Over the past five years or so, Australians have embraced the new world of streaming services with huge enthusiasm – we’re among the most passionate consumers of TV of all types in the world. And there’s no denying its been an absolute boon for those who love their movies or can’t wait to binge-watch the latest dramas. But one type of TV stands out from the rest as something that’s had huge appeal in Australia – documentaries.
Now, we all know that there’s no shortage of brilliant docos about things like the planet and the creatures that inhabit it – David Attenborough became a household name because of that (and you can find many of his best series on the BBC Earth channel on Foxtel!) But the best thing about documentaries is that they can be as grand or as small as the subject needs – making them the perfect medium for telling stories about Australia, its culture and its people.
Most notably, here in Australia we have a streaming service that’s dedicated entirely to documentaries – DocPlay – which carries a large amount of Australian docos amongst its hefty collection. It’s streaming services like that – as well as the big players like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Stan and Foxtel – which have opened up a whole new world of ways to watch more documentaries, and more interesting and diverse ones at that.
Here’s some of the best documentaries about Australia and the wide range of things that make it not only a special place to live, but a rich source of true-life stories.
The Best 3 Australian Nature Documentaries
Possum Wars (DocPlay)
Whether you love ‘em or loathe ‘em, Australia’s possums are a hardy bunch. Once happy to live in the quiet of the bush, urban development has pushed them into cities where they’ve quickly had to adapt to suburban life. But their noisy, destructive nature has some residents determined to kick them out.
Alone Across Australia (DocPlay)
The incredible story of Jon Muir, a seasoned adventurer who decided to walk the 2500-kilometre journey from the south to the north coast of Australia, with just his dog for company. Living off the land for four months, he nearly didn’t make it.
The Edge of Possible (DocPlay)
While the category is nature, this one’s a man-made wonder – the Sydney Opera House. This film tells the story of Jørn Utzon, the Danish architect who won a contest to design an opera house for Sydney, and found himself facing the biggest challenge of his career as he built one of the most iconic buildings in the world.
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The Best 3 Australian True Crime Documentaries
Exposed: The Case of Keli Lane (DocPlay)
This exhaustive three-part documentary originally screened on ABC, and digs deep into one of Australia’s most notorious crimes, when Keli Lane was convicted of the murder of her two year-old baby Tegan, who disappeared in mysterious circumstances. Nominated for multiple awards, it’s a fascinating detective story with unexpected twists.
Ron Iddles: The Good Cop (Foxtel)
Another documentary series here, and a racking good one at that. Ron Iddles was regarded as one of Australia’s greatest homicide detectives during his long career, and now he looks back on some of his most famous cases and reveals how he solved them.
This award-winning film from director Ben Lawrence started out as a quirky documentary about a security guard who hunted for ghosts in his spare time – but turned into something much more dark and fascinating.
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The Best 3 Australian Music Documentaries
Paul Kelly – Stories of Me (Stan, DocPlay)
By now a bona fide national treasure, singer and songwriter Paul Kelly has been writing songs that resonate with Australians for decades. This film looks back on his 40-year career (so far) and the hundreds of songs that he’s written, many of which have become part of the fabric of Australian life.
Midnight Oil: 1984 (Stan, DocPlay)
Back in 1984, Midnight Oil had become one of Australia’s biggest bands and was heading out on tour to promote their new album Red Sails in the Sunset. Filmmaker Ray Argall came along and filmed hours of concert and behind the scenes footage, all of which remained unseen for decades until it was rediscovered and this exciting documentary was put together. A must-see for fans and newcomers alike.
Molly: The Real Thing (Stan)
There’s never been anyone as committed to Australian music as Ian “Molly” Meldrum, and this affectionate (and authorised) documentary tells the fascinating story of his colourful life, with contributions from some of the best-known names in Aussie music.
The Best 3 Australian History Documentaries
Whitlam: The Power and Passion (DocPlay)
The legendary former prime minister Gough Whitlam was the only PM to ever be kicked out of the job, and this two-part documentary goes deep into the background to explain why that happened – as well as giving us an insight into a man who changed Australian history forever. It might sound dull, but trust us – it’s a fascinating story.
Triangle Wars (DocPlay)
Some more recent history with this film, which tells a surprisingly involved story of the battle between government, business and the local community over the future of a tiny little strip of government land in the Melbourne suburb of St Kilda. Can the little guys win against the forces of power and money? Watch to find out!
Aussie Inventions that Changed the World (Foxtel)
An 8-part documentary made especially for Foxtel, this is a superb series which looks at some of the most iconic Australian inventions and tells the stories of how they came to be. And right from the first episode, you realise that there’s more to these stories than you’d think, even if the invention is as seemingly simple as a clothes hoist!
Watch and Learn!
Obviously, this is just a small sample of the wealth of documentary films and series you’ll find to stream online. With hundreds on offer from DocPlay, Foxtel and others, anyone who eagerly searches out the next slice of documentary goodness will find enough to keep going for many, many months (and new ones are being added all the time!). Take a break from the drama, sit back and enjoy!