Borders (4) – Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence

This is the fourth activity of a thematic unit on borders. 

Students have to read and analyse the introduction to Doris Pilkington Garimara’s book entitled Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence. The book was then adapted as a film, and a documentary (see Borders (5)) was then made on the shooting of the film. Givingthe students the chronology of events will help them understand how the different cultural productions relate to each other.

Chronology:

1907: construction of the rabbit-proof fence across Australia to limit the propagation of rabbits in the Eastern part of the country 

1920s: Molly, Daisy and Gracie were born in an Aboriginal community. 

1930s: the three girls were kidnapped by White officials and placed in a settlement, as other children from the Stolen Generations. They escape and go home following the rabbit-proof fence. 

1937: Doris Pilkington Garimara was born to Molly

1996: Doris Pilkington Garimara published Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence, in which she recounts the story of her mother and her sisters

2002: Philip Noyce adapts the book into a film, entitled Rabbit-Proof Fence

2002: A documentary about the shooting of Noyce’s film is shot by Australian television. The documentary is entitled Following the Rabbit-Proof Fence.

2014: Death of Doris Pilkington Garimara.

 



Book introduction – Doris Pilkington Garimara, Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence, 1996.

Instructions: Read this text and answer the corresponding questions (see below).

The trek back home to Jigalong, in the north-west of Western Australia, from the Moore River Native Settlement, just north of Perth, was not only a historical event, it was also one of the most incredible feats imaginable, undertaken by three Aboriginal girls in the 1930s.

The two surviving members of the trio, my mother and her sister Daisy, are now in their late sixties and seventies and are anxious for the story to be published before they die. They refer to their sister Grace in the interviews simply as “the sister who lose ‘em in Geraldton” or “your Aunty”. This is the custom in traditional Aboriginal communities where the name of a person is never mentioned after their death. […]

The task of reconstructing the trek home from the settlement has been both an exhausting and interesting experience. One needed to have a vivid imagination, the patience of many saints and the determination to succeed despite the odds. Molly, Daisy and Gracie were outside familiar territory, so I found it necessary to become a ten-year-old girl again in order to draw on my own childhood memories of the countryside surrounding the settlement. In my mind, I walked the same path and called on my skills as a writer to describe the scenery and how it looked through their eyes. By combining my imagination and the information from records of geographical and botanical explorations undertaken in the era during the early 1900s and later, I was able to build a clearer picture of the vegetation and landscape through which the girls trekked. […]. In my mind I actually walked beside them, from the moment they left the girls’ dormitory at the settlement all the way home to Jigalong.

Age presented no problem for my mother and aunty. Their minds were sharp and they had no difficulty recounting their experiences along the way, however, I realise that consideration must be given to the time lapse since they were young at the time, and to allow for patches of dimmed memories and sketchy reflections. Another fact I completely overlooked until the interviews began was their illiteracy. This, combined with their lack of numeracy skills, made it impossible to establish measurements accurately. Numbers, dates, in fact mathematics of any kind, have little or no relevance in our traditional Aboriginal society. Nature was their social calendar, everything was measured by events and incidents affected by seasonal change. For example, summer is pink-eye time when eye problems brought on by the hear, dust and flies flare up. […] Time was also marked by activities of cultural and ceremonial significance. For example, the people in Jigalong and the Gibson Desert regions use a specific event or incident when telling stories. Their stories, whether they be oral history or anecdotes, do not begin in the same way as Western stories: “I remember clearly it was during the Christmas holidays in 1968 when…”, and so on. Rather the speaker will remind the listeners that, “It was galyu time. Galyu everywhere, all the roads were cut off…” […] So in the communities time is based on practical events, incidents and seasons.

When recounting the long walk home, Aunty Daisy mentioned how they chased emu chicks at the Nannine rallway siding south of Meekatharra. She described how the chicks were stripped in black and white. By combining research and personal observation I was able to establish that the chicks must have been a certain age so it would have been either late August or September.

Seasonal time and not numbers is important in recounting this journey. Consistent with Aboriginal storytelling style, seasonal time and the features of the natural environment are more important to recounting this journey than are the western notions of time and distance. I have though worked to synthesize these different forms of knowledge to give readers the fullest insight into this historic journey.

This journey took place when there were no highways or sealed roads criss-crossing the continent, only gravel road or more often, dirt tracks and trails made by carts, sulkies and light, early model cars. The girls avoided these routes, especially when the rabbit-proof fence came near towns such as Sandstone. Walking along the tracks and trails, the girls knew that they would have been too exposed to the white population and their whereabouts would have been immediately reported to the local police. […] Aware of this the girls aimed to pass by silently and swiftly without being detected and to reach home as fast as they could.

 

Questions

1. Introduce the author using all the information you can deduce from the text.

2. Introduce the people that the book focuses on.

3. How much time has elapsed between the recounted events and the writing of the book?

4. What are “the settlement” and “the girls’ dormitory” (l. 187-188)? Why did the girls have to hide?

5. How did Doris Pilkington proceed to write the book? Describe her material and method.

6. What is “galyu”? In your opinion, why did the author pick this specific example?

7. Why does the author think that “seasonal time” matters more than dates to tell this story?

8. How would you characterise the relationship that the author has with the topic of her book?

9. Which culture(s) would you say that Doris Pilkington belongs to?

10. What is the effect of this introduction on the reader?

11. Explain the title of the book, and compare it with that of the film adaptation, and that of the documentary about the film. Are the differences significant?

12. Can we say that these girls have become a symbol of something? If yes, of what?

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s