“'Whither goest thou, Australia, in your bumpy car in the middle of the night?' - that's 'Jack Outback.'”
“Rebel” (Max Cullen), Running on Empty
The roads that rifled through Mad Max 1 do not exist in the third film [Beyond Thunderdome]. There are only trails blazed at the moment of wandering.
In Mad Max (1979), set a “few years in the future” on the outskirts of a decaying city, the policeman Max (Mel Gibson) battles biker gangs on Anarchie Road. In Mad Max 2 (1982), which takes place after a devastating oil war, these asphalt roads have been replaced by dirt tracks as Max, now an embittered wanderer, comes unwillingly to the aid of a commune of desert dwellers. In the third film of the trilogy, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985), in which Max helps a group of feral children find their way home, even these dirt roads have disappeared into a trackless landscape of desert dunes, fertile gorges, and post-nuclear dust.
In this essay, I will examine this progression away from the road as a particular and complex (re)negotiation of Australia's spatial history. In the first film, the road appears as a specific and violently contested site. By the last film it has disappeared into a landscape of mythic “sights.” This disappearance, I will argue, represents both the road's liberation from colonial narratives of empire and its absorption into a deregulated postcolonial spatiality. Beyond Thunderdome suggests that this latter landscape, which is market-driven, corporatized, and globally orientated, holds utopian possibilities, but only, perhaps, for “indigenized” Australians, who are willing to regard land and stories as “resources, ” and to ignore historical inequalities and conflicts in the consensual spirit of “postness” and progress. In