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Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence

Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence

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Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence

ratings:
3.5/5 (31 ratings)
Length:
175 pages
2 hours
Released:
May 1, 2013
ISBN:
9780702252051
Format:
Book

Description

This extraordinary story of courage and faith is based on the actual experiences of three girls who fled from the repressive life of Moore River Native Settlement, following along the rabbit-proof fence back to their homelands. Assimilationist policy dictated that these girls be taken from their kin and their homes in order to be made white. Settlement life was unbearable with its chains and padlocks, barred windows, hard cold beds, and horrible food. Solitary confinement was doled out as regular punishment. The girls were not even allowed to speak their language. Of all the journeys made since white people set foot on Australian soil, the journey made by these girls born of Aboriginal mothers and white fathers speaks something to everyone.
Released:
May 1, 2013
ISBN:
9780702252051
Format:
Book

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Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence - Doris Pilkington

determination.

Acknowledgments

I gratefully acknowledge my mother and my aunt for sharing this story with me, and the Aboriginal Arts Board for making it possible for me to publish their experience. To those who have advised and supported me in this project, I extend my thanks and appreciation. Special acknowledgments go to Keith Chesson; Jenny Clark, librarian, Aboriginal Affairs Planning Authority; Duncan Graham; Jude Allen, Department of Conservation and Land Management (CALM); and Harry Taylor, Information Research Officer, Adoptions Branch, Department of Community Services.

Map revised 2002

Introduction

The trek back home to Jigalong in the north-west of Western Australia from the Moore River Native Settlement just north of Perth was not only a historical event, it was also one of the most incredible feats imaginable, undertaken by three Aboriginal girls in the 1930s.

The two surviving members of the trio, my mother and her sister Daisy, are now in their late sixties and seventies and are anxious for their story to be published before they die. They refer to their sister Grace in the interviews simply as the sister we lose ’em in Geraldton or your Aunty. This is the custom in traditional Aboriginal communities where the name of a person is never mentioned after their death. Anyone with the same name is referred to as gurnmanu which means what’s his name, or have Nguberu substituted for their given names. For example, Adam Thomas would be addressed as Nguberu Thomas following the death of another man named Adam.

The task of reconstructing the trek home from the settlement has been both an exhausting and an interesting experience. One needed to have a vivid imagination, the patience of many saints and the determination to succeed despite the odds. Molly, Daisy and Gracie were outside familiar territory so I found it necessary to become a ten-year-old girl again in order to draw on my own childhood memories of the countryside surrounding the settlement. In my mind I walked the same paths and called on my skills as a writer to describe the scenery and how it looked through their eyes. By combining my imagination and the information from records of geographical and botanical explorations undertaken in the area during the early 1900s and later, I was able to build a clearer picture of the vegetation and landscape through which the girls trekked.

There were so many other factors that had to be taken into consideration when telling their story. First, how was I going to reconstruct a landscape which had either changed considerably or disappeared completely. At the time of the event much of the terrain was uncleared virgin bush, a strange, scary wilderness to these three girls who came from the desert regions of Western Australia. In addition to this, there were no major highways linking the towns that were scattered in the country north-east of Perth. Molly, Gracie and Daisy passed through parts of the country that changed every 15 or 20 kilometres, with each change of scenery bringing more tension as food and sustenance became harder to procure. In my mind I actually walked beside them, from the moment they left the girls’ dormitory at the settlement all the way home to Jigalong.

Age presented no problem for my mother and aunty. Their minds were sharp and they had no difficulty recounting their experiences along the way, however, I realise that consideration must be given to the time lapse since they were young at the time, and to allow for patches of dimmed memories and sketchy reflections. Another fact I completely overlooked until the interviews began was their illiteracy. This, combined with their lack of numeracy skills, made it impossible to establish measurements accurately. Numbers, dates, in fact mathematics of any kind, have little or no relevance in our traditional Aboriginal society. Nature was their social calendar, everything was measured by events and incidents affected by seasonal changes. For example, summer is pink-eye time when eye problems brought on by the heat, dust and flies flare up. This was the period when station workers took their annual holidays. Pink-eye time was the common term used for weekends and days off from normal duties on the stations in the Pilbara region. The winter or rainy season is yalta or galyu time. Similarly the days of the week were named according to which domestic duties were carried out on: Monday was referred to as washing day, Tuesday was ironing day, Wednesday was mending day, and so on.

Time was also marked by activities of cultural and ceremonial significance. For example, the people in Jigalong and the Gibson Desert regions use a specific event or incident when telling stories. Their stories, whether they be oral history or anecdotes, do not begin in the same way as Western stories: I remember clearly it was during the Christmas holidays in 1968 when..., and so on. Rather the speaker will remind the listeners that, It was galyu time. Galyu everywhere, all the roads were cut off... Or, It was Ngulungga time when we had that big meeting. The listeners know that this was the time when traditional rites and rituals were performed. So in these communities time is based on practical events, incidents and seasons.

When recounting the long walk home, Aunty Daisy mentioned how they chased emu chicks at the Nannine railway siding south of Meekatharra. She described how the chicks were striped in black and white. By combining research and personal observation I was able to establish that the chicks must have been a certain age and so it would have been either late August or September.

Seasonal time and not numbers is important in recounting this journey. Consistent with Aboriginal storytelling style, seasonal time and the features of the natural environment are more important to recounting this journey than are the western notions of time and distance. I have though worked to synthesise these different forms of knowledge to give readers the fullest insight into this historic journey.

This journey took place when there were no highways or sealed roads criss-crossing the continent, only gravel roads or more often, dirt tracks and trails made by carts, sulkies and light, early model cars. The girls avoided these routes, especially where the rabbit-proof fence came near towns such as Sandstone. Walking along the tracks and trails, the girls knew that they would have been too exposed to the white population and their whereabouts would have been immediately reported to the local police.

Molly, Gracie and Daisy came from a remote community in the north-west of Western Australia where the white population tended to stick tightly together, and maintained contact by pedal wireless, telephone and mail. Aware of this the girls aimed to pass by silently and swiftly without being detected and to reach home as fast as they could.

1

The First Military Post

It was still very cool in the early summer morning; the fresh, clean air he breathed into his lungs felt good. He stood up and stretched his arms above his head then dropped them to his side. He was the first to rise. This was not unusual, Kundilla always woke before anyone else and this morning was no different from any other. He looked slowly around at the sleeping forms covered by warm, animal-skin blankets, lying outside their shelters made from branches and slabs of bark. There was no shortage of trees and shrubs around here, that is why this spot was chosen for the winter camp. Kundilla walked silently to perform his early morning rituals, away from the camp, which was situated in a clearing a hundred metres from the river. On his return he stopped along the banks of the river to pull up the fish traps he had set the previous evening. How peaceful it was, with the sounds of birds twittering high above, amid the leafy branches of the giant river gums, and the occasional splash of the fish in the river. Dawn was his favourite time of day. As the sun rose he could meditate and reflect on the events of the past few days but, more importantly, he could plan future activities without interruption and distraction.

Little did he know that soon devastation and desolation would shatter this tranquil environment; that this pristine forest would echo the anguished cries and the ceaseless weeping of thousands of people—his people—as they were tormented by foreigners and driven off their land.

His long, wavy, grey hair and thick white beard heightened his dignified appearance as he approached the camp carrying two fish traps filled with marrons and gilgies for his family’s breakfast. He had power and strength which commanded respect.

Kundilla was satisfied with the results of yesterday’s annual scrub firing. This was a special time on the seasonal calendar when his family clans from far around would gather on their territory to set fire to areas of dense undergrowth to flush out any game, such as kangaroos and wallabies, that might be sheltering there. All the men waited in strategic places around the scrub as the animals dashed out in panic. Then they either speared or clubbed them to death. The animal pelts were made into warm cloaks as protection against the bitterly cold winter winds of the south west. The smaller skins were made into skin bags with fur lining the inside to be used for carrying babies and as all-purpose bags.

Kundilla had two wives, the senior wife, Ngingana, had already lit the fire to cook the first meal of the day when he returned. She raked the coals and ashes to one side then dropped the marrons and gilgies on them. When they were cooked she pulled them out with a long green stick and laid them on the gum leaves. As she dusted the ashes from the food she called for everyone to come and eat. This meal was washed down with the cool water drawn from the soak under the thick bullrushes that grew along the river bank. Kundilla’s second wife Mardina was breastfeeding their youngest child, Jalda.

Her two teenage sons, Wandani and Binmu, would soon be taken away to join several others who would leave the camp as boys to go through the Law and return as men. She glanced proudly at her sons and felt a pang of sadness. To her they were still boys, surely one more summer wouldn’t make any difference. She was only their mother, the tribal elders had already made their decision and there was nothing she could do to change it. Mardina wiped the tears from her eyes then raised her head and continued to feed baby Jalda.

Kundilla’s three married sons and their families were camped to the right of them. Others camped nearby, forming a semicircle. There were about sixty people in the group and for the hunters and fishermen this was the place to be right now. Some had travelled for many days from outlying areas to join this group while the food supply was plentiful here. Kundilla had planned to move soon to the mouth of the river so that he and his family could feast on crayfish, crabs, seals and shellfish. They all looked forward to this annual trip to the coast.

After breakfast, Kundilla sat under the shade of a large eucalypt away from the camp and began checking his spears and fishing traps in preparation for the coastal trip. Behind him the sounds of normal, everyday camp life continued: mothers and grandmothers yelling orders to their offspring, children playing games, some fighting and squabbling, others delightedly splashing and diving in the pool. As he reached for the sharpening stone to hone a spear, an ominous sound reverberated through the forest. The peace and tranquility was shattered by a loud boom. Alarmed and frightened, the women snatched up their babies and toddlers and ran to the men.

What was that? the people asked their leader. Even the flocks of birds were squawking loudly as they sought refuge in the high canopy of the forest.

I don’t know what that noise was or where it came from, Kundilla replied. But we will go down and find out, he assured them. He called all the adult men to him and they gathered by a tea-tree clump.

They’re back. They’ve come to take away our women, he said in a voice filled with passion, anxiety and fear.

Yes, but what can we do to stop them? asked Bunyun, his eldest son. You know what happened the last time they came ashore.

The men nodded as they recalled the incident; it happened to Bunyun’s Uncle Tumi and other members of his family who usually camped further along the beach, near the cove. They were shot by the white raiders when they tried to stop them from kidnapping the women. The family were still mourning their dead.

Kundilla and his family had heard how their brothers and uncles were killed by ruthless white pirates, desperados and escaped convicts. Those cruel and murderous men came ashore and stole Aboriginal women and kept

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What people think about Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence

3.6
31 ratings / 19 Reviews
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  • (4/5)
    The story is a heart-breaking one which keeps the reader riveted to the page. The writing is okay, but not stellar. Tis short and can be read in one sitting. I read the book on the bus from Alice Springs to Coober Pedy.
  • (4/5)
    I picked this book to read as it covers the subject of Aboriginal history that was a requirement of a course I am doing. It was an inspirational read and at times hard to believe that three young girls could have completed this amazing journey. Even though the 'white people' did an unthinkable thing by removing these girls from their families and homes, because they believed it was in their best interest, it was also heartwarming to see that some of the 'white people' helped these girls along their journey, because they didn't believe what the government was doing was right. Great inspirational read.
  • (2/5)
    Beginning at the turn of the 20th century and continuing into the 1970's, the government of Australia determined that children of mixed race, usually with Aboriginal mothers and European fathers, would be better off removed from their mothers and raised in institutional homes where they would be trained for the vocations they were deemed worthy of--usually farmhands for the boys and domestic servants for the girls. Doris Pilkington's aunt and mother were among the children wrenched from their others in the 1930's. Unlike many of the children who were removed from their homes, they escaped, and tried to run away back to their home more than 1000 miles away. To navigate, they used the "rabbit proof fence," which is a fence stretching north to south across most of Australia, constructed to contain the rabbits which had been imported to Australia and had multiplied so successfully that they were a major threat to farmers.Pilkington writes this book, taking a long view, beginning with the history of Australia. Although she had a close relationship with two of the protagonists, who told her their story, she writes of them very distantly. I never felt that I was close to them or their emotions, or experiencing what they were feeling, as I did with the movie. I think this is one of the rare cases where the movie is better than the book.2 stars
  • (4/5)
    This book is very sad. But I think, this makes everyone who read it be moved. Morry was strong and brave. Although their goal was too far to attain, they could! Bonds of family was very very strong.
  • (4/5)
    Themes: freedom, race, civilization, family, traditionSetting: Australia 1931It's a familiar story. The white colonizers decide that for their own good, native children must be taught to be more like their white fathers rather than their Aborigine mothers, so they take the children away from their families, from everyone and everything they've ever known, and lock them up in a school to teach them to read and write. For their own good. The children will be locked into a school with bars on the windows and locks on their doors, given just enough food to keep them alive, and threatened with beating if they try to escape. The government were sure that these half-caste children must be saved from going native.But not everyone is willing to submit. Molly, age 16, and her half siblings, Gracie and Daisy, are taken to the resettlement school from their home. It's their first trip in a car, on a train, and then even on a boat. Molly decides she's not about to stay and she and her sisters set off on their own to get back home.Along the way they meet other aborigines who help them by giving them meat and matches, capture their own food from time to time, and even beg from farmhouses along the way. The white farmers always report them to the police, who are looking for the children, but the girls stay one step ahead. They make it to safety, having traveled 1000 miles on foot.This is a true story, written by the daughter of one of the girls, but it reads more like fiction. It's not really especially well written, but the story itself is amazing, even more so since it is all true. 4 stars
  • (3/5)
    An interesting and inspiring account of survival and determination. I really enjoyed the author's mixing of traditional aboriginal words and English in recounting the story, especially when the the runaways are speaking with each other. One disappointment was that the description of the actual trek starts relatively late in the book. I enjoyed reading R-PF, but I'd have to say that I expected a better read given the power of the subject matter. Still, it sheds some light on an important time in Australian and English history and is certainly worth the time.
  • (4/5)
    Taken from their families to be raised by white Australian settlers as part of a new political policy, Rabbit Proof Fence tells the story of three girls who run away from their new home in a resettlement compound and trace their way back to their families through the Australian outback. This is a touching and very personal account of a period of history which is rarely discussed. I found the description of life within the girls' compound to be particularly revealing.
  • (2/5)
    The story -- three aboriginal girls who escape from a government settlement and make their way home -- is interesting and exciting. Sadly, the writing is poor; the grammar is iffy and Pilkington isn't very good at crafting the story or at working background details into the main narrative.
  • (3/5)
    This is the true story of three bi-racial girls who were taken from their families by the Australian government in 1930 and relocated to an Aboriginal "settlement" half a continent away, and of their daring escape and return to their families.This was not a great book, but it was interesting enough.
  • (3/5)
    A true story and an important story, but unfortunately very poorly written. As narrative non-fiction it just doesn't work. The author tries to stick too closely to the bits and pieces of details remembered by the protagonists after a period of 50+ years without giving thought to the narrative effect and the 'story' for the reader. Factual historical information, while giving authenticity, is inserted in such a clunky way. And we are not given the girl's story and that of the trek until quite late in the book; after an initial lesson from "invasion history 101". The author is Molly's daughter and is clearly too emotionally close to not only the immediate story, but having suffered the same fate herself, also to the whole issue of the stolen generations. Emotive and biased language is used too readily, giving the impression of an obvious political aim (even if not intended); whereas some distance and more balance would actually have served her better in portraying this atrocious policy and truly shameful period in Australia's history.On the other hand, more fictionalisation, better editing and less effort at including historical research verbatim would have made for a more powerful retelling of her mother's amazing story.
  • (3/5)
    This is a quite interesting book that contains a lot of rules about races and details about the race descriminations. For me, i hate descriminations.Wether rich or not, people have their own rights to have what they want and enjoy what others can enjoy. Freedom is still a big problem that didn't solve nowadays. Also, i was impressed by the little girls in the story, they are really brave....
  • (4/5)
    A short and wonderful gem of a book.
  • (4/5)
    This is the true story of how three girls, Molly, Daisy, and Gracie, escaped from a residential school designed to turn half-white Aboriginal children into servants for white families and walked 1600 km back to their home.It's a good story and I enjoyed learning more about Australian history, but I found the writing style sort of hard to get into. It's neither a novel nor a straight historical account, but a mix of both, and that didn't really work for me. There would be bits written in a very fictional tone, including thoughts from characters the author couldn't have known the thoughts of, and then you'd hit a big section with excerpts of historical documents, complete with citations.Still, I enjoyed it (and it helped that it was quite short) and would definitely recommend it.I'm curious to see the movie and see how it compares with the book.
  • (1/5)
    Such a compelling story. So badly written!
  • (3/5)
    For some reason, the white government in Australia decided that half-caste aboriginal children shouldn't be raised by their parents and would be better off living in camps in order to be trained as domestic servants. This is the story of Molly, Gracie and Daisy who escape from captivity and follow the rabbit-proof fence thousands of miles home to their families.I actually liked the movie version of this book better, most probably because in order to make a good movie they had to flesh out the story. This thin volume is a very straightforward retelling of their arduous journey, but it lacks somewhat in the detail department.The story is a little dry, as it is told in a very no nonsense aboriginal manner, without the kind of examination of motivations or background information that western readers are accustomed to having.
  • (5/5)
    An entrancing short auto-biographical account of the Australian west in the early Twentieth Century which educates readers on Indigenous Australia and follows the stories of three young girls desperate to get home.
  • (2/5)
    This is a true and sad story of times past, about a rather shameful era in Australian history. Of course similar stories has been told from all parts over the world were the white man has come to make his demands. This rather short story gives the reader some background, some knowledge of the aboriginal way of living and the story of the three sisters. It was interesting to read it but it never got me hooked. I can understand those writing that they liked the movie better because the book is frankly a bit boring. I felt that the book is nothing more than the retelling of this event, which is a good thing because it needed to be told, but it does?t have the qualities of a good novel.
  • (5/5)
    Praise God. This is an amazing book! It's full of adventure and reality.
  • (3/5)
    When I read the story, I can't believe it was true story. They were only children. If I were them, I couldn't do anything, and think escaping from the place where they were arrested. I learned strength of feeling against their family.