Rabbit-Proof Fence is the new film from the director of Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, The Bone Collector and The Saint: Australian Philip Noyce.

Noyce cut his teeth on Australian cinema, and with Dead Calm (starring Sam Neill and a curly-haired teenage Nicole Kidman in the film that caught Tom's eye and reportedly got her cast as his leading lady in Days of Thunder) under his belt, he headed for Hollywood. Noyce and Jack Ryan have an excellent working relationship and following the Hollywood tradition of success spells success, Noyce was offered The Sum of All Fears (starring Ben Affleck). He turned it down to make Rabbit-Proof Fence.

I think Paramount was surprised when I walked away. But I had looked in the mirror and saw that I was nearly white-haired and thought: 'I came here to Hollywood a young man, and 12 years later I'm an old man! What did I lose my youth on? All these throwaway movies -- is that a waste of time or what?'

I don't think Paramount, or even Ryan, would agree... but then they're not Australian. They did not grow up while thousands of their countrymen of similar ages were being ripped from their mothers' arms and put into well-meaning families (the lucky ones) or well-intended institutions. Ha ha, right.

In 1901 the King (or at least one of his so-authorised subjects) put the seal on the Immigration Restriction Act 1901, which began what would later become known as the White Australia Policy. As its name implies, the policy sought to keep Australia and its people pearly-skinned, with the only colouration from the glorious rays of the golden sun.

Unfortunately, when Captain Cook discovered Australia way back in 1788, he also discovered about a million little heathens milling about in unison with the land, observing strict notions of respect for their sometimes harsh environment. Fortunately, by the turn of the century, thanks to some nasty little European diseases for which the Aboriginal people had no natural resistance, and the wonderful fortune that their pigmentation is a recessive gene, the number of Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders had reduced to an almost tolerable 70,000. Almost tolerable.

Wouldn't it be clever to liberate these little savages from their dirty little existence and anglicise them? Stroke of genius, dear boy! Let's take the children from their parents -- forget the adults, they're beyond hope but their low life expectancy will see them perish within a few years (especially if we chuck them a bit of cheap wine, he he) -- and put them up with some benevolent folk. (Christians of course, but then aren't we all?) Oh, we don't have enough? Never mind, we'll clobber together some institutions to house them in. Hang-on a tick, shouldn't these little heathens pay their way? Well, why not give them something to do -- idle hands are the devil's workshop after all -- and when they're old enough, we'll marry them off to white folk so they can breed lighter and lighter skinned Australian Citizens™.

What the government hadn't realised, was that their radical ideas about who should raise the Aboriginal children had occurred to others: the Aboriginal children wanted to stay with their families, and some were brave enough to escape, lucky enough to make it home. Rabbit-Proof Fence walks a mile in the shoes of three awesome young Aboriginal girls, who escaped the Stolen Generation only to have their children fall victim to it.

Doris Pilkington was forcibly separated from her parents when she was 4 years old. She was one of the lucky ones to be reunited with her family 21 years later. When she met her mother, she asked her accusatively why she had given her away to the government. Nobody had bothered to mentioned to the Stolen children that their parents had not wanted to let them go; instead they were allowed to grow up thinking they'd been abandoned.

The revelation of the lie prompted Doris to go and research why it had happened, and it made her jump up and fetch a pen and paper when one cold winter night, her cousin Lizzie asked her aunt to tell the story of "When you and Aunty ran away from Moore River". Until then, Doris had no idea that her mother had also been stolen, and had no idea of her courageous trek home.

Molly, aged 14, and her sisters Daisy and Gracie had been taken from their mother and father in Jigalong, deep in the Outback of Western Australia and moved to an institution in Moore River, nearly 2000km away. The three girls broke out of the institution and navigated their way home by following the rabbit-proof fence that protected Western Australia from infestation with western bunnies, prevalent in the eastern states.

For years, Pilkington was at a loss as to how best to tell the tale. It had been suggested that she write it as a fictional account, and while deliberating she published Caprice - A Stockman's Daughter. Follow The Rabbit-Proof Fence became the second in the trilogy, concluded by Under The Windamarra Tree.

In recent years there have been efforts in Australia to heal the wounds of the Stolen Generation. The Sorry Day Committee was founded to promote awareness of the Stolen Generation, and have been earnestly entreating the current government for an apology. So far Prime Minister John Howard has resisted, and it's likely that he will be remembered in history more for this one fact than for his about-face on the GST issue, or any other aspect of his term.

Meanwhile, millions of Australians have signed Sorry Books and taken part in the commemorative Sorry Day. In 2000's People's Walk for Reconciliation across Sydney's Harbour Bridge, 250,000 people took part. Howard clearly has his finger well off the pulse of the Australian heart in his "Saying sorry would imply that the current generation of Australians is guilty of something it had no control over" stand.

rougevert says unfortunately, the racist Howard seems to have his finger well positioned on the pulse. The silent majority are bigoted and ignorant, but they don't have marches; they don't need to.

The movie "Rabbit Proof Fence" was directed by Philip Noyce, and was adapted from a true story written by Doris Pilkington. It includes a score by Peter Gabriel, and acting by David Gulpilil ("Walkabout"). Everlyn Sampi stars as Molly Craig. More important (in this post) than the details of its plot and stars however, is what it represents.


Although the English settled Australia after its "discovery" in 1770 by Captain Cook, that doesn't mean that it wasn't already inhabited. In fact the landscape had a large number of native Aborigines already happily living in the dreaming. The full number of these people was unknown, because although their existence could not be entirely denied, they could be entirely ignored. Contact wasn't made with some of the tribes until the seventies, and until 1976 they weren't even counted in Australian census'. Similar sad tales aside (I highly recommend looking through the aborigines node) we come to the source of the movie: Starting in the thirties, and ending in the seventies, hundreds of thousands of half-caste aborigine/anglo children were interned in camps, trained as domestic help, and then given to white Christian families. They would later be encouraged to marry into whiter families. These stolen and assimilated children came to be known as the Stolen Generation.

This is more momentous than it may seem at first glance. Not only were aproximately one in five Aborigine children taken from their parents (see Stolen Generation), but the parents had aproximately one in five children taken from them. A gap was created in the culture of the people, causing ancient oral histories to be lost, and the children to lose all sense of identity. This generation of disenfranchised cultureless youth were in the charge of Mr. Neville, the head of the department responsible for the non-fatal culling. As a result losing their loved ones, suicide and drinking rates rose among both the parents and the children. In general, everyone involved was less happy than they had been.

Doris Pilkington is the Daughter of Molly Craig, the heroine of the book and movie. Molly Craig (at around fourteen) was taken to the Moore River Settlement with her sister Daisy, and her cousin Gracie. After staying there there for only a day, she decided to walk the one thousand fifty miles back to her home of Jigalong with both relations. She then proceeded to do so by following the Rabbit Proof Fence while evading trackers, and generally being simply heroic. Although she lost Gracie to the feds, she managed to bring Daisy and herself safely home.

After having two children years later, Molly Craig went to a hospital for an ailment of some sort. Both of her children were taken to the Moore River Settlement, and were supposed to be returned to her. This was not to be the case however, the government kept young Annabell and Doris to be trained as servants, rather than having them "revert" to their mother's more traditional lifestyle. Molly then stole Annabell and walked back home, leaving Doris behind because she was probably too heavy to carry and to young to walk. "Probably" you say? Yes, probably, she couldn't tell for certain because the window to Doris's dormitory had bars, to prevent mothers or desperately homesick children from going through them.

Years later, after going through the Moore River purification process (designed to keep their native language and culture away from the children, and to condition them to domestic slavery), Doris finally managed to get in touch with her mother. In time she wrote a book about her mother's experiences. Christine Olson then wrote a screenplay based on the book, and fate intervened to make Phillip Nocye the director of the movie.

The movie itself, based on Molly's first journey, is only a representation of the history that it stands on. It was created by a white director, to call forth the tragedy of the past. As such, a personal C! from me goes to Noyce for the excellent special features on the DVD. He is very aware of the ironies that surrounded his situation, and in fact apologizes a bit to much at the end of the commentary option on the DVD. A commentary option, you might ask? Yes sir! It allows you to listen to him and others talk about the making of the movie, his thoughts on the Aborigines' tragic history, Peter Gabriel talking music, and more. There is also relatively long "making of" bonus feature, which has its own superb qualities.

Two extra tidbits: First, I have heard that young Aborigine women have (or have had) a habit of turning ordinary sentences into sentences that sound like questions. This is because they learned the english language through far from ideal circumstances, and they grow accustomed to asking for help with their pronounciation or grammar.

Second, there is contention about the issues involved. It is a prickly subject for the Australian government and people. I just read an essay by the former head of Australian immigration, which attacked the movie (although he didn't say anything relevant, did he personally watch the movie?). To my mind though, most objectors can be compared to holocaust deniers. Guilt is a heavy burden, whether or not you deserve it.
Simply put: be warned that there are other sides to this issue.

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