Directed by Philip Noyce
Written by Christine Olsen from a book by Doris Pilkingon
Starring Everlyn Sampi, Tianna Sansbury, Laura Monaghan, Kenneth Branagh, David Gulpilil
Western treatment of native cultures was never a high point of humanity. Sometimes, it was naked cruelty and genocide, but at other times, purely good intentions were disasterous. Rabbit Proof Fence is the story of the latter.
It’s set in Australia in 1931. The Australian government has embarked on a policy of “helping” children born to one aboriginal and one white parent. This policy is carried out by the Protector of Aborigines, A. O. Neville (Kenneth Branagh). He learns of three girls, Molly (Everlyn Sampi), Daisy (Tianna Sansbury) and Gracie Fields (Laura Monaghan) who are “half-caste,” and signs an order removing them from their home and put into a school.
They don’t go easily, but end up 1500 miles away at the Moore River Native Settlement. The three girls hate it and decide to run away. When they find the rabbit-proof fence, they realize that this can be their way home.*
The film follows their journey as the girls walk across the outback, scavenging and avoiding the tracker Moodoo (David Gulpilil), an agent of Neville, who quickly realizes their plan and tries to recapture them – for their own good, of course.
Branagh was wonderful, portraying a man who was certain he was doing good, but who only did evil. It was a clever and nuanced performance. The actresses playing the three girls were also impressive, carrying the movie.
It’s a movie that’s not quite a triumph, but not quite a tragedy, and it shines a light on a shameful part of human history.
*A little background. Rabbits were imported to Australia as food animals when the colony was established. They weren’t a problem until someone released them into the wild for hunting arond 1859. They bred like . .. rabbits and ten years later were a massive pest. When shooting barely dented the population, various rabbit-proof fences were set up, though they only slowed the flood a bit.