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Are we who we watch? : Adapting multiculturalism as national heritage in Australian feature film–1992 to 2017

McCarthy, CL ORCID: 0000-0001-9365-6559 2020 , 'Are we who we watch? : Adapting multiculturalism as national heritage in Australian feature film–1992 to 2017', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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In the 1970s Australia embarked on two nation-building projects. One was a new cultural
policy called “multiculturalism”, the other, public funding for a “national” film industry. As
film rose in prominence as a national storyteller from the 1990s onwards, multicultural
narratives became a way of re-imagining Australia on screen as culturally diverse. While
there is extensive research into the history of migration and the success or failure of
Australian multicultural policy, little has been said about its representation in film as a source
of national heritage.
To address this gap, this thesis responds to three key questions:
1. How has multiculturalism been creatively interpreted in Australian film? What
genres, character tropes, and settings have been deployed?
2. What kinds of (multi)cultural heritage narratives has this produced in feature films
released between 1992 and 2017?
3. What does this tell us about the adaptation of visual portrayals of Australian
nationhood? And what might this reveal about the representation of migration history
in Australia and beyond?
Utilising conceptual frameworks from Australian film criticism, adaptation studies, critical
theory, migration studies and heritage studies, this thesis analyses films including Strictly
Ballroom (1992), Romper Stomper (1992), Floating Life (1996), Head On (1998), Looking
for Alibrandi (2000), The Wog Boy (2000), Lucky Miles (2007), The Combination (2009),
Dead Europe (2012), Alex & Eve (2015), Down Under (2016), and Ali’s Wedding (2017). All
the examples adapt a prior text, historical moment or event, and offer a new way of “doing
adaptation” (Elliott), by analysing the creative interpretation of a national policy framework
to film. The thesis analyses how these representations of multicultural identity shape ideas
about migration, cultural diversity and nationhood in the social imaginary, and reveals a
transnational connection in the ongoing construction of national migration heritage.
In doing so it draws on the ground-breaking work of theorists Julia Kristeva (intertextuality),
Gérard Genette (palimpsests), Mikhail Bakhtin (reaccentuation), Jacques Derrida
(deconstruction and hauntology), Benedict Anderson (nations as “imagined communities”),
and Charles Taylor (social imaginaries), as well as Australian film scholarship and the critical
discourse that surrounds Australian multiculturalism. It engages with current debates and
perspectives in adaptation studies, film criticism and migration history, and integrates the
concept of “intersectionality” (Crenshaw) to analyse how the representation of migrant
subjects is inflected by changing assumptions about race, ethnicity, sex/gender, sexuality, age
and ability. This thesis represents a significant new contribution to the interdisciplinary fields
of film, adaptation, heritage and migration studies, illuminating a range of critical issues with
Australian film portrayals of multiculturalism and their implications for Australian

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:McCarthy, CL
Keywords: multiculturalism, film, Australia, migration, screen, Ellis Island, adaptation, intersectionality
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