A fourteen year-old Aborigine girl escapes with her sister and cousin from a 1930s Australian government camp intended to forcibly assimilate them into White society. [Dir: Phillip Noyce/ Everlyn Sampi, Tianna Sansbury, Laura Monaghan/ 94min/ Adventure-Drama/ Government as Bigot]
One of the things that so often makes government cruel is physical distance. The people who create law and the bureaucrats who interpret it are in a faraway place, well-defended against troublesome protest and remote enough not to see and feel its full effects. That’s the only way to understand the enforcement portrayed here of the “Aborigines Act,” a law designed with the happy intention of “salvaging” half-caste girls from Aboriginal life and integrating them to the degree possible into the modern world. So far away, the bureaucrats issuing the orders likely did not see such girls being ripped from their weeping mother’s arms, or hear the unending wail of a parent’s loss, or see the huddled, terrified girls carried away by train. But we see all that here, in this heart-rending telling of the true story of Molly Craig, a half-caste 14 year-old so kidnapped in 1931, along with her sister and cousin.
Transported 1,500 miles to a government camp, these young girls were told to forget their mother, their language, their home. But Molly would not forget. Nor would she submit. And she had one slender hope–that the “rabbit-proof fence” she observed to parallel their long journey would lead her back. So, in a rare unobserved moment, she gathered her sister and cousin and together they bolted for freedom. All that happens in the opening of this film; the rest of it relates their amazing nine week trek across desolate Australian wilderness and desert.
Along the way, they experience unending hardship and deprivation and are constantly hunted by the authorities, in some cases barely escaping capture. But they are also aided by kind people, who sympathize with their plight and admire their heroism. There is obvious tragedy in this story, but there is also triumph–despite repeated attempts by authorities, the indomitable Molly Craig (who, now 86, appears briefly at the end) was never forcibly assimilated and escaped government captors more than once.
This touching and inspirational story is told with warmth and attention to detail. The child actresses who play the kidnapped girls are not professionals but untrained Aboriginal children. The use of local nature sounds and Aboriginal music also add much to the sense of realism. In less skilled hands, this epic story might have been trivialized into a two-dimensional Hollywood style racially-focused melodrama, but instead this has the feel of history, told from the perspective of a heroic and independent young girl who overcame the injustice of her times. This film swept the Australian Film Institute Awards and has been nominated for more than nineteen well-deserved awards worldwide.
It might be added, just to be fair to Australian history–no country on Earth is without its own story (told or untold) of domination of some less advanced peoples. It is indeed a point of merit that so much self-criticism has been made by Australians over this comparatively mild past. Many countries have done far worse.
External Reviews of Rabbit-Proof Fence
“…a breathtaking story of defiance and triumph that has to be considered one of the year’s most sublime films.”
…”a tense, clear-eyed, poetic movie, built on low-key performances, genuine suspense, handsome craft and poker-faced exposition of a galling historical incident. It’s confident enough to resist the urge to sanctify its heroes or demonize its villains, and it’s so lovely and clear that you could watch it simply for the visuals and come near to understanding it.”