Australian Screen

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Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002)

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clip The stealing of children education content clip 1, 2, 3

Original classification rating: PG. This clip chosen to be PG

Clip description

As Constable Riggs (Jason Clarke) arrives, Maude (Ningali Lawford) realises he has come to take the children. They run, but Riggs cuts off their escape route and seizes the children one by one. He warns Gracie (Laura Monaghan) to stay in the car or he’ll lock up her mother. Tiny Daisy (Tianna Sansbury) is easier to subdue but the eldest girl, Molly (Everlyn Sampi), fights back. As the police car drives away, the mothers and Molly’s grandmother (Myarn Lawford) are left wailing in the dust.

Curator’s notes

This is probably the film’s most controversial scene, as well as the most harrowing, partly because it’s different to the way Doris Pilkington Garimara describes her abduction in the book. The book’s description is more resigned and less violent, although it describes an aftermath that’s very similar, with the women wailing and beating their heads with rocks, to draw blood. One of the reasons the scene is controversial is that it leaves no doubt that the children were 'stolen’ from their families. That word is highly contested by some white historians and politicians, who argued that the removal of Aboriginal children was not stealing, but legal and necessary for the welfare of children at risk. The debate over the language used to describe the policy of forced removal continues to rage in Australia, 10 years after the Bringing Them Home report was published in 1997.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This clip shows the removal of three Aboriginal girls from their mothers, the desperate attempts by the mothers to prevent them being taken and the subsequent mourning of the women for their loss. The arrival of a car interrupts peaceful play and Maude (Ningali Lawford) calls out to the children to run. Despite their struggles, the policeman (Jason Clarke) takes the girls. Their mothers cling to the car as he drives away, and are then left wailing in the dust. In voice-over, Mr Neville concludes, ‘As you know, every Aboriginal born in this state comes under my control’.

Educational value points

  • This clip conveys the desperate attempts made by Indigenous women to prevent their children being taken away from them and placed on missions or reserves. As soon as the car driven by the policeman arrives at the ration station, the women realise his intention and scream to their children to run. When the policeman grabs the children, Molly struggles against him, her grandmother threatens him with a stick and their mothers chase after the car.
  • This clip highlights the feelings of pain and grief experienced by Indigenous mothers and the children taken away from them. The image of the sad faces of the girls looking out the back window of the car is followed by the sight and sounds of the women in the dust wailing, and by the grandmother who strikes her head with a rock in a traditional sign of mourning. The emotion of these images is emphasised by the contrasting coldness of the final words in this clip.
  • This clip indicates the far-reaching power of Mr Neville, the Chief Protector of Aborigines in Western Australia who was based in Perth, thousands of miles from where these children lived. The policeman refers to ‘Mr Neville’s orders’ and says, ‘I’ve got the papers, Maude. You’ve got no say in it’. At the time Mr A O Neville was the legal guardian of children of ‘mixed descent’ and an Indigenous mother such as Maude had no rights according to law.
  • This clip uses many techniques to depict the children as stolen, taken violently from their resisting families. The many cuts from one view to another, the children running, the sounds of yelling and the pounding music build up the tension and convey the desperation of the situation. The darkness inside the car is contrasted against the bright light outside to convey a sense of deprivation and lack of freedom.
  • The clip depicts the removal of children dramatically, not as it was in the book from which this film was adapted. Director Phillip Noyce (1950–) and scriptwriter Christine Olsen have based their dramatisation not simply on Doris Pilkington’s account of her mother’s life in Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence, but on many other historical accounts of removal. However, this scene is true to the feelings of powerlessness and lack of choice portrayed in the book.
  • This clip from the feature film Rabbit-Proof Fence presents an Indigenous perspective on the issue of the Stolen Generations to a wide audience. When it was released, this scene was contentious because after the Bringing Them Home Report in 1997, the use of the term ‘stolen’ to describe such removal was disputed. Some politicians and historians argued that the removal of children from their families was both legal and necessary for the welfare of the children.

We see the children sitting outside. The man is feeding the camel.
Man Come and get your rashers. Hurry up.

Constable Riggs’s car approaches. He gets out of the car. The girls’ mother and another woman grab the girls and start running away from the car. He gets back in the car and follows them. He catches up with them and gets out of the car.
Riggs I’ve come for the three girls, Maude.
Maude No, no.
Riggs I’ll bring them over to the blackfellas’ camp.
Maude stands in front of the children, trying to shield them.
Maude No, this my kids, mine.
Riggs It’s the law, Maude. You’ve got no say in it.
Maude No. Mine.
Riggs gets the youngest girl and puts her in the back of the car.
Riggs (to girl) Listen, you move one inch, and I will lock your mother up. (To women, holding a piece of paper) I’m their legal guardian.
The girls huddle behind their mother. The women are wailing.
Molly Get away from us.
Maude No, no. Give me back my babies.
Riggs (to second girl) You shut up. You stay. (To women) I’ve got the papers, Maude. You’ve got no say in it.
Maude No.
The eldest girl fights back and resists getting in the car, but he overpowers her and puts her in the car.
Riggs Get in the car. Don’t move.
The girls’ grandmother comes up to Riggs and threatens him with a stick. He easily takes it from her.
Riggs There’s nothing you can do here, old girl. Nothing you can do.
Maude (screaming and wailing) No. No.

Maude and the old lady bang on the car windows, trying to get the girls. The girls cry for their mother. As the car drives away, Maude and the grandmother are left lying on the ground, wailing and crying. The grandmother bangs her head with a rock.
Mr Neville (voice-over) As you know, every Aborigine born in this State comes under my control.

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