Rabbit-Proof Fence

2002, Movie, PG, 94 mins

Review

RABBIT-PROOF FENCE
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Based on the book by Doris Pilkington Garimara, Phillip Noyce's film tells the 14-year-old Molly Craig (Pilkington Gerimara's mother), her eight-year-old sister, Daisy, and their 10-year-old cousin, Gracie. Beginning in the early 20th century and continuing into the 1970s, it was the official government policy to forcibly remove "half-caste" children — the offspring of Aboriginal mothers and white, often migrant, fathers — from their homes and "re-educate" them to serve as domestic workers in the homes of rich, white Australians. Many of these white fathers were workers on the rabbit-proof fence, an ambitious, 1500 mile barrier that originally ran from the north coast of the country to the south. The fence was designed to halt Australia's plague of crop-destroying rabbits, and along its route, various depots were established where workers could purchase goods and, inevitably, meet Aboriginal women. It was from one of these depot towns — Jigalong, in Western Australia — that, in 1931, Molly (wonderfully played by young Everlyn Sampi), Daisy (Tianna Sansbury) and Gracie (Laura Monaghan) were taken from their families and placed in the Moore River Native Settlement center some 1200 miles away. Refusing to be separated from their mothers, the girls escaped and, with no supplies and only the rabbit-proof fence to guide them, began their remarkable cross-country odyssey home. Noyce uses A.O. Neville (Kenneth Branagh), who as Chief Protector of Aborigines in Western Australia ordered the girls' relocation and served as their legal guardian, to explicate the paternalistic assumptions about race that fueled a policy that was still in effect until fairly recently. In tearing families apart, Neville and others like him believed they were helping solve the "Aboriginal problem" by rescuing mixed-race children who would, if allowed to remain in the Outback, inevitably revert to their natural blackness. Ripping children from their mothers and forcing them into servitude (domestic and sexual) facilitated the "breeding out" of Aboriginal blood, allowing future generations could be "advanced" into eventual whiteness. However backward these notions seem, the same self-serving attitudes underlay a number of official U.S. policies, including the placement of Native American children in Mission schools, where their heritage was aggressively suppressed, as well as the removal of thousands of Amerasian children from South Vietnamese families during 1975's "Operation Babylift." leave a comment --Ken Fox

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