Film Synopsis
Rabbit-Proof Fence is based on the autobiographical book Follow the Rabbit–Proof Fence, by Aboriginal Australian author Doris Garimara. The Aborigines Act of 1905 made all young Australian Aborigines wards of the state. In this film, we follow the journey of twelve-year-old Molly Craig, Molly’s sister, eight-year-old Daisy Kadibil, and their cousin Gracie Fields, who in 1913 were forcibly removed from Jigalong, their community in the north of Western Australia.
Under the watchful eye of Mr A. O. Neville, Chief ‘Protector’ of Aborigines and dubbed by the Aborigines as ‘Mr Devil’; Molly, Daisy and Gracie are taken to Moore River Native Settlement. The settlement is intended to prepare the girls to join a white, mainly British population, where it is hoped their indigenous genes will be ‘bred out’.
Not prepared to settle for this new life, Molly takes the lead and together the girls escape from the settlement. To make it back to their mothers and friends in Jigalong they face 1800 kilometres on foot, the harsh conditions of the Australian dessert, and the differing residents of the Australian outback.

The Filmmaker

Philip Noyce was born in the Australian outback, New South Wales.

When Philip turned twelve he and his family moved to Sydney, where he was introduced to budget, or ‘underground’, film-making. He was eighteen when he hired his friends to star in a fifteen-minute film entitled ‘Better to Reign in Hell’.

First projects included the documentary Castor & Pollux, which won an award for best Australian short film of 1974, and the movie Backroads (1977) which starred Australian Aboriginal activist Gary Foley.

Noyce's other film credits include the political thrillers The Quiet American, Patriot Games and Clear And Present Danger starring Harrison Ford; Dead Calm starring Nicole Kidman, Sam Neill and Billy Zane and The Bone Collector which starred Oscar winner Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie.

Rabbit Proof Fence is based on the true story of three Aboriginal girls abducted from their families by Australian authorities in 1931 as part of an official government policy. The film won Best Picture at the Australian Film Awards, and together with Quiet American garnered Noyce numerous best director awards including National Board of Review in the US and UK's London Film Critics Circle.


Pre-viewing

Search the internet for facts about the Australian Aborigines represented in Rabbit-Proof Fence. To start, use the following phrases as ‘key words’ for your search, then follow the links to find the information you need:



aborigines + stolen generations 1905
removal of indigenous children in Australia
Rabbit-Proof fence + facts


human rights + aboriginal
social justice + aboriginal
indigenous issues

Table your notes with a ‘fact/opinion/interesting’ chart:

Fact
Opinion
Interesting

Discuss your reactions to the research results.
  • How disturbing or appalling are these facts or statistics?
  • Though you may feel removed from the situation, how do you imagine the indigenous peoples must have felt?
  • View the DVD cover, read the synopsis, and the paragraph about the director.
Who is the director most likely to have sympathy with, and how can you tell?


WATCH THE FILM

Post Viewing

1 The most exciting scenes in the film are …

2 The most disturbing scenes in the film are …

3 The most important scenes in the film are …

4 After viewing ‘Rabbit-Proof Fence’ more than once complete a K W L chart like the one below:

What I Know …
What I still Want to know …
What I have Learnt …
(Facts)
  • The film is set in Australia
(Questions)
  • Why did Gracie…?
(Analysis)
· That some people fail to understand

MAP IT UP

  • Draw the following map in your book, or print a similar map from the web.

  • Locate the major points of action as they happen along the rabbit-proof fence.


Idea: note the place with a number and create a key off the side of the map.





CHARACTERS 1





  • Design a character web to show the connections between characters. Note on the lines the details of the connections that exist.








APOLOGY TO THE ABORIGINAL PEOPLE

Watch the news footage of Kevin Rudd’s apology.



THEMES / KEY IDEAS

  • What key ideas are shown by each of the following quotes?

Begin each statement with…

The key idea shown by QUOTE _ is that…

QUOTE 1 “Just because they use Neolithic tools doesn’t mean they have Neolithic minds”

QUOTE 2 “You can tell Mr Devil if he want half-caste kid, he make his own”

QUOTE 3 “If they could only understand what we are trying to do for them”


COMMENTARY

View the film again – this time with the director’s commentary. Make notes about CHARACTER, THEME, CINEMATOGRAPHY.

CINEMATOGRAPHY

1. List all the VISUAL and VERBAL film techniques used in the opening sequence.

What does the opening sequence tell us about the Jigalong community?

Why do you think the director chose to begin the film by showing this community?

How are you positioned as the viewer?

2. Choose a sequence in the film, for example, when the girls are taken from Jigalong. Do the following tasks:

  • Describe the setting
  • What is the tone/atmosphere of this sequence? How is it created?
  • What does sound contribute to this sequence?
  • What is the effect of certain shots and angles in this sequence? Explain what they are and why you think they have been used.
  • How does this sequence contribute to the development of character?
  • How does this sequence contribute to the development of theme?

3. View the closing sequence of the film. What is Noyce’s intention in showing this ‘real’ footage of the adult Molly and Daisy? How effective is it?



SYMBOLS

Very early in the film, we see the symbol of the eagle, Molly’s totem, her spirit bird. Her mother tells her the eagle will look after her. When does the bird appear again in the fi lm and why?


Sketch some key symbols from the film and explain the significance of each.








REVIEW AND RESPONSE

A Find two published reviews of at least 300 words in length. Preferably, one from an Australian source and one from somewhere else. Go through them and in one colour highlight facts, in a different colour highlight the authors’ opinions.

B Put the following elements of this film into your order of importance – explain your choices….
  • The script
  • The direction – what choices the director makes
  • The acting
  • The cinematography
  • The sound effects
  • The music

Give some examples from Rabbit-Proof Fence to support your point of view.

CHARACTER 2 – a deeper look

Answer the following questions about the central characters in the film. Make specific references to the film in your answers…

MOLLY

Molly is not only very determined but also very clever.

• How did Molly, Daisy and Gracie learn what was expected of them at the mission?
• Why would they have been denied the right to speak in their own language?
• What kinds of activities were the children involved in to ‘civilize and Christianize’ them?
• Molly and the girls were well aware of the consequences if they tried to escape and were caught, yet Molly was prepared to take this risk. Why do you think Molly decided she should lead their escape?
• Identify the various strategies that she uses to evade capture and enable the girls to survive and pursue their journey to the end.
• Whenever Molly is asked where she is going, the answer is always the one word: ‘home’. • What does this concept mean to Molly?
• When Molly and Daisy are reunited with Maude and their other family members, Molly is devastated when she tells them, ‘I lost one, I lost one’. What does his tell the viewer about Molly?

GRACIE

• Why do you think Gracie was reluctant to escape? Why might she have changed her mind?
• Why did Gracie want to run off to Wiluna?
• Why do you think she was caught?

RIGGS

• Why do you think Riggs withdraws from the women’s camp at the end?

MAUDE (MOTHER) AND GRANDMOTHER

• Why do you think the grandmother would have hit herself with the stone?
• How does the film depict the anguish of the adults when the girls are taken? Consider the acting, the setting, the sound effects and the use of symbolism.

MR NEVILLE - the Chief Protector of Aborigines

• What were his policies and official duties?
• Why was he implementing a policy of removal of ‘half caste children’?
• Why would some people today say that Neville’s policies were racist?
• Why would Mr Neville have been so keen to keep news of the escape out of the paper?
• Outline Neville’s attitude towards the girls. Does it change over the course of the film? Give some examples of words and actions that indicate this change.
• Mr Neville uses many words and phrases to justify taking the girls away. ‘unwanted third race’; ‘advance to white status’; ‘in spite of himself, the native must be helped’; they are our ‘special responsibility’
How would you judge Neville? Can he be seen as a product of his society and its values, or are the decisions he made universally wrong?

MOODOO - the Tracker

• Consider the role of Moodoo, the Aboriginal tracker. Do you think Moodoo gives up on searching for the girls? Do you think that he could have found the girls if he really wanted to?
• What reason may he have had for not wanting to find them?

MAVIS

The girls stumble across a remote farm where they meet Mavis, another Stolen Generations Aboriginal girl who is working as a domestic helper.

• What evidence is there to suggest that life is very difficult for Mavis?
• Why was she so keen for the girls to shelter with her for the night?
• Why did Mavis think that her boss would not report the girls?
• Why do you think that Mavis rejects the option of running away?

POST SCRIPT

The film tells us what happened to the girls:

Gracie was transported back to Moore River settlement after her capture. Later she was sent out as domestic help on farms in the wheatbelt, and to institutions in the city. She married and had six children. She never returned to Jigalong and died in 1983. Daisy moved to the Jimalbar goldfields, then to a camp along the rabbit-proof fence south of Jigalong. She married and had four children. Later she lived and worked on a mission. Daisy now lives with her family at Jigalong. Molly was trained and employed as a domestic help on Balfour Downs station where she met and married Toby Kelly, a stockman. She had two daughters, Doris and Annabelle. In 1940, she was again transported to Moore River, and was denied permission to return to Balfour Downs. In January 1942, she again escaped, leaving Doris behind, but took her eighteen month old daughter on the same route she had taken nine years earlier. Three years later, Annabelle was taken from her, and Molly never saw her again. Molly and Toby worked on stations until their retirement in 1972. Molly now lives quietly at Jigalong, where she is actively involved in community affairs.