Clunes hides its fictional alter ego well. 

The main street of the country Victorian town is lined with bookshops, quaint cafes, and electric vehicles.

It is a far cry from the rough frontier outpost where fictional police officer-turned-vigilante “Mad” Max Rockatansky cruised along its back roads in his first yellow, red and blue pursuit car.

Fraser Street, Clunes in 2024 and in 1977 when Mad Max was filmed.(Supplied: MGM Studios)

Silverton, near Broken Hill, is different. Corrugated iron dwellings and resident replicas of Max’s menacing jet-black Ford Falcon Interceptor and other vehicles stand as a marker of the outback town’s movie star role.

Silverton’s Mad Max II Museum. The outback NSW town leans in on its “Mad Max-ness”.(Supplied: Adrian Bennett)

There are a variety of ways Australia’s movie towns celebrate their moment of stardom.

Dimboola, in the Wimmera, was famously the setting for a 1979 movie about an outback wedding. Four decades on, the eponymously named film is still what the small town  (population 1,500) is most famous for.

Bruce Donnelly is the president of the Dimboola Historical Society and owner of one of the town’s antique shops.

“[The film] still gets a hell of a lot of a mention around town, when people come in into the ‘big smoke of Dimboola’ as I call it,” he says.

“The interest is from tourists mainly. Personally, I like the movie because there are some cameos from some of our locals who are now a lot older but they’re still around.”

The film Dimboola was the biggest thing to happen to the Wimmera town in the 1970s.(ABC Wimmera: Andrew Kelso)

Mr Donnelly concedes the film Dimboola is likely the biggest thing that has happened in the town even if there’s a lot more to the place than a fictional wedding.

“It certainly put the town on the map at that time,” he says.

“I think people who make the trek up the highway are blown away to see how Dimboola is now. It’s a thriving little town. We’ve got new shops open so it’s a far cry from a few years ago.”

The old Dimboola Hotel featured heavily in the 1979 film Dimboola. It was destroyed by fire in 2003. (Wikimedia Commons: mattinghn / Dimboola Hotel / CC BY-SA 3.0 DEED)

The main drag would still be familiar to anyone who enjoyed the movie with the streetscape still dominated by many of the same buildings.

Missing, though, is the Dimboola Hotel.

“The corner pub burned down about 20 years ago and that was a big blow to the town,” Mr Donnelly says.

“It was an icon because it was right on the main street and featured heavily in the movie.”

What’s left of the Dimboola Hotel is now a park that hosts the local market.(ABC Wimmera: Andrew Kelso)

Clunes’ transformation from mining boom town to bookish village has been more extreme. It is now at least as famous for its “Book Town” literary festival as its film history.

Lifelong Clunes resident Malcolm Hull says Mad Max is one of the biggest things to happen there.

“A lot of ‘new Clunes’ have no comprehension of what it was like,” he says.

“In 1977, a whole lot of movie cameras turned up and the town had seen nothing like it.

Lifelong Clunes resident Malcolm Hull in the town’s main drag.(ABC Ballarat: Gavin McGrath)

“The movie history is not forgotten but it’s not the main thing either. I’d rank our goldfields history first, then books, then Mad Max. They’re all significant, but that’s the order I’d put them in.”

Mr Hull says some of the props in Max Max are still there.

“The Central Garage featured quite well in the Mad Max film and it’s no different at all now,” he says.

“The railway station is very different. It had a period of not being used, then got a $500,000 upgrade, and is now used once more. The old building has been done up to a treat.”

If Clunes offers a subtle nod to Mad Max, Silverton near Broken Hill revels in its Mad Max-ness.

The approach to Silverton, near Broken Hill, still looks eerily like the Road Warrior’s stomping ground in 1981.(Supplied: Adrian Bennett)

English expat Adrian Bennett came to Silverton on a quest of sorts and never left. He built and still owns a museum dedicated to Mad Max.

“Without this film history, I don’t think it would be the bustling place it is during the tourist season,” Mr Bennett says.

“The thing is you’ve got the landscape here and Mad Max has become such a huge cultural phenomenon.

“Most of the people who come through the museum, even though they may be interested in Silverton’s history with BHP and silver mining, come here because they know at least one of the Mad Max films was filmed here.

“It’s not just Mad Max. There always seems to be some movie or TV show being shot here.”

Mad Max II Museum owner Adrian Bennett came to Silverton on a quest to discover the world of the Mad Max and never left.(Supplied: Adrian Bennett)

Hanging Rock, meanwhile, has evolved away from its movie past.

“Tourists still ask whether [Picnic at Hanging Rock] was a true story, but it’s less and less these days,” Ruth Ellis from the Hanging Rock Winery explains.

“We are more famous for the area’s Indigenous history, its native flora and fauna, and as a concert venue for the likes of Elton John, The Eagles, and even the Rolling Stones, who were supposed to play here but cancelled twice.”

Visitors come to picturesque Hanging Rock for a variety of reasons, not just a famous novel and film set in the central Victorian location.(Supplied: Jacqui Henshaw)

Ten iconic movie towns

Beulah (The Dry, 2020) — Beulah was renamed “Kiewarra” for the Eric Bana film.

A signpost on the outskirts of Beulah reminds travellers of the town’s moment of stardom.(ABC Wimmera: Andrew Kelso)

Bonnie Doon (The Castle, 1997) — A popular holiday retreat alongside Victoria’s Lake Eildon. The Kerrigan family holiday house (a private dwelling) can be seen from the roadside.

Clunes (Mad Max, 1979) — Shop fronts seen in the original Mad Max are instantly recognisable in the central Victorian town.

The Coorong (Storm Boy, 1976 and 2019) — The iconic coastal lagoon is the setting and site for both Storm Boy films. It is a protected area.

The original Storm Boy featuring Greg Rowe and the 2019 remake were filmed along South Australia’s Coorong.(Supplied: National Film and Sound Archive of Australia)

Dimboola (Dimboola, 1979) — The Dimboola Hotel burned down in 2003. Tower Park was built on the site to commemorate the hotel’s place in the town’s history.

Little River (The Dressmaker, 2015) — Starring Kate Winslet, The Dressmaker was filmed in many locations in western Victoria, including Little River, Mount Rothwell, and Horsham.

Hanging Rock (Picnic at Hanging Rock, 1975) — The wholly fictional novel and subsequent movie about the disappearance of three schoolgirls and their teacher continues to draw tourists to the area.

Silverton (Mad Max II, 1981) — Home of the Mad Max Museum and the NSW outback town is a popular destination for fans of the franchise.

Sofala (The Cars That Ate Paris, 1974) — Another mining town in NSW that became a film set, this time for a quirky black comedy.

Walhalla (The Ice Road 2: Road to the Sky, not yet released) — Filming for the Liam Neeson action movie is underway. The historic Gippsland mining town is standing in for a Nepalese village.

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