“To fight darkness is to fight yourself” – Rick Sanchez from Rick and Morty
In Rabbit-proof Fence Pilkington explores a variety of topics, but the theme that weighed on me the most was the personalization of one of the darkest chapters in Australian history: The Stolen Generation. To give a brief over of what I have learned about this topic in my Australian Experience class, we have to start with what the ‘Stolen Generation’ is. In Broad strokes this title is referring to a generation of Caucasian and Aboriginal mixed race people, who were abducted during their childhood in order to be placed in camps or fully white households in order to ensure that they are raised according to British norms and not Aboriginal norms. Pilkington describes the scene as “Patrol officers [traveling] far and wide removing part-Aboriginal children from their families and [transporting] them hundreds of kilometers down south” (Pilkington, 40). This created an environment of fear with “every mother of a part-Aboriginal child [being] aware that their offspring could be taken away from them at anytime and they were powerless to stop the abductors” (40). I learned in my class that this type of activity had been going on for over 60 years from approximately the beginning of the 20th century until the mid 1960s. This national attempt at cultural eugenics was not a stand alone policy, but was part of a larger discriminatory scheme discretely called the “White Australia Policy”, which as the name suggests was the overarching name of a combination of legislative policies aimed at making Australia as white as possible. However, the ‘White Australia Policy’ is a topic for another time.
What made this book worth reading is Pilkington’s ability to take the topic above and tell the true story of three young girls in a way that made the whole storyline and the topic almost personal to me. The things that hit me the hardest were the smaller details, which played the double role of adding detail and also deeper level implications. An example of this is when she describes the end of night routine. “After roll call and lights out, Molly listened to the slide of the bolt and the rattle of the padlock, then silence” (Pilkington, 74). On the one hand this sentence gave me enough detail to make it believable and real, while on a deeper level making me instantly think of a prison, which in essence this camp was. It is one thing to read about a topic such as this one, and another to digest it by living vicariously through a well written character.
It is easy to forget about such periods in history, because no one likes to talk about the failures of their past, but acknowledgment is important and books like this, I believe, can make a difference by reminding people that these were real people who suffered at the hands of failed ideologies. While nothing can make up for what has happened during this time period, there is some solace in knowing that the Australian government, unlike a lot of other governments in the world, did officially apologize to Aboriginal people and in particular to the ‘Stolen Generation’ in 2008 for their past mistakes.
Pilkington, Doris. Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence. University of Queensland Press, 2013.