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.