Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence

Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Doris Pilkington's Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Doris Pilkington

Doris Pilkington Garimara was born in 1937 at the Balfour Downs Station near Jigalong, her family’s ancestral home. As a young girl, Doris and her baby sister Anabelle were removed from their home while their mother, Molly, was in the hospital recovering from an appendectomy. They were sent—just as their mother had been—to the Moore River Native Settlement in order to be “properly” educated and kept isolated from their indigenous family. Molly joined her daughters at the camp, but after just a year there she absconded from the camp once again, with Doris’s younger sister Anabelle in tow. Doris was left behind with her aunt Daisy—who had, just like her sister Molly, been sent back to the camp as an adult. Doris grew up believing that her mother had given her away, and the truth emerged in snippets as she grew into adulthood. Working as a nurse and raising six children, Doris began to compile her aunt’s stories (and, eventually, once they were reunited in the 1960s, her mother’s) and composed a series of books describing the torment of the Stolen Generations—the children of Australian Aboriginal descent, especially children of mixed race, who were removed from their families by Australian government agencies and forced into internment camps. Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence is Garimara’s best-known book, having been adapted into a 2002 film starring Kenneth Branagh. Garimara passed at the age of 76 in Perth, Australia, due to complications from ovarian cancer.
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Historical Context of Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence

  The history of The Stolen Generations is a long and violent one, with roots stretching all the way back to the arrival of white colonizers in Australia. Pilkington opens the book with chapters that describe the earliest years of colonialism in Australia, tracing the ways in which English settlers, hungry for land and power, brutalized, murdered, raped, and pillaged their way through the Australian bush, decimating Aboriginal populations and tearing apart tribes and families. By the 1930s, when Molly and her sisters were children, miscegenation between white Australians and Aboriginals was common enough to warrant the creation of the label “half-caste,” or “muda-muda” to describe the children of Aboriginal mothers and white fathers. These children were systematically rounded up by the government under the guise of “protecting” them—when in reality the goal of the white Australian government was to assimilate and eradicate the Aboriginal population entirely. Australia’s “Chief Protector of Aborigines,” A.O. Neville, was quoted in 1937 as asking “[Do we want] to have a population of one million blacks in the Commonwealth, or are we going to merge them into our white community and eventually forget there ever were any Aborigines in Australia?” The insidious mechanisms of racism, colonization, forced assimilation, and cultural genocide are present on each page of Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence.

Other Books Related to Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence

In addition to a memoir of her own life, and the time she spent in the Moore River internment camp, Under the Wintamarra Tree, Doris Pilkington is the author of Caprice: A Stockman’s Daughter, a novel which tells the fictional story of three generations of Aboriginal women. A major contributor to the canon of Aboriginal literature, Pilkington’s work joins books like The Burnt Stick by Anthony Hill and My Place by Sally Morgan in establishing a literature which seeks to examine and reclaim Aboriginal identity, culture, and history in the face of devastating violence and cruelty. The Burnt Stick is a picture book for children, while My Place is an autobiography which tracks Morgan’s search for her roots in a family which has been scattered and scarred by forced assimilation.
Key Facts about Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence
  • Full Title: Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence
  • When Written: 1990s
  • When Published: 1996
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Nonfiction; family memoir
  • Setting: Jigalong, Western Australia; Moore River Native Settlement, Western Australia
  • Climax: Molly, Gracie, and Daisy escape from Moore River Native Settlement
  • Antagonist: Colonialism
  • Point of View: Third-person omniscient

Extra Credit for Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence

The Silver Screen. Adapted into a major motion picture in 2002 and retitled Rabbit Proof Fence, Pilkington’s family history was brought before audiences around the world.

The State of the Fence.  Although the rabbit-proof fence exists to this day, in the 1950s the government introduced myxomatosis (a disease that affects rabbits) to Australia in a successful attempt to devastate the continent’s rabbit population. Since that time, the rabbit-proof fence has seen far less rabbit traffic than it once did.