NOTE: This review contains spoilers for Mystery Road: Series 1.
As a genre, the western springs from colonial tension: tension between the old ways and the new; between the native people and an invading population; between humans and the land itself; between lore and the law. There are no westerns set in Britain. And while the gunslinging adventures of cowboy frontiersmen may have receded into the background of American culture, the genre remains ripe with critical and narrative potential for more freshly colonised countries like Australia.
While it’s never entered the mainstream the way it did in American film and television, the western has had a foothold in Australian culture since moving pictures began. The world’s first feature film was The Story of the Kelly Gang, shot in and around Melbourne in 1906. Australian filmmakers have been returning to that creative wellspring ever since, with films such as Robbery Under Arms (1957), The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978), The Man From Snowy River (1982), The Tracker (2002), and The Proposition (2005). The year 2017 saw one of our greatest westerns in Sweet Country, directed by Warwick Thornton (Samson & Delilah ), one of two pre-eminent Aboriginal filmmakers at the helm of ABC’s second series of Mystery Road. Thornton shares directing duties with Wayne Blair (The Sapphires (2012], Top End Wedding ).