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* How do the filmmakers begin the film and engage us in the story and at the beginning of the film what do you think you are seeing at first? The Australian film based on the true story about “The Stolen Generation” titled “Rabbit-Proof Fence” begins with a brief written summary about the Australian Aborigines Act of 1931. This historical information is just enough to really grasp the viewer’s curiosity before moving on to what is initially, the unidentifiable aerial footage of the endless desert plains of Australia.
This is footage is only further complicated by the voice of an unknown women speaking in an unfamiliar language and the native sounding instruments fading in slowly from the background. At first, I was unsure of the geographical location, thinking it was possibly that of a sandy or muddy beach. It then crossed my mind that perhaps I had mistakenly selected a non-English version of the film which would explain the foreign language, but not the English text at the beginning.
It wasn’t until the view included the unmistakably blue sky along the horizon of the desert that the location became completely recognizable and my previous thoughts were extinguished.
* What impressions do you gain of life in the desert Aboriginal community? Living among nothing more than the dry and dusty Australian plains scattered with sagebrush and a few desert trees, the film showed how desolate of a landscape the Aborigines called home. With nothing more than simple huts constructed from small sticks and branches, their homes didn’t appear to provide adequate shelter much less protection from the elements such as the unrelenting heat and sun.
It was clear that their lives had been disrupted by “white” European settlers whom had depleted their lands of natural resources needed for survival, as the community was forced to rely upon government rations for food, water, clothing, etc. As seen in the film, the community rations were distributed to the native people by a “white” government worker at the Jigalong depot which gave the state every opportunity to evoke complete control over their lives.
* Very early in the film, we see the eagle, Molly’s totem, her spirit bird. Her mother tells her the eagle will look after her. When does the bird appear again in the film and why? The eagle first appears in the very beginning of film as Molly stares up to the blue sky watching intently as an eagle circles overhead. Soon joined by her mother, together they both gaze up as her mother speaks to her in native tongue; she explains the meaning of the totem to Molly and its promise for protection and guidance. Then after Molly and her sisters are taken to the settlement, the eagle appears again circling overhead in her dream signaling that the time had come for the girls to make their escape. Finally, after walking over a thousand miles the two remaining sisters collapse from pure exhaustion in the endless desert when again the eagle appears in Molly’s dreams. Awakening her from near death, the eagle seemingly provides the strength and encouragement needed for Molly to continue on, with promise of home. Out of curiosity, I did some further research about the totem and the Aboriginal people. In the Aborigine culture each individual family has a totem with different animal symbols on it which represent their descended mythical “Being of Dreamtime”: the belief in a spiritual connection between land, animal, and man in a time before time.
For indigenous aborigines the religious significance of the totem is conceptually similar to the religious significance of the cross for Christians; both carry symbolic meaning representing a spiritual life. * Why do you think that some children just accepted their fate, whereas others were desperate to escape? After being kidnapped from their family and taken to the Moore River Native Settlement, the Aboriginal children were forced to conform to the strict authority of the sisters and Mr. Neville’s staff, including the tracker. The children were warned from the beginning that if they were to attempt an escape they would be tracked and surely brought back to receive the punishments they had deserved. Those who dare attempt were immediately tracked and returned to the settlement where they would be brutally punished in front of their peers by the Mr. Neville or his staff; after which they were then locked up in the isolation room for hours or even days. For the majority of the children the fear of punishment was enough for them to accept their fate and obey the endless rules. Additionally, it seemed that for many of the children the settlement had become their home and they didn’t want to leave.
Clearly this was not the case for Molly, and the other girl seen punished in the movie for sneaking out to visit her boyfriend. * What kind of activities were the children involved in to “civilize and Christianize” them? Once the children arrived at the Moore River Native Settlement they were expected to dress, speak, and behave as instructed by Mr. Neville’s staff. The children were each scrubbed by one of the sister’s before being dressed all alike in plain smocks and shoes. At the start of each meal they were required to stand and all say a uniform prayer before eating. They were required to address their elders by “Ms. or Mr.” only, able to speak only when spoken to, allowed only to speak in English instead of their native tongue which was commonly referred to as “jabber”. All the children were forced to attend classes, and church as instructed, as well as daily chores like sweeping, mopping, and sewing. * After their escape, whenever Mollly is asked where she is going, the answer is always the one word: “home”, what does this mean to Molly? For Molly, the word “home” is where she belongs, the place where her mom is, the only place she knows, the place she must return to at all costs. Unlike some of the other children who had been made to believe that the settlement was their home, and that they no longer had a mother; Molly knew better, she knew that they still had a mother.
For fourteen years, wherever her family was at was “home” and she dearly longed to be reunited with the family that she loved and she knew loved her. * The girls stumble across a remote farm where they meet Mavis, another Stolen Generations Aboriginal girl who is working as a domestic helper. What evidence is there to suggest that life is very difficult for Mavis? Why was she so keen for the girls to shelter with her for the night? One of the few people that the sisters encountered on their incredibly long journey across the desolate Australian plains was a young woman by the name of Mavis. They came across a homestead where they found Mavis hanging laundry, deciding to stop and take the chance by asking for food. As the girls soon would learn, she too had been kidnapped from her family and brought to the compound where she lived until she was old enough to go to work as a domestic worker for the white family with whom she lived. Immediately upon seeing the girls, Mavis recognized the trio as having escaped from Moore River. She instructed the girls to wait in the brush until later that evening when she would bring them food and insist upon them staying with her for the night. That night as the girls lay fast asleep in Mavis’ bed they were woke by the white boss man attempts to crawl into bed with whom he clearly had thought to be only Mavis.
After the discovery, Mavis briefly spoke with boss man before pleading with the girls to stay with her for the remainder of night out. Clearly she was fearful that if they left her bed he would return to finish what he had started. Unfortunately, despite her promise, Mavis boss did in fact call the authorities and again the girls were woke, only luckily this time narrowly escaping capture by outwitting the trackers. * Imagine you are Molly aged about thirty and the mother of two children. Tell your children what you learned from your experiences in 1931. First of all, I want to acknowledge that it is impossible for me to comprehend what Molly, or any Aboriginal child endured at the hands of the Western Australian government; I can only do my best to imagine what I would be like after such an experience. As forty four year old Molly with two children, I anticipate that I would be open and honest with my children about the events in my life while doing my absolute best to teach my children about the necessity of forgiveness. I would try to explain that the actions of the Australian government were the result of ignorance and fear.
It is our job as parents to prepare our children for the future and to hopefully avoid repeating the mistakes of our past; as such I feel that it would do no good to teach them to be angry or hateful towards the “white” people, but feel sorry for their ignorance. * Many Aboriginal Australians today are still suffering from the effects of loss of identity and family brought about by the practice of removing Aboriginal children. What do you understand by the word “reconciliation”? To me personally, the word reconciliation means the act of making something right that has been wronged and I don’t know if the past in instances like this can be made right. After the movie, I went on to view several other pieces about the Stolen Generations and some of the stories were heart breaking to say the least.
It is very true that many Aboriginal families are still suffering today; many who have lost every bit of their real heritage as a result. It’s hard to imagine not having any idea where you came from, but it’s even harder to imagine those whose last memory of their mother was her heartbroken face as they were ripped from her arms. To have no idea what became of your people is something I can only begin to imagine. Therefore, I don’t think that there ever will be any reconciliation possible between the government and the Aboriginal people, an apology sure but the wrong will never be able to be right. What I do believe can take place, is for the Australian government to accept responsibility for the mistakes of their predecessor’s against the Aboriginal people and to provide any and all resources that may help this culture heal.
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