Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence Summary

Doris Pilkington

Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence

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Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence Summary

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Australian Doris Pilkington’s work of nonfiction Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence, published in 1996, relates the story of a native Australian family’s experiences as part of what came to be known as the Stolen Generation. The Stolen Generation was the result of an early twentieth century practice of having children who were of mixed race removed from their families and placed in government compounds. Three young girls are central to the narrative: Pilkington’s mother, Molly, Molly’s sister Daisy, and their cousin Gracie. After being taken from their families, they manage to escape from the government settlement in 1931. They then begin a journey home of close to 1,000 miles by following a fence designed to keep out pests. This rabbit-proof fence ran through the western part of Australia from north to south. Pilkington uses the third person voice and constructs her text by using, among other research, interviews with her mother and Daisy.

The opens with historical information about the first English people to arrive in Western Australia and their interactions with the Aboriginals who lived there. It was a history of unrest with raids and kidnappings of women perpetrated by white men. Pilkington tells of less threatening times as well and of the feelings of isolation the English came to experience.

In 1829, early European settlers led by Captain Fremantle sought approval from Aboriginal leaders to give the territory they had acquired an English name. Language barriers likely prevented enough understanding for the consent to be granted, but nevertheless, one million square miles became Swan River Colony. The settlers became quite powerful within a year. They restricted the areas in which Aboriginal people could live and work to keep English culture strong in this new land. As the Europeans increased their efforts to overtake the Aboriginal way of life violent conflicts erupted. In time, the Aboriginal way of life was eradicated. By the 1900s the Aborigines had become more a part of the European way of life in Australia. Camps were built for them, and their skills with horses and cattle were recognized. There were still instances of unrest, which Pilkington discusses as well. The camps that were constructed still pushed European values and customs, such as wearing clothing, and forbade Aboriginal culture.

In chapter five, Maude is introduced. She lives in a government settlement in Jigalong. It had been determined while she was a baby that she would be married to an Aboriginal, but when she is sixteen he decides to marry someone else. This pleases Maude who is smart and working as a domestic for Hawkins, the superintendent of the camp. Eventually, she becomes pregnant by Thomas Crain, an Englishman who is an inspector of the rabbit-proof fence. She gives birth to a girl whom they name Molly. The births of Daisy and Gracie soon follow, and the three girls become close. A worker named Keeling initiates the relocation of the girls to one of the institutions for Aboriginal children of white fathers. They are taken to the Moore River Native Settlement in Perth. The girls and their families are inconsolable, but there is nothing that can be done to reverse such a decision once it has been made.

Constable Riggs begins their journey to the settlement by car, and then turns the girls over to Constable Melrose where two more girls join them. They spend the night at a police station, then continue the trek by train and by boat. After five days at sea, they arrive at a port and complete the trip by car.

During their first night at the settlement, the girls are cold and sleep together in one bed in the dorm to which they were assigned by Miss Evans. They have no idea what to expect. The next day a girl shows them around. The rooms have bars on the windows, and Molly believes they are in what she refers to as a “marbu country,” which implies the presence of flesh-eating spirits. She is told that anyone who tries to escape is severely punished, but soon, all three resolve to escape.

Molly becomes their leader as they slip off to the wilderness instead of reporting to school. Molly makes all of the decisions as the trio seek the rabbit-proof fence that will lead them back to Jigalong. They experience fears and doubts along the way. They catch rabbits to eat. They fear at one point that they have encountered one of the flesh-eating spirits. They are able to hide from a search plane that is looking for them. After a woman on a farm gives them food and they continue on their way, the woman worries that they will not survive and calls the police. Their disappearance and their attempt to return home had already become widely known by that point. When they eventually find the fence, their hope is renewed. After a total of nine weeks, they arrive at Jigalong and find their family. In the final chapter of the book, Pilkington tells what became of the girls after their journey.