‘Physical journeys extend and challenge the traveller.’ In what ways have the travellers in “Rabbit Proof Fence” been challenged by the nature of their journey?
The film the Rabbit Proof Fence, by Philip Noice, is the story of three indigenous Australian girls Molly, Gracie and Daisy, who were forcibly taken from their home in Jigalong in 1931. Under the mandate of the Aborigines Protection Act, the young girls were sent to the Moore river settlement, where their aboriginality was to “simply, be bred out”. As the central characters embark on a physical journey they undergo an “awakening”. Initially, in the trauma of being torn from everything and everyone they know, the girls receive a first hand education in the sometimes unfeeling cruelty and arrogance of European colonialism. The second half of the story celebrates the strength of the three girls who determine to escape their captors and journey back to the security of who they are and where they want to be. In the process of returning, the girls survive by drawing on their strong sense of family, their connection to the land and the confidence they have in their aboriginal identity.
In the scene when the children are “stolen” by the white authorities and taken away from their home, the audience is struck by the violence and the emotional trauma experienced by Molly and her family. A car sweeps into the settlement stirring up the land and the dust, the women run screaming and the peace portrayed in previous scenes, where the girls play and learnt on the land with their elders, is disrupted. When the policeman Riggs grabs the girls, the camera is positioned higher than the victims to emphasize the power of the authorities and the powerlessness of the aborigines. Screaming and a fast drum beat dominate the sound track and the viewer is drawn into the fear and anguish of the characters. Just how deeply this separation from family, land and culture impacts the girls is further developed in the scenes when the girls are housed on the mission. The displacement of the girls is felt as the girls arrive at Moore River, filmed at dusk in dim light, the “White” of the buildings and authorities uniforms are stark in contrast and the eerie music of the sound track gives a sense of foreboding. The camera then takes the audience on a tour of mission life through Mollie’s eyes. We see Molly and her sister trying to understand and come to terms with living in alien buildings, eating unusual tasting foods, singing foreign songs and talking in another language. The audience feels how Molly and her sister have no sense of belonging in this place.
The viewer with the children struggle to understand how this “uprooting” has been allowed to happen. The white colonial perspective that birthed the “Aborigine Protection Act,” is presented through the character of A.O. Neville a suit wearing, city official who speaks in a formal British accent. As the scene where the aboriginal women are left wailing for their lost babies closes, their is a voiceover from Neville’s presentation to a white woman’s charity stating “ as you know, every aborigine born in this state comes under my control.” A group of white people are then shown to be comfortable and self-congratulatory in their efforts to “bread out aboriginality” and allow half-caste children to be “advanced to white status.” Neville’s calm unemotional manner, as the camera looks up to him capturing his sense of power, captures his oblivion to the horror he is inflicting on the Aboriginal families.
The social experiment carried out by Neville that aimed to “help the native, in spite of himself, ” objectified Molly, Gracie, Daisy and the children of the “stolen generation”. On the journey to Moore River, where Molly and her sisters are viewed from outside the bars of the train cage and then again through the slats of the truck by the matron, demonstrated how many white people viewed the…