If the Ubuntu discs are "freebies" and the laptop has nvidia based (or I suspect ATi based) device, then until you go for a "paid for" version, you probably won't get the video/graphics driver.
With nvidia based chips/cards, there is the option for the generic "nv" driver, but if you machine is anything like my desktop one, then the generic version is gonna be garbage.
Xandros is a paid for distro anyway (as far as I'm aware) so it may ship with the driver(s) that you need - as for any of the BSDs, Nah, I doubt it - I've never bother trying them, if you look at the forums, I suspect that you'll find that they're not heavy on CLI install, but completely CLI install - you'd have to check.
Laptops do, as I understand it, have a reputation for being harder to install to - you might want to look at the mobile devices forum to get a flavour about that!
As for being stuck out in the bush? I suppose the only snag is that you probably have to use dial up? so big downloads are out of the question??!!! Cos even when I used mandrake, I always went for paid for ones, and they came by post (sure only from France) - there maybe someone who is agent/dealer for mandrake somewhere in Aus!
Some of the blokes at my LUG are mega knowledgeable IT pros, who rave about Debian generally, but Ubuntu specifically - though you might also consider seeing if you can lay your hands on a recent Knoppix disc - Sure it's a live distro, but it can be installed to the hard drive, it's debian based (i.e. a good reputation) and it's hardware detection abilities seem to be just short of bloody marvellous.
p.s. Oh, and with mandrake, the kernel is installed during setup, it's the kernel sources that aren't - they are different, and it's the sources that you have to get (download/mirror/install discs) to install the nvidia driver!