The new film Rabbit-Proof Fence is based on a true story. It tells the story of three Aboriginal girls in western Australia who run away from a state institution for ‘half-caste’ children. This is what Australia was like in the 1930s.
Since 1905 the Chief Protector of Aborigines had been forcibly removing ‘half-caste’ and ‘quadroon’ (quarter Aboriginal) children from their families and communities, and placing them in missions and state homes. Led by 14 year old Molly, the girls escape and head north to their home, Jigalong, using the long rabbit-proof fence, built to keep rabbits out of western Australia, as a guide.
In 1997 an official report, Bringing Them Home, was published. This explored the state’s policy of forcible removal, which continued up until the early 1970s.
The experiences of the ‘stolen generation’ were widely publicised and debated. On the right it was argued that the purpose of the removals was benign, rescuing children who had been rejected by their communities. Rabbit-Proof Fence is a powerful riposte to that argument. It shows the racism and callousness that lay behind the policy. One of the most moving scenes in the film is when white policemen snatch the girls from their mothers.
Shortly after their arrival they are inspected by Neville, the Chief Protector (Kenneth Branagh), for whiteness. Neville, the scientific racist, is convinced of his own rightness, and of the need to ‘breed out the colour’ and ‘help these people’. Director Philip Noyce made a deliberate decision to use untrained actors for the girls’ parts. The result is superb.
Despair and powerlessness are countered as Molly leads them through the outback. They live off the land, scavenging from farms and along the way meet betrayal and unexpected kindnesses.
We watch the behaviour of others – Neville, the nuns at the settlement, the ambiguous Aboriginal tracker – through her eyes. It is to the real Molly, now 85, and her sister Daisy, that the film returns at the end. Rabbit-Proof Fence is visually stunning.
It contains scenes of great beauty contrasting with the harsh, desert conditions the girls experience as they make their way home. They dodge pursuers and, at one point, are almost dying of exhaustion. This is an excellent film which is genuinely exciting. It makes powerful political points about the treatment of the Aboriginal people in Australia, and how they resisted that treatment.
A familiar concept with a twist
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A film that deserves its acclaim