It’s the summer of 1969 in Broome, an idyllic pearling port on Australia’s west coast, far away from any city, where the fishing is good and so is the living. Shy Aboriginal teenager WILLIE (Rocky McKenzie) plucks up the courage to ask local church singer, the beautiful ROSIE (Jessica Mauboy), out on a date. It’s the eve of his departure back to Catholic boarding school in Perth. Leaving the town and the girl that he loves is a sacrifice Willie makes to fulfil the wishes of his devoted mother, single parent THERESA (Ningali Lawford-Wolf). Deeply religious, she has raised her only son to be a good boy and, one day, become a priest. Unfortunately the date with Rosie never happens and Willie departs Broome with a heavy heart.
Life at the boarding school under the paternalistic rule of FATHER BENEDICTUS (Geoffrey Rush) soon becomes unbearable, and following a reckless act of rebellion, Willie makes his bolt for freedom. Alone in the city and unsure about what to do next, he is befriended by the roguish ‘Uncle’ TADPOLE (Ernie Dingo) who, it turns out, is also from Broome. He promises to help Willie get back home, after he’s been to the pub of course. Eventually they hitch a lift in a Kombi van with a couple of hippies - loved up ANNIE (Missy Higgins) and uptight German tourist SLIPPERY (Tom Budge). They head off on the 2,500 km journey with Tadpole spinning Aboriginal clichés to an enraptured Annie and Slippery wondering how far away Broome actually is. Willie has an uneasy feeling it’s going to be a bumpy ride...not to mention what his Mum is going to do to him when he gets home.
Meanwhile Father Benedictus has hit the road in his Mercedes determined to find Willie and bring him back to face the music and fulfil his destiny. And in Broome, Rosie has started singing with the pub band whose lead singer, handsome bad boy LESTER (Dan Sultan), has taken her under his wing.
Still a long way from Broome, Slippery is feeling the heat. It’s so hot for a German. And he doesn’t trust Tadpole. Who would? Especially after he robs an outback petrol station run by man-eater ROADHOUSE BETTY (Magda Szubanski) causing them to make a running getaway. It’s the last straw for Slippery, who turfs the hitchers out. With no faith left in Tadpole, Willie abandons his newfound companions and takes the first ride that comes along. That would be a truck full of Zorba-dancing football-playing boys on their way to a local match. Unfortunately they’re taking the long way to Broome.
Willie finds himself offloaded in the rough mining town of Port Hedland where he catches the attentions of local good-time girl, ROXANNE (Deborah Mailman). On the point of losing his virginity, Willie is in danger of losing a lot more when her boyfriend suddenly appears. But, as in all great adventures, he’s saved in the nick of time; his Kombi companions swoop in to spirit him away and together they get back on the road. Their delight at being reunited soon evaporates when the Kombi is pulled over by the cops. Spending a night in the lockup for the first time, Willie is visited by bush people in his dreams. The next morning he worries that he’s burnt his bridges; that he can’t go back home. Seeing the boy’s distress Tadpole decides to act his age - for probably the first time in his life - and take responsibility. He makes a promise to Willie: they will get home the next day.
As they arrive in Broome, Willie has no idea if Rosie will still be there or what his mother will do when she finds out what he’s done. Little does he know that the day ahead will be full of surprises - for everyone.
Accompanied by the joyous sounds of country, gospel with Broome-style Broadway dancing, Bran Nue Dae is a road musical that celebrates the adventure of finding your way back home.