Rabbit Proof Fence Ties Australian Aboriginal History with “Facing Fences” Exhibit

On March 2 the SGA Programs Board Lecture Committee hosted a showing in the Campus Center’s Cole Cinema of the Australian film Rabbit Proof Fence in conjunction with the “Facing Fences” exhibit that just finished its stay at Montgomery Hall’s Boyden Gallery.

The film, based on a true story, told the tale of the early-to-middle 20th Century in Australia when the Aborigines Act was in place. Considered at the time to be a lesser race than White Australians, children that were of mixed races, which were labeled as either half-caste or quarter-caste, were taken from their homes and taught to live like White Australians.

These children came to be known as part of the Stolen Generation in Australia. At the time Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, who are the indigenous people of Australia and the Torres Strait, were considered to be of a much lower class to all whites because of their skin colors.

Rabbit Proof Fence, which premiered in 2002, has been able to enlighten much of the rest of the world on just some of the extreme injustices done to many of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the past.

This particular story followed three little girls (Molly, Grace, and Daisy) as they were ripped from their mothers’ arms and were taken to the Moore River Native Settlement. There they lived with others of mixed races, ranging from infants to preteens, and were told to forget everything about their own languages and cultures.

Instead they were made to learn better English, practice Christianity, study English songs, and adopt the cultural practices of White Australians. If they disobeyed, they were tortured with solitary confinement within a wooden shelter placed outside.

Upset at being so far from their mothers and own cultures, the young girls embarked on a 1200-mile journey to find their way home to the Jigalong country where their community lived. In order to find their way back, they were able to follow the extensive “rabbit proof fence” that had been constructed across Australia in order to keep agricultural pests out of parts of Western Australia.

This film, therefore, complimented the traveling exhibit of “Facing Fences” by showing a way in which fences can work with or against people and nature. “Fences are supposed to keep civilization on one side and wilderness over here,” said Professor of English Robin Bates. “That is the irony of the fence, though. The children use the very fence as their ally, as though nature has found a way to use the very barriers of civilization.”

The boundaries and fences in the film not only are the physical ones that kept out the rabbits, but also are the social ones that separated those of white skin from those of all other skin colors.

“We chose the films because it seemed pertinent,” said senior Lawrence MacCurtain, the Student Government Association Programs Board Lectures Chair. “In my mind the film personifies the themes of the ‘Facing Fences’ exhibit, namely, the role of boundaries or border, be they imaginary or tangible, in shaping communities.”

Though only viewed by around thirty students within Cole Cinema, all those that came out to watch the film appeared to become greatly involved in the story that was revealed on the screen.

While some students claimed to not even know what Rabbit Proof Fence was about when they arrived to the theater, they soon became enthralled with the journey that the girls took and steadily grew irate with the character of Mr. Neville, who was in charge of keeping the girls at the Moore River Native Settlement. Many gasps of anger were emitted, along with hushed curses at the persistent Mr. Neville.

“It isn’t that Australians are bad,” stated Executive Director of Historic St. Mary’s City Regina Faden. “We all have fences. The entire exhibit is thinking about in your [own] community what separates us.”

 

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