Searching for ‘the green place’: What Mad Max can teach us about the environment’s role in Australian filmmaking

Monash University

Mad Max: Furiosa is set to hit Australian screens this week and new research from Monash University has examined the relationship between the Mad Max films and the geophysical environment around Broken Hill and Far West NSW where the films have been shot over the last 40 years.

The project, Making Terra Firma: land, resources and screen culture in far west NSW, provides a new understanding of the relationship in Australia between screen history, its surrounding cultures and the environment.

Monash University PhD candidate Melanie Ashe says behind the scenes the Mad Max films have always had a tense relationship with greenery.

“The Mad Max films have always been set in an arid, barren, apocalyptic world known in the movies as ‘the wasteland’. But in the two most recent instalments in the franchise there is also the promise of ‘the green place’, an oasis within the apocalyptic wasteland where plants still grow and new life is possible,” Ms Ashe said.

“Despite the predominant understanding of on-location filming not tampering with the natural environment, the Mad Max films have a history of editing the environment during filming and in post-production to adhere to the aesthetics of ‘the wasteland’.”

Far west NSW was the filming location for Furiosa (2024) and Mad Max 2 (1981), and was almost considered to be the location for Fury Road (2015). It is a space that is known for its ‘boom or bust’ ecosystem of either lush desert greenery or drought.

Furiosa removed wide stretches of desert shrubbery in production and Fury Road cancelled production in the region in 2011, because it was ‘too green’ to be the Mad Max wasteland. The research explores what these filmmaking choices say about the role the geophysical world has played in shaping this popular Australian franchise.

The project also provides important insight into the complex relationship between Australian filmmaking, the environment and the impact on economic sustainability in the region.

Broken Hill and far west NSW is considered an under recognised screen hub. Over 50 films have been shot in the region over the last 50 years, with the main draw as a filming location being its environmental feature – sparse red plains that glow at sunset and vivid never-ending skies.

Despite this, Ms Ashe said limited funding and filmmaking infrastructure means the region does not have a consistent film production industry throughout the year.

“The region struggles to maintain its status as a film hub, with local workers wanting to work in the film industry struggling to find ongoing work. While blockbusters like Mad Max bring in money and jobs for local film workers, these productions only provide short term work. The precarious nature of the region’s environment also makes it vulnerable to films choosing to relocate, taking with them the promise of a boost to the region’s economy,” Ms Ashe said.

Data for the project about the Mad Max films editing of the region’s environment and economic impact of Broken Hill as a screen hub was collected between 2021 and 2023. Ms Ashe undertook several field trips to the area, conducting interviews with many current and ex-residents of the area who have been involved in the local film industry.

As Mad Max: Furiosa prepares to captivate audiences, Ms Ashe argues that, in a time of growing climate catastrophe, a new perspective on how film culture impacts the environment, and how the environment impacts film culture, is needed to protect the quintessential Australian outback that keeps international blockbusters like Mad Max coming back to the region.

/Public Release.