RABBIT-PROOF FENCE 2002
Rabbit-Proof Fence is a 2002 Australian drama film directed by Phillip Noyce based on the book Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington Garimara. The film represents the true picture of Australian Government’s policy in 1931 which announced that all mixed-raced Aborigine children should be taken from their homes and detained in custom-made camps with the aim of assimilating them to white society. It is the journey of three Aboriginal girls – Molly, Gracie, and Daisy – who ran away from the Moore River Native Settlement in Perth and walked for nine weeks along 1,500 miles Australian rabbit-proof fence to return to their “mother” in Jigalong, while being tracked by the White authority and an Aboriginal tracer.
The film is grounded on the historical issue so-called the ‘Stolen Generation’. Though it carries a political sense, the feminist theme creates a mild touch, and is gently absorbed by the audience. The movie, therefore, serves a heartwarming, emotional story to enjoy, and also stands as an important social document in Australian history.
The notion of ‘nationalism’ is depicted noticeably all over the movie’s storyline. Nationalism helps to make a country independent of foreign domination (Jacka 1993, p.111). Thus, the film is differentiated itself from the trend of Americanization which has been dominating domestic box offices. Two major national stories are illustrated through the girls’ journey. Firstly, it is the contrary in perspectives between two societies – the ‘White’ and the ‘Colour’ people. As stated by the Chief Protector of the Aborigine Populace, Mr. Neville (Kenneth Branagh) that “in spite of himself, the native must be helped”, Australian Government perceived its policy as generous and in-need for the natives. However, the Aboriginal took this on opposite view. It is inhuman and cruel as Molly affirmed “make me sick … these people”. She looks at the White people as scary as ‘monsters’. This can be felt by the audience through her ‘hard-breathing’ sound when walking towards Mr. Neville, or her numb-face expressions every time confronting with any White persons. Questions that are being raised throughout the film include ‘what is the authority for one to decide what other people should be?’, and ‘to what extent one can judge whether others are in-need of our helps? ’. The running, screaming, crying scenes all illustrate the Aboriginal’s anger for the Government’s interference in their lives which is always masked with kind purposes. The movie stirs again the debate over the claims of the ‘Stolen Generation’ by successfully contrasting different views on the Government’s civilization policy in the 1930s.
Secondly, it is the confusion lies in the definition of the word ‘country’. The Federation in 1901 has reunited Australia as one country. However, the Aboriginal girls only see ‘Jigalong’ as their country. This is proven by the narrations at the end “Daisy and me, we’re here, living in our Country … Jigalong”. Although they are still living in same country, they do not feel it as ‘home’ because they are allowed to speak in their mother language which should be freely used in a ‘home’ country. This represents a true situation for Aboriginals in the Stolen Generation. They have suffered from destruction of identity, family life and culture. They were struggling on the way to find back their ‘origins’. But this is a half-chance journey. Some may succeed as Molly and Daisy; some may end up like Gracey and never return to their ‘home’ country. This journey does not only require physical strength but also an eternal flame of hope. We never see defeat in Molly’s eyes. The character makes us believe that she is the one who can bring the unexpected into expectable.
The movie success grants in its uniquely Australian representation. Those unique Australian features are not only represented through the issues raised as outlined above, but also through the music, the wildlife theme. There is a great combination in the wayRabbit-Proof Fence was put together. According to Davis’s comment in the article ‘Working Together: Two Cultures, One Film, Many Canoes’, language is one of many important aspects to inspire the movie’s form and meaning (2006, p.4). An adaptation of Aboriginal melodies and narration is haunting and effective to identify its ‘Australian-ness’. The camerawork allows the beauty of the Australian outback to create an impression of how glorious the countryside is. The endless desert scenes show the beautiful landscapes of Australia. These elements together promote the Australia’s national identity throughout the movie.
Unfortunately, there are also three major criticisms of the film. It only briefly touches on the hardships they encounter while attempting to make it through the harsher areas of desert. The audience is left with uncertainty that how Molly and Daisy can return to Jigalong after waking up in the middle of the dessert where there is no clue of directions, except her imagination of the fence. The Aboriginal “Tracker” character also plays too little connections with the main theme excepting tracing the three girls through the Outback. His family situation is left hanging with unfolded story that his child is also captured in the camp. Furthermore, the movie is felt unfinished as it does not describe the horrifying cruelty underlying the Stolen Generation. The audience does not understand why the girls have to escape from the camp as it seems to be a nice place with nice people.
Overall, the movie is worth to view. It is an exciting journey exploring the heart and soul. This is ‘a big film about one of Australia’s biggest secrets’ as stated by Meegan Spencer. Rabbit-Proof Fence would be proudly called a successful Australian movie in 2002.
Elizabeth Jacka (1993) ‘Australian Cinema: An anachronism in the 1980s?’ in Nation, Culture, Text: Australian Culture and Media Studies, Graeme Turner (ed.) Routledge 106 – 122
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Therese Davis (2006) ‘Working together: Two cultures, One Film, Many Canoes’ in Senses of Cinema, Vol. 41