Review: Rabbit proof fence

THE FILM Rabbit Proof Fence is based on the true story of three girls’ trek across 1,500 miles of Australian outback in 1931. However, the film is not just the story of an incredible feat of human endurance across inhospitable terrain.

It is also a damning condemnation of the racist policy of the ’integration’ of mixed-race children that was pursued by the Australian state for 40 years, right up until the 1970s.

This policy decreed that "all ’half-caste’ children should be taken from their land and kin to be ’made white’". The state held that the forced indoctrination of white, Christian values and breeding with white people over several generations could effectively erase the mixed-race population.

As a result a whole generation of children were separated from their families and homes and taken to live in inhuman official camps.

The three girls at the centre of the film, Rosie, Gracie and Daisy are three half-aboriginal girls who are separated from their family and ancestral land, Jigalong, by the authorities and sent to live in an camp 1,500 miles from home.

Once there, they decide to escape the brutal regime of the camp, with its compulsory lessons in Christianity, unpaid labour and ban on speaking their aboriginal language.

The film derives its name from the world’s longest fence, built across Australia to control the alien rabbit population. The girls used it to guide themselves home.

The majority of the film follows the girls on their long trek home and their close pursuit by the police and an aboriginal tracker, with Kenneth Branagh as the government’s repugnant Chief Protector of Aborigines following their progress from his office.

The stunning scenes of the girls’ journey across the outback add another dimension to this film and bring home both the stark beauty of the terrain and the inhospitable nature of the Australian environment.

Apparently, Rabbit Proof Fence generated some controversy in Australia. This is no doubt because it is an effective exposé of an episode in the country’s past that many in the Australian ruling class would like to forget and some, apparently deny outright.

Rabbit Proof Fence does not attempt to explain the underlying reasons for racism. But it is a powerful and moving story about the human consequences of a racist state policy, all the more powerful for being true; it is based on a book written by the daughter of Molly, the elder of the three girls. This is definitely a film socialists should see.

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November 2002