Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence is about one of the dark chapters of Aboriginal Australian history: The Stolen Generations. The “Aboriginal Protection Act” of 1897 allowed the authorities “to cause every Aboriginal within any district [...] to be removed to, and kept within the limits of, any reserve”. In addition, article 31 allowed them to provide “for the care, custody, and education of the children of Aboriginals” and prescribed “the conditions on which any Aboriginal or half-caste children may be apprenticed to, or placed in service with, suitable persons”.
This is the political background, the setting which must be comprehended before the story’s full tragedy can be understood. Three girls, Molly, Gracie and Daisy, are “half-caste” Aboriginal youngsters living together with their family of the Mardu people at Jigalong, Western Australia.
One day a constable, a “Protector” in the sense of the Act, comes to take the three girls with him. They are placed in the Moore River Native Settlement north of Perth, some 1,600 kilometres away. Most children this was done to never saw their parents again. Thousands are still trying to find them.
This story is different. The three girls manage to escape from the torturing and authoritarian rule of the settlement’s head. Guided by the rabbit-proof fence, which, at that time ran from north to south through Western Australia,they walk the long distance back to their family.
Doris Pilkington (whose traditional name is Nugi Garimara) is not a professional writer which you’ll notice while you read. But despite occasional stylistic flaws, the book has one advantage over novels: it’s authentic. And this makes the story even more remarkable and the reader more and more concerned and shocked about the circumstances of that time. In the end you’ll be as happy as the Mardu people when the girls come home, and your understanding of Australian history may have changed.
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