Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence

Doris Pilkington  Nugi Garimara  Pages: 135     Published: 1996

The book: This is the true story of Doris Pilkington’s mother Molly, who escaped, with her sisters, from an Australian government institute for Aboriginal children with white fathers. The girls, ages 8, 11, and 14, were forcibly removed from their families so that they might learn to behave more like white people and forget their aboriginal culture. They managed to escape, barefoot with no food or maps.  The girls followed a rabbit-proof fence for almost 1000 miles to get home, despite being tracked by police.
You might like it because:It’s an incredible story of amazing courage, ingenuity and determination that shines a light on Australia’s cruel past.

What did other people say?
“A vividly told story about cultural arrogance, cruelty and courage.” – Canberra Sunday Times

“Uncontrived and unadorned, Pilkington’s story is genuinely moving.”– Sydney Morning Herald

How quickly will you get into the book? The first four chapters mostly explain the history and impact of white settlers and foreign armies on Australia’s aboriginal people. They are important because they provide context for the girls’ escape and subsequent journey. The girls’ story begins thirty-four pages in during chapter 5; from then on I didn’t want to put the book down.

You might not like it because: Although this is a fictionalized account of a true story, it sits very much on the side of fact. The author retells the story told to her by her mother and her aunt. In doing so, she focuses on the facts she uncovered about this incredible journey. She does not flesh out the characters of each of the three girls to any real extent. The story is interspersed with historical information and exhibits, such as an actual telegram sent to police stations relating to the girls’ escape.
For readers looking for something more akin to a fictional adventure with plot twists, fleshed-out characters, and dramatic climaxes, this is probably not the book for you.

What might you read next?
Read Plains of Promise, the debut novel by another Aboriginal writer—Alexis Wright.

Or, pick up the autobiography Am I Black Enough For You? by Anita Heiss, who has an Aboriginal mother and a white Australian father.

Canada also had a brutal residential school system, into which indigenous Canadian children were forced. You might want to read Terese Marie Mailhot’s memoir Heart Berries, where the trauma her grandmother was subjected to in residential school reverberates through her own life.

© 2018