The film ‘Rabbit-Proof Fence’ is based on this true account of Doris Pilkington’s mother Molly, who as a young girl led her two sisters on an extraordinary 1,600 kilometre walk home. Under Western Australia’s invidious removal policy of the 1930s, the girls were taken from their Aboriginal families at Jigalong on the edge of the Little Sandy Desert, and transported halfway across the state to the Native Settlement at Moore River, north of Perth. Here Aboriginal children were instructed in the ways of white society and forbidden to speak their native tongue. The three girls – aged 8, 11 and 14 – managed to escape from the settlement’s repressive conditions and brutal treatment. Barefoot, without provisions or maps, they set out to find the rabbit-proof fence, knowing it passed near their home in the north.
Tracked by Native Police and search planes, they hid in terror, surviving on bush tucker, desperate to return to the world they knew. Their journey to freedom – longer than many of the legendary walks of our explorer heroes – is vividly told from family recollections, letters between the authorities and the Aboriginal Protector, and dramatic newspaper reports of the runaway children. It reveals a past more cruel than we could ever imagine.