The Irtleys are an impoverished family that are uprooted from their isolated rural existence by the intrusion of a highway through their property. They receive a large sum of money for the road but hide it under their mattress for safe keeping whilst continuing their pastoral existence. The children, Naomi and Bruvver, are dazzled by their newfound experiences of the outside world and persuade their parents to take them to a nearby country carnival. The family become separated in the confusion of the bright lights and excitement of the carnival and the children become prey to hustlers. Naomi is enthralled by a daredevil motorcycle rider who initiates her into womanhood in a degrading circus act in front of a paying audience. Bruvver becomes involved with a flashy stripper who looks forward to spending the hidden money. Sixteen is a simple parable-like film; the stripper, the daredevil motorcycle rider and a self-proclaimed Parson who feels 'called' to share in the Irtely's rewards must take advantage of the meek in order to survive.