Rabbit-Proof Fence exposes the Australian government’s cruel practice of kidnapping aboriginal children and putting them in re-education camps where they were trained to be servants for rich white people.
It would be easy to attribute the story’s shock value to dramatic license, but the actual history is what is shocking.
European-Australians believed that the aborigines were subhuman, and that the race was doomed to die out. However, children that were half-white could be saved. “Half-caste” children were taken from their aboriginal families, by force if necessary. They were raised as servants or otherwise given a trade. The program also encouraged these half-castes to marry white people, in order to breed out the black blood.
The relocation of half-caste children began in 1905. In these early years, the camps to which the children were brought were little more than prisons. In later years, the camps looked a little more like schools.
Most shocking is the fact that the practice continued until 1971.
Three for the Road
PG for Emotional thematic material
The film uses the real-life story of three girls — Molly (Everlyn Sampi), Gracie (Laura Monaghan), and Daisy (Tianna Sansbury) — who escaped a camp in 1931. Outside the camp, the girls meet a series of people, friendly and otherwise. They meet aboriginal hunters, remote ranchers and “Crocodile Dundee” types.
Following the rabbit-proof fence, a continent-wide fence erected to keep non-native rabbits from spreading, they are pulled homeward by their own longing for family. They are pushed by fear of an aboriginal tracker (David Gulpilil), employed by the camp. Rabbit-Proof Fence shows how the girls walked on stones and crossed their own tracks to foil the him. Meanwhile, the director of the program Mr. Neville (Kenneth Branagh, putting a human face to the inhumane policy) follows the girls’ progress on maps in his office.
The book on which the movie is based was written by Doris Pilkington Garimara, herself a member of the “lost generations,” and the daughter of one of the two escapees who were not recaptured. There is a delicious irony in naming her story after a fence meant to protect native fauna and flora from European imports.
... And the Movie?
Audiences will be predisposed to be moved by Rabbit-Proof Fence. The execution of the film is almost irrelevant to the emotion.
Director Philip Noyce errs on the side objectivity. I expected to be moved to tears, but Noyce focuses so wholeheartedly on his characters and their story, that he leaves himself no room for sentimentality.
While I’m grateful the movie wasn’t overly emotional, I found Noyce’s approach to be too straightforward and businesslike. Noyce never takes the opportunity to punch viewers in the gut with the magnitude of the injustice.
Also, the episodic nature of the film lets the middle part of the story become repetitive. After seeing two different hunters help the girls, I wondered how many more I’d need to see before Noyce thought I’d get the point.
Nevertheless, because of its incredible and moving source material, Rabbit Proof Fence is bulletproof drama.