I’m very pleased to have read this one so early in the month because it neatly covers the three reading challenges I’m doing this month: AusReading Month, Nonfiction November and Novellas in November. As well as coming in at around 130 pages and being a true story, most importantly it fits in with my theme of reading books set around social justice and Australia’s Aboriginal peoples. Bill from The Australian Legend kindly sent it to me in January, along with two others of the books pictured here, and I’m very grateful that he’s helped me to access these books on an important part of Britain’s colonial history and wrongdoings.

Doris Pilkington / Nugi Garimara – “Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence”

(13 January 2022, from Bill)

The fence cut through the country from south to north. It was a typical response by the white people to a problems of their own making. Building a fence to keep the rabbits out proved to be a futile attempt by the government of the day. For the three runaways, the fence was a symbol of love, home and security. (p. 109)

What a punch in the guts this book is to read. I had a good idea of the taking of land from Aboriginal peoples by White invaders and of the treatment meted out to the people who had lived on this land for millennia, but I don’t think I was fully aware that, like in Canada, an “Indigenous School” system was used to practise cultural genocide. Here, we learn of the system created to remove mixed-heritage, part-Aboriginal children from their families and “re-educate” them to basically provide labour for the people who stole their land. While the story of Molly, Daisy and Gracie dates from the 1940s, the author of this book, Molly’s daughter, lost her sister to this system a decade or so later, too.

The book is so well-done, with an introduction telling us how the author came to put the information down from her mum and aunt’s narratives and work out time scales for the Western reader while acknowledging the different ways Aboriginal Peoples have recorded time. Then it gives the the context in a couple of chapters which cover things right from when White invaders first came along the western coast of Australia, some more decent than others, none really decent. In fact, the first chapter with the idyllic and simple life of people living in harmony with their land, with its casual use of Indigenous language terms (there is a glossary in this book) reminded me strongly of the first sections of “Roots“. Then we get up to date with the founding of the settlement at Jigalong government depot, the birth of first Molly and then her cousins Daisy and Gracie, each with a White father, and their experiences with their families before being ripped away and shipped down to a school 1,600 km away.

It’s not long before they escape and make their way back home, which forms the majority of the narrative, raised in bush craft and the ability to survive but with the intelligence and resourcefulness to put this into practice. Good people are met along the way, give them food and clothes, then report them to the authorities, sometimes “for their own good,” and they realise they can trust nobody until they get back to their own people. The round-up of what they did next at the end is still stomach-churning – Molly in particular ended up losing one of her daughters in a similar situation once again.

This book was originally published in 1995 and it is horrific that so little is heard about this still (even though a film was made of this story), similarly to the awful Canadian “Indigenous schools”. There was an apology in 2008 and on-going reparations: this Wikipedia article on the Stolen Generations (which I hope is an appropriate link: if someone tells me it isn’t I will of course change it) has quite a lot of detail. Bill’s review of the book also describes the background in more detail and has interesting links and images.

This was Book 1 for AusReading Month, Book 1 for Nonfiction November and Book 1 for Novellas in November.