11 Best Australian Music Documentaries

8 April 2024 | 11:20 am | Tobias Handke

We might not be on the same level as America or Britain in terms of doco output, but there is no doubt the Aussie music scene has plenty of tales to tell.

Gurrumul / Paul Kelly / Michael Hutchence / ONEFOUR

Gurrumul / Paul Kelly / Michael Hutchence / ONEFOUR (Supplied)


Scottish post-punk stalwarts Mogwai have recently released the trailer for If The Stars Had A Sound, a music documentary charting the band’s rise.

Set to premiere at South By Southwest later this year, the film is an in-depth and career-spanning look at the band, starting with Mogwai’s formation in the mid-1990s and going all the way through to the recording of their pandemic-effected 2021 album As The Love Continues.

Watching the trailer got us thinking about our favourite music docs – specifically those focusing on Australia. We might not be on the same level as America or Britain in terms of musical output, but there is no doubt the Aussie music scene has plenty of tales to tell, as you’ll discover with our picks for the best Australian music documentaries below.

Gurrumul (2018)

The story of musician Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu is one of triumph in the face of adversity. Born blind, Gurrumul taught himself to play several musical instruments as a child, including a right-handed guitar despite being left-handed.

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After stints with Yothu Yindi and Saltwater Band, Gurrumul struck out on his own with his critically acclaimed debut Gurrumul in 2008. All of this and more is covered in director Paul Williams’ award-winning documentary that also explores Gurrumul’s struggles with fame, who preferred his quiet life on Echo Island living amongst his family and friends to the bright lights of the city.

This is an engaging doco that stands as a great tribute to Gurrumul and the success he had as a Yolngu man.

Paul Kelly: Stories Of Me (2012)

Arguably Australia’s greatest songwriter, it was inevitable the great Paul Kelly would get the documentary treatment. Released in 2012, Stories Of Me charts the To Her Door singer’s rise to glory, detailing his childhood in Adelaide and the struggles he endured while making his mark.

Kelly is as humble as they come and this is backed up by interviews with his family, friends and peers, including Megan Washington and Archie Roach, who have nothing but nice things to say about Kelly and his legacy.

Her Sound, Her Story (2018)

Music photographer Michelle Grace Hunder originally perceived this project as a photo exhibition highlighting women in the music scene. She soon realised she needed more than images to tell these women’s stories, enlisting filmmaker Claudia Sangiorgi Dalimore to help produce a documentary about women in music.

Her Sound, Her Story features interviews with 45 incredible women – including the likes of Kylie Minogue, Tina Arena, Julia Stone and many more – and delves into the realities of being female in the male-dominated music industry and how far we still have to go before reaching true equality.

Sunbury 72 (1972)

Known as the “Aussie Woodstock,” the Sunbury Music Festival was a huge moment in the Australian music scene that transformed the industry. Filmmaker John Dixon had incredible access to the festival, capturing the nitty-gritty of what occurred over that famous last weekend of January in 1972.

The festival is best remembered for the career-defining performance from Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs – captured by Dixon – that helped cement the band’s legacy as one of Australia’s great live acts.

Autoluminescent (2011)

Winner of the Australian Teachers of Media Award for Best Documentary Biography in 2012, Autoluminescent is a fascinating deep dive into the life and times of Rowland S. Howard.

After the breakup of The Birthday Party, Howard took a different path from former bandmate Nick Cave, releasing nine eclectic albums and collaborating with a range of interesting musicians. Howard’s debut solo album,1999s Teenage Snuff Film, remains an Australian classic.

Autoluminescent features interviews with Howard’s family, friends, and musical peers, discussing his legacy, impact on Australian music, addiction issues, and the liver disease that ultimately claimed his life at age 50 in 2009. A superb tribute to a musical maverick.

Recovery: The Music And The Mayhem (2020)

Anyone who grew up listening to music in the ‘90s has an affinity for Recovery. The ABC’s weekend morning music show became a Saturday institution and helped push Australian bands into the mainstream.

This 55-minute doco features former hosts Dylan Lewis and Jane Gazzo reminiscing about the carnage they oversaw during Recovery’s four-year run, delving into backstage stories and discussing their favourite guests. A great hit of nostalgia music fans will dig.

Meal Tickets (2016)

Perth’s punk-rockers Screwtop Detonators were meant to be the next big thing until their debut American tour saw them self-detonate.

Culled from hundreds of hours of footage shot by director and good friend Mat de Koning over a ten-year period, Meal Tickets is a warts-and-all look at how hard it is to make it in the music industry. The film captures the highs and lows the band went through, as well as focusing on their manager Dave Kavanagh and roadie Will Stoker, who wants to be famous in his own right.

Mystify: Michael Hutchence (2019)

After bringing the story of Rowland S. Howard to the big screen, acclaimed director Richard Lowenstein set his sights on remembering another music legend: INXS frontman Michael Hutchence. Containing archival footage, home movies, and interviews with those closest to him (including bandmates, family, and former flames), Mystify is the definitive portrait of Hutchence, getting to the core of who he was and why he was such a magnetic figure.

One More Time With Feeling (2016)

Documenting the recording of Nick Cave And The Bad SeedsSkeleton Tree in the aftermath of Cave’s 15-year-old son Arthur’s death, One More Time With Feeling is an emotion-fueled doco that includes in-depth interviews with Cave, bandmate Warren Ellis and Cave’s wife Susie.

Director Andrew Dominik handles things with tender aplomb while Cave’s narration gives a deeper glimpse into his mind and battle with grief. The film also includes 35 minutes of the band performing live at Air Studios and makes a great double bill with This Much I Know, Dominik’s 2022 companion piece.

Midnight Oil 1984 (2018)

1984 was a pivotal year for Midnight Oil. Having established themselves as one of the breakthrough acts of the ‘80s with the critically acclaimed 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1, there was lots of pressure to replicate the success on follow-up Red Sails In The Sunset. The album’s release was coupled with a relentless touring schedule and Peter Garrett’s commitment to run for a Senate seat in the Nuclear Disarmament Party.

Three decades in the making, this film documents the Oils’ most turbulent year, as the band comes close to imploding with the mounting demands facing the group both outside and internally. Featuring vintage concert footage and depicting the fears young Aussies had concerning nuclear war, Midnight Oil 1984 is both a music doco and a history lesson about a band and a year that defined the ‘80s.

ONEFOUR: Against All Odds (2023)

Notorious Aussie drill group ONEFOUR set the record straight in this uncompromising Netflix documentary.

While focusing on the group’s upbringing in poverty-stricken Mount Druitt and how they used drill and hip-hop to escape, director Gabriel Gasparinatos also shines a light on ONEFOUR’s criminal connections and the controversies surrounding them, including several members serving time behind bars and the police’s continual harassment of the group.

While the documentary ends on a positive, the recent reveal of a plot to murder four of the members leaves a dark cloud hanging over ONEFOUR, and begs questions about whether they can truly escape their gang ties.