Dillon Abstract Antipodean Hercules

Mathew Dillon

Hercules “Down Under”: Antipodean experiences of the hero’s machismo

The film Hercules Returns (1993) suggests that Hercules was as much a household name down-under in the twentieth century as he was early in modern Australian history, where he is (probably) present in the work of the English artist Robert Cleveley in his 1790s engraving ‘Natives of Botany Bay’. This chapter analyses the film and situates it in the context of the hero’s presence in the twentieth-century and twenty-first-century Aussie consciousness and draws some conclusions about Hercules’ cultural survival in terra australis.  

The contextualising survey will include consideration of Olympian glory in the antipodes, ranging from the scientific and cultural touches provided by insect life and Herculean artworks in Aussie art galleries and museums (e.g. Dürer’s Hercules at the Crossroads and British artist/Australian settler G. Rayner Hoff’s Hercules, Deianira and Achelous), as well as Aussie companies’ use of the name Hercules (e.g. Woolworths’ own-brand kitchen plastic wrap and plastic bags, DT Australia’s dump-truck trays, and the Aussie strongman website ‘Planet Hercules’). Rather than revealing manufacturers immersed in the classical tradition, this shows not only an awareness of Hercules as a figure associated with sheer muscle, power and endurance but also his embodiment of the toughness of the Aussie. 

These antipodean experiences of the hero’s machismo show the respectful nature of the Aussie cultural transmission of Herculean strength; the ancient hero is preserved in an Australian context, striding the colossal mining landscape, leaving the other gods far away. 

Provisional content for The Modern Hercules (Volume 2)