My first book documenting the Stolen Generation, Rabbit Proof Fence chronicles the true story of three Aborigine girls escaping capture and returning to their home despite travelling across a huge expanse of the Australian outback. A short book, this 130 page story runs through the events so quickly that I was finished in one sitting and can seem a little detached at times. This fact is very surprising when you consider that Doris Pilkington is the daughter of one of the young girls who escaped, thus having a very personal claim to this story, but it’s clear that she wants to account for the tremendous escape her mother managed as a historical fact. To back this up, Pilkington quotes and includes images of official documents at the time that demonstrate how casually her mother, aunt and cousin were all taken simply because they were of mixed race.
The inherent story of Rabbit Proof Fence is hard to grasp. We learn early on that these girls (ranging from the ages of 15 to 8) had been lucky enough to learn about their native culture in so much that they knew how to survive in the bush. That said, the 1800 miles that they travelled on foot to get home – a journey which took them nine weeks to complete – truly speaks of a commitment and natural awareness that few other youngsters could claim to. Do you think even the most proficient Boy Scout could survive a comparable journey? As well as speaking of the horrors of the Stolen Generation, Rabbit Proof Fence also shows how honed the Aboriginal culture is for survival, certainly anything but inferior to the Westerners attempting to capture them.
A problem I had with Rabbit proof fence was the strictly historical account and the briefness of the story. Pilkington does not dwell and described the first month of the journey in surprisingly few pages. This is made all the more stark when you discover that her mother was taken again and that Pilkington herself was relocated to the same place as her mother. Thankfully, she has written a book to account for her own experiences in a book titled ‘Under the Wintamarra Tree’, the third in a trilogy of stories that document three generations of her family. Whilst I feel that Pilkington does the right thing by presenting this book entirely as historical, referencing dates and events rather than emotions and personal experience, I do feel this book is less enjoyable because of it.
Rabbit Proof Fence was turned into a critically acclaimed film in 2002, which is watched by English students as part of their course. This encourages me that more people will be made aware of this terrible blot on history, and the suffering that an entire generation of mothers and children had to endure.
Note: This review was originally posted on my other blog Reading Down Under, which looks at Australian fiction and has fostered my interest in Aborigine literature.