Australian Screen

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Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002)

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clip Mr Neville says no education content clip 1, 2, 3

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

Clip description

At the Moore River Aboriginal settlement, Molly (Everlyn Sampi) is called out of the assembly to be inspected by Mr AO Neville (Kenneth Branagh), the Protector of Aborigines. Mr Neville checks the colour of her skin, to see whether she is light enough to be sent for training as a domestic at another institution. He decides she is not, which means she will stay at Moore River.

Curator’s notes

The early scenes at Moore River are deliberately bleached looking, to give a sense of the strangeness of this new reality for the three girls. The whiteness of the sandy ground and the matron’s uniform also reinforce a sense of what the scene itself is about – the degree of whiteness of each girl.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This clip shows Mr Neville, the Chief Protector of Aborigines in Western Australia (Kenneth Branagh), inspecting the colour of Molly’s skin. It opens with Mr Neville calling Molly (Everlyn Sampi) out of the group of children assembled in front of the church at the Moore River Settlement. Another Aboriginal girl and the women in white uniforms encourage her to come forward. When Molly reaches him he speaks to her, bending down saying, ‘we’re here to help’ and then inspecting the skin on her shoulders. The clip concludes with his judgement, ‘No’.

Educational value points

  • This clip concludes with the word ‘No’, indicating the power of Mr Neville in deciding Molly’s future based on his perceptions of the colour of her skin. His perception was significant because there were different outcomes according to the different categories. An Aboriginal child of ‘full blood’ would be left with their family, while ‘half-caste’ children would be removed and trained to fit into Australian society as domestic servants or farm labourers.
  • This clip uses several techniques to stress the power of Mr Neville as the Protector and of the other non-Indigenous characters. Long shots emphasise the distance Molly must walk, and the eerie music grows louder as she comes closer to him. The camera angles highlight his size and dominance in the physical inspection and the distorted close-ups of his head communicate her disorientation. Silences and the sound of Molly’s breathing convey her fear.
  • This clip depicts a scene at an institution set up for ‘civilising’ Aboriginal people in accordance with government policies. Moore River Native Settlement (originally Mogumber Mission located 140 km north of Perth) was one of many missions and reserves. It was state-run but included a Christian component as religion was seen as part of the process of cultural change. By the 1930s Moore River housed 500 Indigenous people from all over the state.
  • This clip indicates Neville’s perception of his role as one of ‘duty, service and responsibility,’ but also criticises it. Mr Neville speaks in a kindly way, as do the smiling women who urge Molly to come forward. This depiction fits with many accounts of people who at the time believed they were helping Indigenous children. However, this interpretation is countered by the whispered warning to Molly, ‘Hurry up, they’ll whip you’.
  • This clip presents a scene of inspection that is not in the book Follow The Rabbit-Proof Fence, from which this film is adapted. The director, Phillip Noyce, uses it as an example of Neville’s racial theories and the distinctions, made later in the 1930s, based on skin colour – those deemed to have lighter skin were sent to Sister Kate’s Children’s Home and not to Moore River. These children were believed to be easier to absorb into non-Indigenous society.
  • This clip raises the issue of the policy that Neville promoted of ‘breeding out the black strain’. In his publication Australia’s Coloured Minority (1947), Neville set out his ideas on the ways this could and should happen over three or four generations of intermarriage. This was contrary to other ideas at the time that advocated the separation of races. Mr Neville’s portrayal makes the story a more coherent one of individual personalities as well as of policies.

At the Moore River Aboriginal settlement, Aboriginal children wearing simple white shifts sit on the dirt before two official-looking men and some nuns.
Man Molly Craig!
Girl That’s you.
Man Molly Craig.
Girl Go on, get up. Hurry up. They’ll whip you.
Sister Molly. Come on, dear.
Man Come on, young lady.
Girl They’ll put you in the (inaudible). Hurry up.
Man Come on.
As Molly stands up, one of her younger sisters goes to join her.
Sister Just Molly, please.
Girl Where you goin’? (drags younger sister back) Come back here. Sit down.
Sister Hurry up. Come along. It’s alright. That’s the way. Don’t be afraid. Come along.
Molly walks slowly up to Mr Neville.
Mr Neville Come on. I’m not going to hurt you.
Sister See? A bit further. That’s it.
Mr Neville It’s Molly, isn’t it? I know it all feels very strange, but after a few days you’ll feel quite at home. We’re here to help and encourage you in this new world. Duty, service, responsibility. Those are our watchwords.
Sister Molly, keep still.
Mr Neville It’s alright, it’s alright. It’s alright.
He inspects her skin and then steps back.
Mr Neville No.

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australianscreen is produced by the National Film and Sound Archive. By using the website you agree to comply with the terms and conditions described elsewhere on this site. The NFSA may amend the 'Conditions of Use’ from time to time without notice.

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  • The National Film and Sound Archive’s permission must be sought to amend any information in the materials, unless otherwise stated in notices throughout the Site.

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