"Triumphing Over Bigotry"
RABBIT-PROOF FENCE is the story of how three aboriginal girls escape an orphanage after being plucked from their homes to be trained as servants. Gorgeous filming and a solid, heartwarming story are marred by a negative portrayal of some well meaning but deluded Christians, some revisionist history and the apparently pagan chanting of the orphan’s aboriginal mothers.
RABBIT-PROOF FENCE opens in 1931 in the Australian bush with Mr. A. O. Neville (Kenneth Branagh) speaking earnestly to a group of ladies about the problem of the aboriginal children and half-breed races in the region. Mr. Neville is a Chief Protector of the Aboriginal People. “The natives must be helped,” he pleads compellingly to the women.
Cut to three young, scared aboriginal girls, Molly, Daisy and Gracie, being transported in a cage via train across the beautiful Australian bush. The girls are brought to the Moore River Native Settlement, where a kind nurse in a white starchy uniform greets them with a lantern. She takes them into a dorm that’s crowded with other such natives and she washes them up. The next day Mr. Neville, whom the orphans call “Devil,” examines them to see if their skin is fair enough to warrant sending them to one of the better schools in the region.
The girls find out that the orphanage not only includes such physical inspections, but also includes mandatory chapel services, prayers, chores, rules, and great discipline. The orphans, who have been brought to the settlement from all over Australia to be trained as slaves, all miss their parents and often cry at night. When one girl tries to run away, she is beaten, her hair is cut off, and she is locked in an outhouse-looking building. The others are to sing in the chapel without comment.
The settlement also uses the services of a tracker, a black man whose daughter is part of the orphanage. The oldest child of the trio, Molly, gets an idea one night as she sees some rare clouds forming. She snatches up the other two and they all run away when the storm moves in, knowing that the rain will cover their tracks.
Their destination is their family and home in Jigalong, about 1500 miles away. Molly figures out that if they find the “rabbit proof fence,” an early 1900s Australian project that placed such fencing along thousands of miles of the bush, they will be able to make it home. With Molly’s skill at avoiding the trackers, the girls make it hundreds of miles from the orphanage – more than any previous attempts.
They meet interesting people along the way, though they are careful not to talk much. One man tells them that they are in all the papers, and that Gracie’s mother is waiting for her at a train station in Malena. Against the wishes of the others, Gracie insists on taking the train to find her mother. At the train station, the trackers, much to the horror of the other two onlookers hiding in the trees, catch her and haul her away in a truck. Molly and Daisy cry, mourning the certain loss of their partner and friend.
Back at headquarters, Neville deals with the press and police and nuns. “If they would only understand what we’re trying to do for them!” he cries. Back in Jigalong, the mothers are gathered to fast and sing and chant, uniting their hopes for the return of the children.
As the trackers and police figure out the children’s plan and get closer to the catch, Molly must make some hard decisions for herself and young Daisy. Will her knowledge of the bush and the pull of her mother’s love be enough to carry her the entire 1500 miles home?
RABBIT-PROOF FENCE is a beautifully filmed, heartwarming story of the triumph of the will to reunite with family. The photography of the vast expanses of the Australian plains is breathtaking at points. The story is well written, directed and produced.
It is sad, though, that the antagonist and the nuns at the orphanage are portrayed as sincere, but highly deluded Christians. This is only partly true, however. In the early 1900s, the Australia government had “Chief Protectors of the Aborigines.” According to some sources, these government bureaucrats, including Mr. Neville, used atheistic, Darwinistic theories regarding race to take mixed race children from their parents, ruining countless lives for many decades in the 1900s, years that came to be known as the “Stolen Generations.” They placed the children in government institutions, Christian missionary institutions or schools and foster families. The goal was to integrate the half-castes into white society, but at the lower rungs, as servants and farm workers. Many Christians deferred to these “do-gooder” bureaucrats and their racist, totalitarian plans.
On the other hand, the religion of the aboriginal mothers is known to be pagan, and there are some allusions to a sort of chanting in the movie. Thus, many Australians at the time of this story probably believed that it was better for these children to become servants and farm workers in white society, rather to remain in the pagan camps of their aboriginal parents. The truth of their new role in white society, however, was that many of the children were abused, especially in the foster families. Moreover, many of the schools they were sent to were not very good ones.
Although the movie has obviously neglected to show the Darwinistic roots of Neville’s actions, it portrays both the white culture with its Christian roots and the aboriginal culture with its pagan roots as having strong systems of rules and morality. It also portrays the white leaders as having some good intentions, despite their delusion.
What is the answer, then, to this sad chapter in history?
Regrettably, sincerity will not win anyone points as we stand before our Maker in eternity; rather, it is the truth that will sets people free. Slavery, in all its horrid forms, has long been one of the enemy’s strongest delusions throughout history, and many well-meaning Christians have fallen prey to its insidious rationales. Perhaps worse is the suggestion from one source that some Christian leaders had a passive attitude and deferred to the government officials because they, the government officials, knew best.
John Sandford, in THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE INNER MAN, describes our human hearts, or spirits, as darkened from birth. When a person trusts the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross as the only means for personal salvation, he says, the most important chamber of the heart becomes enlightened. Many other areas, however, remain darkened until slowly lights are lit and the process of sanctification continues until we see Christ face to face. One can only believe that the sincere but deluded Christians during these “stolen generations” were in such a process of enlightenment. As for those Christians who passively deferred to government authority, the lesson to take from this is that ignorance of biblical truth breeds complacency. Christians have an obligation to stand against evil government policies and tyrannical leaders, but they must do so in a Christian manner that remembers the Golden Rule of Love.
The other questionable elements in this movie include a scene where a white man comes into his servant’s home, and removes his outer trousers, wanting to sleep with the woman. He finds children in the bed, instead, and quickly leaves.
This movie might have made a fine family night out for those with older children who can understand the truth behind such an enigmatic time in history. Parents should be very cautious, therefore, if they get a chance to show this movie to their children.
(Pa, B, Ab, RHRH, V, S, M) Mixed pagan worldview with moral elements shown in attempts toward sincere charity and pagan elements such as un-translated chanting, also some Christian characters, especially the antagonist, shown to be sincere, but deluded, with some apparent revisionist history; no foul language; mild violence with girl at orphanage apparently getting a whipping; allusion to white man’s desire for sex with black servant; and, bondage bordering on slavery, tearing families apart and racial bigotry.
In RABBIT-PROOF FENCE, three aboriginal girls, Molly, Daisy and Gracie, are taken from their homes and brought to the Moore River Native Settlement, where Mr. Neville examines them, mandates chapel services, prayers, chores, rules, and training as servants. The three new girls run away one stormy night, knowing that the rain will cover their tracks. Molly figures out that if they find the “rabbit proof fence,” they will be able to make it. Will her knowledge of the bush and the pull of her mother’s love be enough to carry her the entire 1500 miles home?
RABBIT-PROOF FENCE is a beautifully filmed, heartwarming story of the triumph of the will to reunite with family. The photography of the vast Australian plains is breathtaking at points. The story is well written, directed and produced. Regrettably, however, the movie portrays the antagonist and the nuns at the orphanage as sincere, but deluded, Christians. The Australian government did indeed have a policy that broke up untold families and ruined countless lives for many decades in the 1900s. That policy was motivated by Darwinistic theories of race. Many Christians passively accepted the authority of the government, however