Truth, reality and a tale of the Colonial Pied Piper.
Small feet were pattering, wooden shoes clattering,
Little hands clapping and little tongues chattering,
And, like fowls in a farm-yard when barley is scattering,
Out came the children running.1
While the law may not concern itself with trifles, it does however, concern itself greatly with the past. The legal system operates on the principle of stare decisis and in so doing, attempts to harmonize the present with the past.2 Indeed, ‘the law is explicitly backward looking in its style and method.’3 Doris Pilkington, in Along the Rabbit-Proof Fence4 and Phil Noyce’s cinematic adaptation,5 depict past suffering and arguable breaches of Australian law including, inter alia, false imprisonment, misfeasance of public office and breach of fiduciary and statutory duties. Firstly, this essay seeks to examine how the literary and visual representations of this text differ in their exploration of past suffering and secondly, assess how effective the law is at judging the big picture of history. I will deconstruct and analyse aspects of both Pilkington’s and Noyce’s works, explore the context of the relevant historical period, examine relevant case law and conclude with an exploration of possible evidentiary hurdles in Indigenous ‘Stolen Generation’ claims.
Pilkington undertook a tremendous amount of research for Along the Rabbit-Proof Fence, which is readily apparent in the precise and factual manner of the text. Occasional stylistic flaws belie the fact that Pilkington is not a professional writer; ultimately however, her in-depth and intimate knowledge of the events enabled her nonetheless to vividly reconstruct the girls’ removal and escape both from their perspective and the viewpoint of the authorities.6 The use of archival material for example, is utilised by Pilkington to reveal contradictions between the official record and reality. For example, an article that appeared in The West Australian in 1931 depicts the girls as timid and scared with a police inspector reporting that he ‘fear[ed] for their safety’7 and the Western Australia Protector suggesting he was ‘…very anxious that no harm may come to them in the bush’.8 Pilkington exposes such assertions as fictitious by describing the girls' constant vigilance and stealth on their long trek and their awareness that at every stage 'they were not safe from the authorities'.9 In many ways, Pilkington thus critiques the official version of history and challenges the legal authority of those in power. Unfortunately, Phil Noyce’s film which purports to be an adaptation of Pilkington’s text is not quit as erudite. From the outset, Noyce deemed it fit to attribute the following speech to A.O. Neville:
As you know, every Aborigine born in this state comes under my control. [shows slide of Aboriginal mother and child.] Notice, if you will, the half-caste child, and there are ever increasing numbers of them. Now, what is to happen to them? Are we to allow the creation of an unwanted third race? Should the coloureds be encouraged to go back to the black or should they be advanced to white status and be absorbed in the white population? Now, time and again I’m asked by some white man, ‘If I marry this coloured person will our children be black?’, and as Chief Protector of Aborigines it is my responsibility to accept or reject those marriages. [Shows slide with portrait of three family members.] Here is daughter, octoroon grandson. Now, as you can see in the third generation, or third cross, no trace of native origin is apparent. The continuing infiltration of white blood finally stamps out the black colour. The aboriginal has simply been bred out.10
The inclusion of the above speech is problematic for a number of reasons. It was composed for the movie by Christine Olsen, the scriptwriter and introduces the concept of ‘breeding out the colour’ and a…