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Thursday, December 24, 2020

The Ultimate Australian Christmas Movie


More than thirty years ago, "Bushfire Moon" aka "Miracle Down Under" was released into cinemas. You probably don’t remember it as it seems to have disappeared from our collective memory. There’s been no DVD, although occasionally you can pick it up on VHS for fifty bucks or more.

It has all the ingredients you need for a good Christmas film: a hopeful kid, a cute puppy, a stranger who may or may not be Santa Claus, a grumpy Scrooge figure, and lots of learning about the true meaning of Christmas. The only thing it was missing was snow, but we’ll come to that in a moment.

The story goes like this: in the outback of 1891 Australia, a ranching family is suffering from drought conditions, and there’s a real chance their livestock will not survive the summer. Their young son, excited by the coming of Christmas, is keen for presents that his family simply cannot afford. After seeing a picture of Father Christmas in a shop window, the kid becomes convinced that a passing swagman with a big white beard is the real Father Christmas, and pins his hopes on the drifter to save the holiday.

Meanwhile, there’s a rich property owner neighbour who refuses to allow the struggling family to use his lake for their cattle. He would get nothing out of such a transaction, so why bother? He’s preoccupied with his own society status as he prepares to throw a lavish party for the local swells, but seems to have his own mysterious past with the Santa-esque swagman.

Basically, the film is a mix of "A Christmas Carol" and "Miracle on 34th Street". The film’s best sequence comes about two-thirds of the way in. The rich landowner has invited all of his snooty friends over for a traditional Christmas dinner. None of them wants to admit that they’re no longer living in England, and they’re so desperate to hang on to familiar customs that they ignore the heat, dress up in layers of seasonal finery, and sing in front of a raging fire.

The final note of the film tells you everything you need to know about the film’s confused approach to cultural cringe. In America or Britain, the film would end with snow falling lightly and delightfully from the heavens as the characters look up in wonder. But this is Australia in the height of Summer, so our happy ending is punctuated by rain. The drought-stricken family looks up happily as the skies open and unfrozen water descends. It’s touching, but also kind of hilarious when you consider what the Christmas movie rulebook tells us is supposed to happen.

It’s a shame that this film is so hard to find, because there are so very few Christmas-themed films in the Australian canon. It would be nice to revive the one that is — perhaps by default — the best of them all.

I hope I've just saved you spending fifty bucks. Consider it my Christmas present to you!

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