Indigenous Author Doris Pilkington was born Nugi Garimara under a Wintamarra tree in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. At four years of age Doris, her mother Molly, and her baby sister were taken against their will to the Moore River Native Settlement in Western Australia. This is where many children of mixed race families were interred in the early 20th Century to be trained as domestic staff and which we now know as the Stolen Generation.
It wasn’t long before Molly escaped the Settlement with her baby, though Doris remained incarcerated until she was twelve years of age at which time she was transferred to a nearby mission. Conditions at the mission were worse though she was given the opportunity to train as a nursing assistant in Perth.
It took 21 years before Doris was reunited with her mother and some time after her Aunt Daisy shared the story of how her mother Molly had previously been a captive of the Settlement as a child and had escaped with her half sister, Daisy, and cousin Grace. These three little aboriginal girls trekked over 1600 klms following the rabit proof fence, a massive pest-exclusion fence which crossed WA from north to south, in order to return home.
Follow The Rabbit Proof Fence, released in 1996, is the true story of Doris’ mother and her Aunties. Three little girls pulled from their families, desperate to return to the only world they knew, walking across rugged outback terrain, often eating off the land and chased down by black trackers. The book includes copies of Government documentation and newspaper clippings from the 1930’s which confirm the story of these three brave children. It’s a confronting, shameful story and one which should be shared.
The film, Rabbit Proof Fence, directed by Hollywood-based Australian, Philip Noyce, was released in 2002 and is based on the book. Both the book and movie are worth while visiting – just ensure there is a box of Kleenex handy.
Interestingly, after having raised her family, Pilkington completed secondary education, going on to complete a Degree in Journalism. She was awarded the Member of the Order of Australia in 2006 for her services to the arts in the area of Indigenous literature, particularly through the genre of life-storytelling to raise awareness of Indigenous history, culture and social conditions.
Rabbits were an introduced species and were both devastating and destructive. The Australian Government decided to build a barrier fence from a point on the south coast through to a location on the north coast which became known as the No.1 Rabbit-Proof Fence. Completed in 1907, the Rabbit-Proof Fence was the longest unbroken line of fence in the world. Today, long sections of the original fence are still maintained as a barrier against wild animals, particularly the Emu.
Screenwriter Christine Olsen felt that the fence was very symbolic in that “the fence is always such an amazing symbol for the Europeans’ attempt to tame the land: to draw a line in it to keep out rabbits, the pests they had introduced. It is such a magnificent symbol for a lot of what’s happened to Australia.”
Rachael Maza , drama coach, said the three central young Aboriginal (untrained) actresses had an innate understanding of the story. “That’s one thing I don’t have to teach them. I don’t think there’s an Aboriginal in this country who doesn’t understand this story, if not them personally, their parents or their very immediate family. It’s something we all share.”