Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence powerfully reminds us that there are stories that we must always tell of our history, of Aboriginal dispossession and racial oppression, of the strength and resistance of Aboriginal children and families. Perhaps even more importantly, this is a story of hope, commitment and resolve. As Molly once told her younger sisters, ‘I know it’s a long way to go but it’s easy. We’ll find the rabbit-proof fence and follow that all the way back home.’ (Pilkington Garimara 78) Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence offers us the opportunity to understand what happened in the past, why it is relevant today and what we must do to address the painful and wrongful legacy of Aboriginal child removal. This inspirational true story signals our past and our future, of another journey we have to make, one that we must make together.
We learn from Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence that the removal of Aboriginal children did not end with Molly, Gracie and Daisy. Just as Molly’s own daughter Annabelle was removed from her and sent to the Sister Kate’s Children’s Home in Perth, the practice of removing of Aboriginal children from their families has never stopped. It has continued and been experienced by successive generations of Aboriginal people. The suffering that always accompanies Aboriginal child removal has continued and the painful consequences of our past have not ended.
Not all films ask this question explicitly, though the controversial poster for the North American release of Rabbit-Proof Fence does just this, reading:
It seems clear to me that Rabbit-Proof Fence is closely linked in a conceptual sense to the single most influential Hollywood representation of the Holocaust, Stephen Spielberg's (1993).
From the Judgment of Lord Sankey, the following circumstances where the accused bears the legal burden of proof in criminal cases were established; where the accused pleads the defence of insanity, where a statute...
After a short period at Moore River the three girls Molly (14), Daisy (11) and Gracie (8) escaped from the settlement and walked some 1600km home, much of the way along the rabbit-proof fence that runs from the northern to the southern coast of Western Australia.
There are many interlocking factors causing the removal today of too many Aboriginal children. Family violence is a main cause of contemporary Aboriginal child removal. The violence of colonisation, directed at Aboriginal people and including sexual violence against Aboriginal women and girls, even those as young as Molly, Gracie and Daisy, has turned inwards amongst Aboriginal communities as women and girls suffer exceedingly high rates of interpersonal violence. Aboriginal people also experience disproportionate rates of poverty and many Aboriginal children are removed following an assessment of ‘neglect’ that is often closely linked to poverty. In addition, Aboriginal child rearing practices have not been recognised by non-Aboriginal people and authorities and have been misinterpreted as neglectful of children. As Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence also shows us, Aboriginal children and families have always been under surveillance. ‘No matter where the three girls went, there was always someone watching them very closely’ (Pilkington 41). The continued surveillance of Aboriginal children and families today plays a role in high levels of contemporary child removal.
The underlying reasons for child removal today relate back to the original dispossession of Aboriginal people in colonial history. This includes the continued impacts of the history of the Stolen Generations, which resulted in intergenerational trauma, high levels of mental illness and distress, poverty and racial discrimination. In Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence, we learn of the immediate impact of Noongar dispossession, a description which remains incisive: ‘The Nyungar people who once walked tall and proud, now hung their heads in sorrow. They had become dispossessed; these teachers and keepers of the traditional Law were prevented from practicing it … Their pain and suffering remained hidden and repressed, silent and deep.’ (Pilkington Garimara 16)
Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence (1996) is the story of three young Aboriginal girls, sisters Molly and Daisy and their cousin Gracie, taken from their parents by government authorities in 1931, to live far from their home at the harsh Moore River Native Settlement. Written originally by Doris Pilkington Garimara, it was adapted as a film under the title Rabbit-Proof Fence, directed by Philip Noyce (2002). The children were part of what is now known as ‘The Stolen Generations’ and their story remains profoundly relevant to the lives of a great many Aboriginal children and families. While there has been significant critical response to the text both in itself and in the context of its adaptation, specifically in the realm of Australian cultural studies, it is pertinent and necessary to consider also the social context of the story. This is coming from the perspective of Aboriginal human rights and social justice.
of the film “Rabbit Proof Fence”. Do you think Rabbit Proof Fence exposed elements of Australian history in which mainstream Australians I
little or no knowledge?
The director, Phillip Noyce made Rabbit Proof Fence to try and illustrate the shear enormity of the oppression suffered by aboriginal families at the hands of white Australian politicians and the government. The Australian administrators passed a policy that forced pure blooded, half castes and quarter castes Aboriginal children to be taken from their families and their land to be bred and mixed into the white Australian community. The government believed that this was in the Aboriginals best interest but their motive was to eventually eliminate Aboriginal blood to promote a white Australia. This policy is now referred to as the ‘Stolen Generation’. The pain and suffering the Aborigines experienced, the oppression and heart-break only ceased in 1970, when Australia finally realized what they have done and voted to abolish the White Australia policy in 1967. Phillip Noyce’s film, Rabbit Proof Fence reminded and informed the world how inhumane and ignorant the Australian administrative was. Without a doubt Aboriginals have faced harsh treatment, grief and sadness and Noyce’s film showed us exactly this.