Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence is an Australian book by Doris Pilkington, published in 1996. Based on a true story, the book is a personal account of an indigenous Australian family's experiences as members of the Stolen Generation – the forced removal of mixed-race children from their families during the early 20th century. It tells the story of three young Aboriginal girls: Molly (the author's mother), Daisy (Molly's sister), and their cousin Gracie, who are forcibly removed from their families, later escape from a government settlement in 1931, and then trek over 1,600 kilometres (990 mi) home by following the rabbit-proof fence, a massive pest-exclusion fence which crossed Western Australia from north to south.
The book was adapted as a film, Rabbit-Proof Fence, in 2002.
Doris Pilkington had spent much of her early life from the age of four at the Moore River Native Settlement in Western Australia, the same facility the book chronicles her mother, aunt's and cousin's escape from as children. After reuniting with her family, Pilkington says she did not talk to her mother much, and she was not aware of her mother's captivity at Moore River nor the story of her escape, until her Aunt Daisy told her the story. Repeating the story at an Aboriginal family history event in Perth, one of the attendees told Pilkington he was aware of the story and that the case was fairly well-documented. He gave her some documents and clippings which formed the factual backbone of the story on which Pilkington based a first draft.
Pilkington submitted the draft to a publisher in 1985 but was told it was too much like an academic paper and that she should try her hand at writing fiction. Her first novel, Caprice, A Stockman's Daughter, won the David Unaipon Literary Award and was published in 1990 by the University of Queensland Press. Pilkington then rewrote and filled out Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence following several years of interviewing her mother and aunt, and it was published in 1996.
Molly, her sister and cousin are taken to Moore River for schooling to become more like a white person and to eventually be taken to a (more) rural part of W.A. The girls escaped from the Settlement and took the 1,600km walk home.
Main article: Rabbit-Proof Fence (film)
Shortly after the book's publication, the film rights were obtained by scriptwriter Christine Olsen, who wrote the script and was persistent in her pitching of the film to Hollywood-based Australian director Phillip Noyce. Noyce agreed to direct the film, which was released in 2002 and starred Everlyn Sampi as Molly, and British actor Kenneth Branagh as A. O. Neville, the Chief Protector of Aborigines.
Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence Summary
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Australian Doris Pilkington’s work of nonfiction Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence, published in 1996, relates the story of a native Australian family’s experiences as part of what came to be known as the Stolen Generation. The Stolen Generation was the result of an early twentieth century practice of having children who were of mixed race removed from their families and placed in government compounds. Three young girls are central to the narrative: Pilkington’s mother, Molly, Molly’s sister Daisy, and their cousin Gracie. After being taken from their families, they manage to escape from the government settlement in 1931. They then begin a journey home of close to 1,000 miles by following a fence designed to keep out pests. This rabbit-proof fence ran through the western part of Australia from north to south. Pilkington uses the third person voice and constructs her text by using, among other research, interviews with her mother and Daisy.
The opens with historical information about the first English people to arrive in Western Australia and their interactions with the Aboriginals who lived there. It was a history of unrest with raids and kidnappings of women perpetrated by white men. Pilkington tells of less threatening times as well and of the feelings of isolation the English came to experience.
In 1829, early European settlers led by Captain Fremantle sought approval from Aboriginal leaders to give the territory they had acquired an English name. Language barriers likely prevented enough understanding for the consent to be granted, but nevertheless, one million square miles became Swan River Colony. The settlers became quite powerful within a year. They restricted the areas in which Aboriginal people could live and work to keep English culture strong in this new land. As the Europeans increased their efforts to overtake the Aboriginal way of life violent conflicts erupted. In time, the Aboriginal way of life was eradicated. By the 1900s the Aborigines had become more a part of the European way of life in Australia. Camps were built for them, and their skills with horses and cattle were recognized. There were still instances of unrest, which Pilkington discusses as well. The camps that were constructed still pushed European values and customs, such as wearing clothing, and forbade Aboriginal culture.
In chapter five, Maude is introduced. She lives in a government settlement in Jigalong. It had been determined while she was a baby that she would be married to an Aboriginal, but when she is sixteen he decides to marry someone else. This pleases Maude who is smart and working as a domestic for Hawkins, the superintendent of the camp. Eventually, she becomes pregnant by Thomas Crain, an Englishman who is an inspector of the rabbit-proof fence. She gives birth to a girl whom they name Molly. The births of Daisy and Gracie soon follow, and the three girls become close. A worker named Keeling initiates the relocation of the girls to one of the institutions for Aboriginal children of white fathers. They are taken to the Moore River Native Settlement in Perth. The girls and their families are inconsolable, but there is nothing that can be done to reverse such a decision once it has been made.
Constable Riggs begins their journey to the settlement by car, and then turns the girls over to Constable Melrose where two more girls join them. They spend the night at a police station, then continue the trek by train and by boat. After five days at sea, they arrive at a port and complete the trip by car.
During their first night at the settlement, the girls are cold and sleep together in one bed in the dorm to which they were assigned by Miss Evans. They have no idea what to expect. The next day a girl shows them around. The rooms have bars on the windows, and Molly believes they are in what she refers to as a “marbu country,” which implies the presence of flesh-eating spirits. She is told that anyone who tries to escape is severely punished, but soon, all three resolve to escape.
Molly becomes their leader as they slip off to the wilderness instead of reporting to school. Molly makes all of the decisions as the trio seek the rabbit-proof fence that will lead them back to Jigalong. They experience fears and doubts along the way. They catch rabbits to eat. They fear at one point that they have encountered one of the flesh-eating spirits. They are able to hide from a search plane that is looking for them. After a woman on a farm gives them food and they continue on their way, the woman worries that they will not survive and calls the police. Their disappearance and their attempt to return home had already become widely known by that point. When they eventually find the fence, their hope is renewed. After a total of nine weeks, they arrive at Jigalong and find their family. In the final chapter of the book, Pilkington tells what became of the girls after their journey.