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Culture, Music, Dance, and Film

Peter Sculthorpe, Joan Sutherland, Australian Ballet, Crocodile Dundee, Snowy River

The oldest music in Australia is the music of the Aboriginal people. In Aboriginal societies, music plays a central role in both social and spiritual life. During social gatherings called corroborees, singing and dancing provide the major form of entertainment. In sacred ceremonies, songs serve as the vital link to the realm of Aboriginal spirits called Dreamtime. Aboriginal people believe that, long ago, the Dreamtime spirits sang songs that created all living things on Earth. Today these songs are sung in sacred ceremonies to ensure the survival and propagation of all plant and animal life.

The history of European-based music in Australia begins with the British settlers, who promoted the staging of public concerts. Today, each major city has a symphony orchestra, affiliated with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Distinguished artists and conductors from many countries regularly tour Australia. Australia has made notable contributions to the world of music through sopranos Nellie Melba and Joan Sutherland, composer-pianist Percy Grainger, and composers Arthur Benjamin, John Henry Antill, Peggy Glanville-Hicks, and Peter Sculthorpe. Classical ballet was brought to Australia by famed native-born dancer and choreographer Sir Robert Helpmann, who was one of the founders of the Australian Ballet.

Beginning in the 1970s there was a resurgence of the motion-picture industry, and films produced in Australia, dealing with Australian themes, such as Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) by Australian director Peter Weir, attracted audiences throughout the world. Romanticized accounts of life in the Australian bush proved successful at home and overseas, as films such as The Man from Snowy River (1982) and Crocodile Dundee (1986) enjoyed great success.

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