Turning Fences into Freedom

In The Art of Travel, 6. First Book, Sydney by Brennan1 Comment

Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence, a novel by Doris Pilkington Garimara, is an extremely important story to read for anyone attempting to understand Australian history, culture, and identity. Based on true events, the book highlights the colonial oppression that permeated Australia in the 1900s, specifically detailing the case of a mixed-race girl named Molly––a child of the Stolen Generation.

Although Aboriginal and white settlers had always been at odds, life was especially different for children of mixed race. Molly, whose father was a white man who abandoned her Aboriginal mother, was left excluded and ridiculed by both demographics. What was already a miserable situation for Molly became worse when the government implemented segregationist policies that separated children who were mixed race from their families. These children (including Molly and her young cousins, Gracie and Daisy) were taken to settlements where they were taught European values, and were prepared for future service in white households. They were not allowed to see their families nor speak their native language; this was a systematic way for the government to obliterate Aboriginal customs and culture. Children who experienced this traumatic, government-led kidnapping and detention are members of what is now referred to as the Stolen Generation.

However, in this particular story Molly triumphs over her oppressors. She and her two younger cousins escape the Moore River Native Settlement and make the 1,600 kilometer journey home. The starving children must evade trackers, fight predators, and scavenge for food. So far away from any familiar location, most other children would have had no idea which direction to go. However, Molly remembers her father once describing the barbed “rabbit proof fence” that cuts through the entirety of Australia. Following the fence, the girls finally succeed in finding their way home to Jigalong.

This book covers many applicable themes about Australian travel and life. Although Molly’s escape is unlike any travel I have ever done, her journey is important in understanding the geographical and cultural divides that European settlers imposed upon their colonization of the nation. In fact, the “rabbit proof fence” that Molly and her cousins use to navigate their way home is a symbol of freedom––the very fence built by the white man to dominate and restrict Aboriginal people is exactly what Molly uses to escape her oppression.

Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence imagines Australia in a way that is usually not discussed in everyday life. Living in Sydney, there is minimal recognition of the oppression of indigenous people that defined life in Australia since 1788. Settlers so drastically reduced numbers of Australian Aboriginals by means of dispossession, legislation, and outright violence that nowadays, descendants of the indigenous are few and far between––and often in disadvantaged situations. With a Euro-centric culture permeating the majority of Sydney, often Australia’s tragic past feels “out of sight, out of mind”-esque. However, I’ve noticed that artistic representations of Australian history are the most successful at reminding the country of its native foundations. This book is an example of the powerful combination between literature and history; the fact that this story is based on true events made it particularly sorrowful to read, but still an important topic to bring to light in the Australian socio-political landscape.

(Image: Following the Fence; Source: Ed Reform Anonymous)


  1. It is so beautiful that you were able to read a text that not only presented you with a beautiful story, yet also enriched your historical understanding of the ground you are walking on for these four months abroad. As a person of mixed race identity I find this story especially interesting. In my experience, mixed race issues, oppression and controversies are often overlooked or left undiscussed in academic conversation, so it feels simultaneously validating and heavy to read about and gain awareness of a historical example of this blatant oppression and ostracism. I am curious as to how this informs your view of Sydney and Australia as a whole, and will be curious to see if such a delicate and personal narrative style of telling the story of Australian colonial oppression will shift how you view or feel the issue moving forward.

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