Great Southern Land – a distinctively visual representation of Australian landscapes

opening sequenceThe 1989 music video for Icehouse’s Great Southern Land was made for the American market and depicts Iva Davies walking through Myall Lakes National Park. In semi performative style, we see the persona’s relationship with different landscapes representative of Australia. A range of film, lyric and musical techniques create lasting images that remain distinctively Australian.

In an interview, recently published in The Sunday Telegraph, Davies explained that he was on a long flight over Australia on his way to Europe that started him thinking. His ideas led to the most successful song for Icehouse – Great Southern Land – which was the first single from their 1982 Primitive Man album. Davies stated:

By nature, I’m a conservative, I was never going to use songwriting as a political platform. Until that flight I had no sense of the scale of it all, of how massive Australia is. That was followed by a long period of touring overseas and I got very homesick. There was also that strange sort of jingoism going on at the time. I wanted to write something that was closer to the soul of a sovereign land and not concentrate on the people.

p 116, The Sunday Telegraph, January 5, 2014.

As discussed in my presentation for the HSC Enrichment Seminars in Dubbo in early June, this music video is suitable related material for Standard Module A Experience through Language – Elective 2: Distinctively Visual. Specifically, Great Southern Land links effectively with Henry Lawson’s short stories.

opening sequence continues

Use the following points in your analysis – aim to write two or three paragraphs. Remember, when writing about a multimodal text such as a music video, you must discuss all three elements: lyrics, music and film.

Consider which of Henry Lawson’s stories most strongly explore the essence and unique aspects of the Australian landscape. It may be structurally appropriate to discuss a specific story, then discuss this music video and return to another Lawson story.

Write your own analytical paragraphs using these specific features, techniques and examples:

  • opens with an eerie note held for a long duration before the layering of a pulsing beat and rhythmical drumming which creates a mood of suspense. It is an unmistakeable sound – quite unique beginning – almost a fanfare that heralds an Australian perspective of the land
  • the initial image created by the lyrics, using a simile ‘Stranded like a runaway, lost at sea’ highlights the isolation of the continent from traditional centres of white civilisation
  • this separation is further emphasised by the persona – lead singer Davies – literally ‘walking alone’

descending into the landscape

  • varying camera angles are used to show how humans have tried to engage with the country: tracking his descent into the dunes, low angle creates a feeling of dominance, high angle to suggest a sense of being overwhelmed by a harsh environment
  • during the chorus, Davies is shown in mid shot to create a strong focus, and the haunting repetition of music accompanying ‘burned you black’ could refer to the destruction of bushfires – also links to the resilience of Lawson’s protagonist in The Drover’s Wife
  • each successive image fades into the next which reminds us of the vast, endless space of the Australian bush
  • the landscape itself is personified: ‘it will tell you a story’ that we can ‘read’ or understand by developing our own relationship with the environment and ‘listen to the motion of the wind in the mountains’ suggesting that patience and respect are also required to successfully sustain life
  • ‘ You walk alone like a primitive man’ and ‘it’s a hungry home’ reminds us of the harsh battle for survival waged by those living in the bush

overwhelmed by nature

  • time is referenced directly in the lyrics ‘million years’ and ‘long ago’ as well as seen in the lighting: shifts from bright daylight to the closing sequence of sunset – a reflective tone similar to Joe Wilson’s Courtship and our ability to consider past actions

final fading sunset

  • final repetition of the title lyrics as the day fades accompanies a sense of loss as the colours shift from oranges to blues and purple tones

prisoner island

  • the last, lingering image is of a ‘prisoner island’ reminding us of the ongoing cultural isolation that many felt during the 1980s. In subsequent decades, Australians became increasingly confident in expressing their concerns in popular texts that are recognised internationally
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