Australian New Wave

Australian New Wave: A Revolution in Cinema

Australian New Wave refers to a period in Australian cinema from the late 1960s to the early 1980s characterized by a surge of innovative and critically acclaimed films. It explored Australian identity, social issues, and cultural landscapes, that gained them international recognition in global filmmaking.

Australian New Wave


In the latter half of the 20th century, Australian cinema underwent a profound transformation, marked by the emergence of a bold and distinctive filmmaking movement known as the Australian New Wave. This period, which spanned from the late 1960s through the 1980s, witnessed the rise of filmmakers who sought to challenge conventions, explore national identity, and depict the complexities of Australian society in ways that had never been done before. In this article by Academic Block, we will explore how Australian New Wave not only revitalized the country’s film industry but also garnered international acclaim, leaving an indelible mark on the global cinematic landscape.

Origins and Influences

The roots of the Australian New Wave can be traced back to the late 1950s and early 1960s when a handful of Australian filmmakers, such as Charles Chauvel and Ken G. Hall, began to gain recognition for their works. However, it was the arrival of a new generation of filmmakers in the late 1960s that truly set the stage for the movement. Inspired by the burgeoning counterculture movement and the rise of independent cinema worldwide, these filmmakers sought to challenge the status quo and push the boundaries of Australian filmmaking.

One of the key influences on the Australian New Wave was the advent of government funding for the arts, particularly through the establishment of the Australian Film Development Corporation (AFDC) in 1970, which later became the Australian Film Commission (AFC). This influx of public funding provided filmmakers with the resources and support needed to pursue their creative visions, enabling the production of a diverse range of films that reflected the cultural diversity and complexity of Australian society.

Australian New Wave

Themes and Characteristics

At its core, the Australian New Wave was characterized by its willingness to confront and explore the complexities of Australian identity, often exploring themes such as colonialism, racism, gender relations, and the clash between urban and rural life. Unlike earlier Australian films, which tended to romanticize the country’s landscapes and colonial past, the films of the New Wave presented a more nuanced and critical view of Australian society, shedding light on its contradictions and inequalities.

One of the defining features of the Australian New Wave was its emphasis on realism and authenticity. Filmmakers eschewed the glossy, Hollywood-style productions of the past in favor of a more naturalistic approach, often shooting on location and using non-professional actors to capture the rawness and immediacy of everyday life. This commitment to authenticity lent the films of the New Wave a sense of immediacy and urgency, drawing viewers into the world of the film and forcing them to confront uncomfortable truths about Australian society.

Key Filmmakers and Films

The Australian New Wave produced a wealth of groundbreaking films that left an indelible mark on both Australian and international cinema. One of the most influential filmmakers of this period was Peter Weir, whose films such as “Picnic at Hanging Rock” (1975) and “Gallipoli” (1981) are widely regarded as classics of Australian cinema. Weir’s hauntingly beautiful visuals and keen sense of atmosphere helped to define the aesthetic of the New Wave, while his exploration of themes such as the mysteries of the Australian landscape and the trauma of war struck a chord with audiences around the world.

Another key figure in the Australian New Wave was Gillian Armstrong, whose debut feature “My Brilliant Career” (1979) was hailed as a feminist landmark. Based on the novel by Miles Franklin, the film tells the story of a young woman named Sybylla Melvyn who rebels against the constraints of her society and pursues her dream of becoming a writer. Armstrong’s sensitive direction and Judy Davis’s luminous performance helped to elevate the film beyond its period setting, making it a timeless exploration of female ambition and desire.

In addition to Weir and Armstrong, the Australian New Wave also produced a number of other talented filmmakers who made significant contributions to the movement. Directors such as Fred Schepisi (“The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith,” 1978), Bruce Beresford (“Breaker Morant,” 1980), and George Miller (“Mad Max,” 1979) each brought their own unique perspective to the New Wave, helping to broaden its scope and influence.

Impact and Legacy

The impact of the Australian New Wave on both Australian and international cinema cannot be overstated. Not only did the movement revitalize the Australian film industry, but it also helped to elevate the country’s cultural profile on the world stage. Films such as “Picnic at Hanging Rock” and “Mad Max” were embraced by audiences and critics alike, garnering awards and accolades at festivals around the world and paving the way for future generations of Australian filmmakers.

Moreover, the Australian New Wave helped to redefine the possibilities of cinema as a medium for exploring complex social and political issues. By daring to confront the uncomfortable truths of Australian society, these filmmakers challenged audiences to reconsider their assumptions and engage with the world in new and profound ways. In doing so, they paved the way for a more diverse and inclusive cinema that continues to resonate with audiences today.

Final Words

In conclusion, the Australian New Wave stands as a testament to the power of cinema to provoke thought, spark conversation, and inspire change. Through their bold vision and uncompromising commitment to authenticity, the filmmakers of the New Wave transformed Australian cinema and left an enduring legacy that continues to shape the medium to this day. As we look back on this pivotal period in film history, we are reminded of the importance of artistic expression and the role that cinema can play in reflecting and challenging the world around us. Hope you enjoyed reading about Australian New Wave with Academic Block, please provide your insightful thoughts to make this article better. Thanks for Reading!

This Article will answer your questions like:

+ What is the Australian New Wave in cinema? >

The Australian New Wave refers to a movement in Australian cinema from the late 1960s to early 1980s, marked by a surge of innovative and critically acclaimed films. This period highlighted the country's unique cultural identity, social issues, and landscapes, gaining international recognition for its distinct storytelling and cinematic techniques.

+ What are the characteristics of the Australian New Wave? >

The Australian New Wave is characterized by its focus on Australian cultural identity, exploration of social and political themes, and use of the country's landscapes. The films often blended realism with experimental techniques, featuring strong, complex characters and stories that resonated both locally and internationally.

+ Who were the Australian second new wave filmmakers? >

The Australian second new wave filmmakers included influential directors like Gillian Armstrong, Peter Weir, Bruce Beresford, and George Miller. These filmmakers played pivotal roles in shaping the movement, producing films that were critically acclaimed and helped to define a unique Australian cinematic voice on the global stage.

+ Is Mad Max an Australian New Wave? >

Yes, "Mad Max" is considered part of the Australian New Wave. Directed by George Miller, the film debuted in 1979 and showcased the movement's characteristic blend of innovative storytelling, gritty realism, and uniquely Australian themes, ultimately becoming a seminal work in global cinema.

+ What is the highest grossing Australian film? >

The highest grossing Australian film is "Crocodile Dundee" (1986). Directed by Peter Faiman and starring Paul Hogan, the film became an international sensation, grossing over $328 million worldwide and contributing significantly to the global visibility of Australian cinema.

+ When did the Australian New Wave occur? >

The Australian New Wave occurred from the late 1960s to the early 1980s. This period was marked by a revival and transformation in Australian cinema, characterized by innovative filmmaking that brought the nation's cultural and social narratives to a global audience.

+ Who were the key filmmakers of the Australian New Wave? >

Key filmmakers of the Australian New Wave included Peter Weir, Gillian Armstrong, Bruce Beresford, George Miller, and Fred Schepisi. These directors produced influential works that shaped the era, each contributing uniquely to the movement's distinctive style and international acclaim.

+ What were the major themes explored in Australian New Wave films? >

Major themes in Australian New Wave films included national identity, the human relationship with the environment, social and cultural tensions, and historical narratives. The films often examined the complexities of Australian life, addressing both contemporary issues and historical events with a unique cinematic approach.

+ What role did government funding play in supporting the Australian New Wave? >

Government funding played a crucial role in the Australian New Wave by providing financial support through institutions like the Australian Film Development Corporation (now Screen Australia). This funding enabled filmmakers to produce high-quality films that showcased Australian culture and talent, fueling the industry's growth and international success.

Impact of Australian New Wave on Australian Film Industry

International Recognition and Success: The Australian New Wave garnered international acclaim and attention, with many films receiving awards and accolades at prestigious film festivals around the world. Works like “Picnic at Hanging Rock” (1975) and “Mad Max” (1979) became breakout hits, showcasing the talent and creativity of Australian filmmakers on a global scale.

Cultural Relevance and National Identity: The Australian New Wave played a crucial role in shaping Australia’s cultural identity and asserting the value of Australian stories and perspectives in cinema. By exploring themes such as colonialism, multiculturalism, and national identity, filmmakers helped to foster a sense of pride and recognition among Australian audiences.

Government Support and Funding: The success of the Australian New Wave prompted increased government support and funding for the Australian film industry. Initiatives such as the establishment of the Australian Film Development Corporation (AFDC) in 1970, later replaced by the Australian Film Commission (AFC), provided filmmakers with resources and support to develop and produce their projects.

Emergence of New Talent: The Australian New Wave provided a platform for emerging filmmakers to showcase their talent and creativity. Many directors, writers, and actors who rose to prominence during this period, such as Peter Weir, Gillian Armstrong, and George Miller, went on to have successful careers both in Australia and internationally, inspiring future generations of filmmakers.

Diversification of Themes and Genres: The Australian New Wave diversified the themes and genres explored in Australian cinema, moving beyond traditional genres like the “Aussie Outback” film to embrace a wider range of narratives and storytelling styles. Filmmakers explored issues such as gender relations, social inequality, and environmental concerns, contributing to a more diverse and inclusive cinematic landscape.

Impact on Film Culture and Criticism: The Australian New Wave stimulated critical discourse and reflection on Australian cinema, both domestically and internationally. Critics and scholars praised the movement for its boldness, innovation, and willingness to tackle pressing social and political issues, contributing to a reevaluation of Australian cinema’s place within the global film industry.

Role of Government in Australian New Wave

Establishment of Funding Bodies: One of the most important contributions of the government to the Australian New Wave was the establishment of funding bodies dedicated to supporting the local film industry. In 1970, the Australian Film Development Corporation (AFDC) was formed with the mandate to finance and promote the production of Australian films. Later, in 1975, the Australian Film Commission (AFC) was established to further support and develop the Australian film industry.

Financial Support for Filmmakers: Government funding provided crucial financial support to Australian filmmakers, enabling them to bring their creative visions to life. Through grants, loans, and investment schemes, filmmakers were able to access the resources needed to develop scripts, secure production facilities, and distribute their films domestically and internationally. This support helped to level the playing field for Australian filmmakers competing with larger, more established industries abroad.

Promotion of Australian Content: Government funding bodies prioritized the production and distribution of Australian films, aiming to promote local content and cultivate a sense of national identity. By investing in Australian stories and perspectives, the government played a key role in fostering cultural pride and recognition among Australian audiences, as well as raising the profile of Australian cinema on the global stage.

Support for Film Education and Training: In addition to financial support, the government also invested in film education and training programs aimed at developing the skills and talents of aspiring filmmakers. Institutions such as the Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS) were established to provide formal training in all aspects of filmmaking, ensuring a steady supply of skilled professionals to sustain the growth of the industry.

Cultural Policies and Regulations: Government policies and regulations also played a role in shaping the Australian film industry during the New Wave period. Initiatives such as the Australian Content Quota System, which required television broadcasters to allocate a certain percentage of their programming to Australian content, helped to create a demand for local productions and provided additional opportunities for Australian filmmakers to showcase their work.

International Co-Productions and Export Promotion: The government actively promoted international co-productions and export opportunities for Australian films, seeking to expand the reach and impact of Australian cinema beyond domestic borders. Through diplomatic efforts, film festivals, and distribution agreements, Australian films gained visibility and recognition in international markets, contributing to the success of the Australian New Wave on a global scale.

Controversies associated with Australian New Wave

Representation of Indigenous Australians: One of the primary criticisms leveled against the Australian New Wave was its treatment of Indigenous Australians. While some films, such as “The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith” (1978), attempted to address the issues facing Indigenous communities, others were criticized for perpetuating stereotypes or marginalizing Indigenous voices. Critics argued that the movement did not do enough to prioritize Indigenous perspectives or challenge the entrenched racism within Australian society.

Gender Imbalance: Despite the groundbreaking feminist works produced during the Australian New Wave, such as “My Brilliant Career” (1979), the movement was also criticized for its gender imbalance behind the camera. The majority of directors, writers, and producers associated with the New Wave were male, leading to concerns about the representation of women both on and off-screen. Critics argued that the movement did not adequately address the systemic barriers faced by women in the film industry or fully embrace feminist principles in its production practices.

Class Bias: Some critics argued that the Australian New Wave reflected a class bias, focusing predominantly on the experiences of white, middle-class Australians while neglecting the struggles of working-class and marginalized communities. Films like “Picnic at Hanging Rock” (1975) and “The Getting of Wisdom” (1977) were accused of romanticizing colonialism and ignoring the social and economic inequalities inherent in Australian society. Critics called for greater diversity and inclusivity in the stories being told and the perspectives being represented on screen.

Commercialization and Mainstream Success: As the Australian New Wave gained international acclaim and commercial success, it also faced criticism for becoming too commercialized and mainstream. Some critics argued that the movement had lost its edge and artistic integrity, succumbing to the pressures of Hollywood and sacrificing its independent spirit in pursuit of box office success. Others lamented the shift towards more conventional storytelling and the dilution of the movement’s radical politics and social commentary.

Ethical Concerns: The Australian New Wave was not immune to ethical controversies, particularly in regards to its portrayal of violence and exploitation on screen. Films like “Mad Max” (1979) and “Wake in Fright” (1971) were criticized for their graphic depictions of violence and their portrayal of characters engaging in morally questionable behavior. Some critics argued that these films glorified violence and perpetuated harmful stereotypes, while others defended them as necessary reflections of the harsh realities of Australian life.

Depiction of Australian New Wave in popular culture


The New Australian Cinema: Sources and Parallels in American and British Film by Albert Moran and Tom O’Regan – This seminal book provides a comprehensive analysis of the Australian New Wave, tracing its origins, evolution, and influence on both Australian and international cinema. It offers critical insights into the thematic, stylistic, and industrial aspects of the movement, as well as its connections to broader trends in global filmmaking.

Australian Cinema in the 1970s edited by Jonathan Rayner: This anthology of essays offers a detailed examination of Australian cinema during the 1970s, a period that coincided with the emergence of the Australian New Wave. It explores various aspects of the movement, including its political and social context, its representation of gender and identity, and its relationship to national and international film industries.

The Oxford Companion to Australian Film edited by Brian McFarlane, Geoff Mayer, and Ina Bertrand: This comprehensive reference guide provides an authoritative overview of Australian cinema, including extensive coverage of the Australian New Wave. It features entries on key filmmakers, films, themes, and historical developments, making it an invaluable resource for anyone interested in the history and culture of Australian film.


Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! (2008) directed by Mark Hartley – While not specifically focused on the Australian New Wave, this documentary provides a lively and entertaining exploration of the broader context in which the movement emerged. It celebrates the audacity, creativity, and irreverence of Australian genre filmmaking during the 1970s and 1980s, shedding light on the cultural forces that shaped the New Wave.

Australian Cinema: Beyond the Fatal Shore (1988) directed by John Maynard – Produced as part of the Australian Bicentennial celebrations, this documentary offers a retrospective look at the history of Australian cinema, with a particular emphasis on the New Wave era. It features interviews with key filmmakers and scholars, archival footage, and clips from classic Australian films, providing a comprehensive overview of the movement’s achievements and legacy.

Key Features of Australian New Wave

Realism and Authenticity: Central to the Australian New Wave was a commitment to portraying the realities of Australian life with a sense of authenticity and honesty. Filmmakers eschewed traditional Hollywood conventions in favor of a more naturalistic approach, often shooting on location and using non-professional actors to capture the rawness and immediacy of everyday experiences.

Exploration of National Identity: A major thematic concern of the Australian New Wave was the exploration of Australian identity, both in terms of its historical roots and contemporary manifestations. Filmmakers explored issues such as colonialism, multiculturalism, and the complexities of urban and rural life, offering nuanced and often critical perspectives on what it means to be Australian.

Critique of Social and Political Issues: The films of the Australian New Wave were unafraid to tackle pressing social and political issues, ranging from racism and sexism to environmental degradation and the legacy of war. By confronting these issues head-on, filmmakers challenged audiences to reexamine their assumptions and engage with the complexities of Australian society in new and profound ways.

Embrace of Australian Landscape: The Australian New Wave celebrated the country’s distinctive landscape as both a physical backdrop and a metaphorical reflection of its national identity. Filmmakers utilized the vast expanses of the Outback, the rugged coastline, and the urban sprawl of cities like Sydney and Melbourne to evoke a sense of place and to explore the relationship between people and their environment.

Focus on Character-driven Narratives: Many films of the Australian New Wave were characterized by intimate, character-driven narratives that placed a strong emphasis on the personal experiences and relationships of their protagonists. By centering the stories on individual characters, filmmakers were able to create richly textured portraits of Australian life and to explore the complexities of human emotions and motivations.

Experimentation with Form and Style: While rooted in a commitment to realism, the Australian New Wave also saw filmmakers experimenting with form and style in innovative ways. From the dreamlike surrealism of “Picnic at Hanging Rock” to the gritty, hyperkinetic action of “Mad Max,” filmmakers pushed the boundaries of cinematic storytelling, challenging audiences to expand their notions of what Australian cinema could be.

Influence of Indigenous Voices: The Australian New Wave also saw an increasing recognition of and engagement with Indigenous perspectives and voices. Films such as “The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith” and “My Survival as an Aboriginal” explored the experiences of Indigenous Australians with a sensitivity and authenticity that had been lacking in earlier representations, paving the way for greater Indigenous participation in Australian filmmaking.

Notable Filmmakers of Australian New Wave

Peter Weir: Renowned for his atmospheric and visually stunning films, Peter Weir emerged as one of the most prominent directors of the Australian New Wave. His works, such as “Picnic at Hanging Rock” (1975) and “Gallipoli” (1981), are celebrated for their haunting beauty and exploration of Australian identity.

Gillian Armstrong: Gillian Armstrong gained international acclaim with her debut feature “My Brilliant Career” (1979), which became a landmark of feminist cinema. She continued to produce a diverse range of films, including “Starstruck” (1982) and “Little Women” (1994), showcasing her versatility as a director.

Fred Schepisi: Known for his thoughtful and introspective films, Fred Schepisi made a significant impact with works such as “The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith” (1978) and “The Devil’s Playground” (1976). His ability to explore complex characters and social issues earned him widespread praise.

Bruce Beresford: Bruce Beresford achieved international success with films like “Breaker Morant” (1980) and “Driving Miss Daisy” (1989), which won the Academy Award for Best Picture. His films often explore themes of injustice, morality, and the complexities of human relationships.

George Miller: George Miller rose to prominence with the groundbreaking action film “Mad Max” (1979), which redefined the genre and became a cultural phenomenon. He continued to push the boundaries of filmmaking with sequels like “Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior” (1981) and “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015).

Phillip Noyce: Phillip Noyce gained recognition for his politically charged films, including “Newsfront” (1978) and “Rabbit-Proof Fence” (2002), which shed light on Australia’s colonial past and its treatment of Indigenous peoples. His work often combines gripping storytelling with social commentary.

Baz Luhrmann: While Baz Luhrmann’s career began slightly after the traditional period of the Australian New Wave, his visually extravagant and stylistically innovative films, such as “Strictly Ballroom” (1992) and “Moulin Rouge!” (2001), have been seen as carrying on the spirit of the movement with their boldness and flair.

Major Themes explored in Australian New Wave films

Australian Identity: A central theme of the Australian New Wave was the exploration of Australian identity, both past and present. Filmmakers examined the country’s colonial history, its multicultural makeup, and the tension between urban and rural life, seeking to define what it means to be Australian.

Colonialism and Its Legacy: Many Australian New Wave films grappled with the legacy of colonialism and its impact on Indigenous Australians. These films often depicted the injustices and atrocities committed against Indigenous peoples, as well as their ongoing struggles for land rights and cultural recognition.

Social Inequality and Class Struggle: The Australian New Wave did not shy away from addressing social inequality and class struggle within Australian society. Films portrayed the disparities between rich and poor, urban and rural, and explored the challenges faced by marginalized communities.

Gender Relations and Feminism: Feminism and gender relations were prominent themes in Australian New Wave cinema, with filmmakers offering complex and multidimensional portrayals of women’s experiences. Films such as “My Brilliant Career” (1979) and “The Getting of Wisdom” (1977) challenged traditional gender roles and celebrated female agency and independence.

Nationalism and Patriotism: Against the backdrop of Vietnam War protests and debates over Australia’s involvement in global conflicts, Australian New Wave films often examined themes of nationalism and patriotism. Works like “Gallipoli” (1981) and “The Odd Angry Shot” (1979) explored the impact of war on the Australian psyche and questioned the government’s policies.

Environmental Concerns: The Australian New Wave coincided with growing awareness of environmental issues, and several films addressed the impact of human activity on the Australian landscape. Works like “The Last Wave” (1977) and “The Cars That Ate Paris” (1974) depicted environmental degradation and the struggle to preserve natural habitats.

Existentialism and Alienation: Many Australian New Wave films explored themes of existentialism and alienation, depicting characters who grappled with feelings of disconnection and disillusionment. Films like “Wake in Fright” (1971) and “Sunday Too Far Away” (1975) portrayed the harsh realities of life in remote outback communities.

Academic References on the Australian New Wave

  1. Moran, A., & O’Regan, T. (1985). The New Australian Cinema: Sources and Parallels in American and British Film. McFarland & Company.
  2. Rayner, J. (Ed.). (2011). Australian Cinema in the 1970s. Anthem Press.
  3. McFarlane, B., Mayer, G., & Bertrand, I. (Eds.). (1999). The Oxford Companion to Australian Film. Oxford University Press.
  4. Dermody, S., & Jacka, E. (1988). The Screening of Australia: Anatomy of a National Cinema. Currency Press.
  5. Stratton, D. (2000). The Last New Wave: The Australian Film Revival. Angus & Robertson.
  6. Matheson, S. (2013). Fantasy Rules: Australian Genre Cinema in the 1980s and 1990s. Intellect Books.
  7. Goldsmith, B., & Lealand, G. (2010). Directory of World Cinema: Australia & New Zealand. Intellect Books.
Journal Articles:
  1. O’Regan, T. (1980). Australian Cinema and the Film Industry. The Oxford Literary Review, 5(2), 117-137.
  2. Rayner, J. (1994). The Australian New Wave: Nationalism and Realism. Journal of Australian Studies, 18(41), 23-34.
  3. Stratton, D. (1980). The Emergence of a National Cinema. Cinema Papers, 27, 97-101.
  4. Ryan, M. (1995). Australian Film and the Making of National Identity. Screen, 36(2), 119-133.
  5. O’Regan, T. (1989). Australian Cinema and the Search for a National Identity. Australian Screen Education, 29, 12-16.
  6. Moran, A. (1996). Reconstructing Australian Cinema: Towards a New Historiography. Metro Magazine: Media & Education Magazine, 109, 118-123.
  7. Hesford, W. (1983). The New Australian Cinema: Why Did It Happen? Meanjin Quarterly, 42(3), 323-340.
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