Following the Rabbit Proof Fence

Australia

The story of three Aboriginal girls who followed a 1300 kilometre fence home through the desert has inspired more than just a movie.

Following the Rabbit Proof Fence

By Pennie Hunt

Sarah Hyde had long admired the iconic Australian film Rabbit Proof Fence (2002) but it wasn't until she picked up Doris Pilkington Garimara's book that she felt a strong call to action: Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence, she read.

Sarah Hyde in Perth, just days before embarking on the location of a lifetime.

Sarah Hyde in Perth, just days before embarking on the location of a lifetime.

The true story told in both the book and film is of Mollie (14), Gracie (11) and Daisy (8) - three Aboriginal Australian girls forcibly taken from their home in Jigalong, Western Australia in 1931 and placed in an orphanage near Perth where they were to be trained as domestic servants. The girls made the decision to escape by following a 1300 kilometer fence home through the harshest of deserts.

Last Saturday, Sarah kicked off her own pilgrimage along the Rabbit Proof Fence. On the first day she was accompanied by a community of supporters, including Mollie, Gracie and Daisy's descendants.

Sarah with Shari Pilkington (left) - Mollie's great grandaughter.

Sarah with Shari Pilkington (left) - Mollie's great grandaughter.

When I asked her what inspired her to consider undertaking such a physically demanding location, she recalled a meeting with some of the girls' family in Canberra. "I was at a Grandmothers Against Removal meeting and I met some of the family of Molly, Gracie and Daisy. I thought, I’ve got to read that book! I studied the film at school in 2002. Actually, my school was the pilot release, and we got to meet the director Phillip Noyce. So I bought the book and I looked at the front cover and the first thing I noticed is that it’s called Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence. At that exact moment I made the commitment that I was going to follow the fence in the girls' footsteps, but I was also going to dive into the story and learn as much as I could about this part of Australia’s history and what it means for me as a white woman in Australia today."

Although she lives in urban Sydney, Sarah is no stranger to the desert. She was a long time Scout and is a member of Desert Discovery, a group that makes bi-annual expeditions into the desert to do scientific surveys. Yet she's the first to admit the walk will be a serious challenge. "I’m familiar with hiking, trekking and expedition planning - but I’ve never done anything on this scale."

Sarah spent months figuring out the logistics of the walk.

Sarah spent months figuring out the logistics of the walk.

It's sobering to think that while Sarah will have nutrious food, shelter and a trailer full of gear at her disposal, the girls left the orphanage with just the clothes on their backs. Sarah is philosophical: "The beauty of following in the girls' footsteps is that I can’t wait for those moments where my feet are just killing and blistered. And that's when I'll consciously reflect what it would have been like for the girls, they didn’t even have shoes at times. They were just little kids. When challenges arise I’m going to consciously choose to think about them." 

Themes inherent in the film, such as removal, home and the importance of community, are at at the forefront of Sarah's mind as she embarks on the walk. "I think the story raises themes that are so human - like the theme of removal. Globally there’s a lot of movement in the world. It’s something that people can understand. Whether it’s as dramatic as a mother and child being separated, or whether it’s a whole family being removed, people can feel and understand that within themselves."

From the Moore River Native Settlement in the South, to the Jigalong in the North - this is Sarah's route.

From the Moore River Native Settlement in the South, to the Jigalong in the North - this is Sarah's route.

In making her own pilgrimmage along the fence, Sarah hopes this location will become significant to increasing numbers of people in the future. "My dream is that the Rabbit Proof Fence Walk will become a Great Australian Walk, almost like a pilgrimage where people can choose to walk a great Australian story."

From film, to the book to her own notebook - Sarah's sources of inspiration.

From film, to the book to her own notebook - Sarah's sources of inspiration.

You can follow Sarah's incredible location (and track her progress) on her website, Facebook and Instagram

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