancestry. DNA NATION is a ground breaking documentary series that will change the way we think about Australia, the world and ourselves. Could it be that we’re not who we think we are?

5) Besieged: The Ned Kelly Story

Besieged The Ned Kelly StoryThe exploits of Ned Kelly, Australian icon and notorious outlaw regularly raise questions amongst historians and social commentators of injustice and oppression. Thought a hero by some and a terrorist by others, this documentary sets out to examine the man as an enigma , the many prickly issues and to tell the historically accurate story.

BESIEGED: THE NED KELLY STORY examines the life of the infamous bushranger, expounds the legend from early indiscretions and the formation of his gang through to the violent killings at Stringy Bark Creek, culminating in his explosive last stand and shoot out at Glenrowan. With all the available facts in hand, was Ned Kelly an outlaw, a freedom fighter or simply a murderer with a message?

6) History of Australian Cinema

History of Australian CinemaHISTORY OF AUSTRALIAN CINEMA is a three-part series looking at the early years of the film industry and motion pictures in Australia:

1. The Pictures That Moved 1896-1920 (1967): A novel moving picture of Australia early in the 20th century. The film starts with the 1896 Melbourne Cup race, the 1900 multimedia event Soldiers of the Cross and the 1906 hour-long feature The Story of the Kelly Gang. It moves through ethnographic and actuality films, newsreels and features to the 1920 features Robbery Under Arms and The Sentimental Bloke.

2. The Passionate Industry 1920-1930 (1973): The twenties was a passionate period – a decade of fervent, feverish activity in the film industry in Australia when over 100 feature films were made. Fewer than 30 survive today. This documentary features For the Term of His Natural Life, the husband-and-wife team of Louise Lovely and Wilton Wench and the work of director Raymond Longford among material from 50 newsreels, 16 feature films and still photographs drawn from over 70 collections.

3. Now You’re Talking 1930-1940 (1979): The story of the Australian film industry in the thirties, from the pioneering days of “talkies” through to the decline of the industry with the coming of World War Two. This is the decade that saw the rise of Cinesound and the emergence of screen-acting talents like Errol Flynn and Peter Finch, when Dad and Dave were brought to the screen and Charles Chauvel made Forty Thousand Horsemen.

7) Tasmanian Devil: The Fast and Furious Life of Errol Flynn

Tasmanian DevilHollywood legend Errol Flynn led a tumultuous life from his troubled childhood in Hobart, to his escape from Australia after stealing the diamonds of his society lover, to his drunken death at the age of fifty in the arms of his teenage mistress. An unprecedented insight into the life of the notorious star, TASMANIAN DEVIL: THE FAST AND FURIOUS LIFE OF ERROL FLYNN, narrated by Flynn contemporary Christopher Lee (Lord of the Rings), features never before seen archival footage, photographs and interviews with family and friends – all of whom speak candidly about his revolutionary sympathies and journalistic ambitions as well as his decadent lifestyle.

8) The Triangle Wars

The Triangle WarsAn eccentric politician. A celebrity photographer. A high-powered property developer. A parking lot. A battle that will redefine a vital Australian community. THE TRIANGLE WARS is the story of a battle waged between local government, big business and the community over the development of a tiny sliver of crown land on the foreshore of St Kilda, a beachside suburb of inner Melbourne.

A microcosm of a much bigger story about power, values, compromise and transparency, The Triangle Wars tells the story through three men at the heart of the conflict: an eccentric politician, a celebrity photographer and a high-powered property developer.

9) How the West Was Lost

How the West Was LostOn 1 May 1946, 800 Aboriginal station workers walked off sheep stations in the north-west of Western Australia, marking the beginning of a carefully organised strike that was to last for at least three years, but never officially ended.

The strike was more than a demand for better wages and conditions. It was, in the words of Keith Connolly in the Melbourne Herald, ‘a well- considered statement by a grievously exploited people, standing up for their rights and dignity’.

HOW THE WEST WAS LOST was the winner of the 1987 Human Rights Documentary Film Award and was nominated for 5 AFI awards.

10) Australia’s Best Houses: Top Designs

Australia's Best Houses Top DesignsAUSTRALIA’S BEST HOUSES is the highly acclaimed TV series that brings to life the heart and soul of everything house and home. Each episode grabs the audiences attention while walking them through some of the most exciting and visually stunning houses in the country.

From sprawling country estates to urban homes in compact spaces, viewers of Australia’s Best Houses get an up-close look inside some of the most inspiring dwellings around, while in-depth interviews allow them to meet the professionals who create them. Hosted by Gary Takle this 23 episode collection explores the stories behind some of the most exciting and cutting edge new homes in Australia.

11) Utopia

Utopia John PilgerUTOPIA is an epic production by the Emmy and Bafta winning film-maker and journalist John Pilger. Utopia is a vast region in northern Australia and home to the oldest human presence on earth. ‘This film is a journey into that secret country,’ says John Pilger, ‘It will describe not only the uniqueness of the first Australians, but their trail of tears and betrayal and resistance — from one utopia to another’.

Pilger begins his journey in Sydney, where he grew up, and in Canberra, the nation’s capital, where the national parliament rises in an affluent suburb called Barton, recently awarded the title of Australia’s most advantaged community. UTOPIA is both a personal journey and universal story of power and resistance and how modern societies can be divided between those who conform and a dystopian world of those who do not.

12) Australia: Life on the Edge

Australia Life on the EdgeFrom the majesty of our vast natural environment to the wonders of our manmade world, this is Australia like you’ve never seen it before. Join a team of passionate experts on a spectacular quest along the edge of Australia.

AUSTRALIA: LIFE OF THE EDGE is proudly brought to you by Tourism Australia.

13) Freedom Stories

Freedom StoriesFREEDOM STORIES explores the achievements of former ‘boat people’ who arrived from the Middle-East around the watershed year of 2001. Some were only children when they found themselves in indefinite mandatory detention in remote places such as Woomera or Nauru and then placed on temporary protection visas, which extended their limbo for years. It has taken astonishing resilience and over a decade for them to build secure lives.

Now Australian citizens, their future is brighter and they are contributing to their new country.

14) The Story of Australia

The Story of AustraliaTHE STORY OF AUSTRALIA takes us around the country and focuses on the heritage, diverse culture, industry, enterprise and unique natural features of Australia.

Using spectacular HD footage to capture the stunning landscape, contemporary Australian life will be understood through the stories of people working on the ground – the wildlife ranger in Kakadu, the rodeo rider in New South Wales, the marine biologist on the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland and the architect in Melbourne.

15) Beyond Kokoda

Beyond KokodaOne of the most brutal conflicts in Australian war history, the Kokoda Campaign was a powerful victory that directly saved Australia from the threat of Japanese occupation. Both historians and veterans alike distinguish it as a campaign of exceptional savagery with each army pushing the other back along a muddy, precipitous track over the mountainous spine of New Guineas Owen Stanley Range. Troops were reduced to a primal level, such were the inhuman conditions in which the battle was waged and the impossible expectations made on soldiers of both sides at the front line.

Narrated by Australian actor Christopher Baker, this insightful documentary features the harrowing personal stories of the Kokoda Trail from both the Australian and Japanese soldiers perspectives. Incorporating candid interviews with veterans, using re-enactments and archival footage to illustrate the harsh conditions and heroic actions of both armies, BEYOND KOKODA provides a unique and balanced look at the bloody struggle that lasted from July 1942 to February 1943.

Have you seen any of these documentaries? What would you recommend for someone who wants to know more about Australia?