Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence

by

Doris Pilkington

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Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence: Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
On a cold, rainy day, two hunters spear a small doe kangaroo to the ground. One of the hunters, Bidgup, lifts the game onto his shoulders while his younger brother Meedo gathers up their spears. The two begin to head back to camp at Borloo, in the tribal land of the chief Yellagonga.
In a mirror of the opening of the first chapter, Pilkington again begins with an idyllic scene of Aboriginal life before the devastation wrought by white settlers, as if to underscore the devastating effects of colonialism on the Aboriginal people.
Themes
Family, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Back at camp, Yellagonga has called a meeting to discuss the strange men—the gengas—who have been coming to Aboriginal land “for a long, long time.” Yellagonga’s grandfather had told him stories of the gengas, but Yellagonga insists that “these gengas are different.” He references an incident in which a man named Dayup, and several others, were asked to follow a group of white men to a nearby river. When Dayup and his fellow tribesmen met Fremantle—Captain of the “gengas” camped nearby—Fremantle led them to a river and began speaking to them in English. He said that his government—the British government—had “advised” him to meet with the tribesmen and seek their “approval” before bestowing an English name upon their country.
Just as in the first chapter, it is revealed that the Aboriginals Pilkington is writing about are not naïve to the threat of white invaders. The story Yellagonga shares is not one of bloody conquest or senseless rape and murder of his tribeswomen and men, but it is just as insidious, as it shows that the British are slowly worming their way into the tribal landscape, and even acting falsely altruistic toward the Aboriginals in order to gain their trust.
Themes
Racism and Colonialism Theme Icon
Family, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Altruism vs. Cruelty Theme Icon
Dayup, unable to understand what Fremantle was saying, could only infer that the Captain was an “important man.” Fremantle attempted to communicate through sign language, but this made a “formal discussion” impossible, and the Nyungar men were only more confused. Fremantle, eager to have the conversation be over and done with, thanked the men for their consent, and then announced that he was naming the land Western Australia. He saluted a nearby British flag, which his men had raised at their encampment.
In this passage, Fremantle and his men take advantage of the language barrier between themselves and the Nyungar. They appear to be seeking to have a “discussion” with the Nyungar to obtain their consent to rename the land, but actually the settlers are cruelly exploiting the fact that they have a practical advantage over the Nyungar, and do not need, in reality, to obtain their spoken consent at all when they can simply take whatever they want through coercion and violence.
Themes
Racism and Colonialism Theme Icon
Altruism vs. Cruelty Theme Icon
Yellagonga, still addressing his people, tells them that just now two members of the tribe were hunting near the river when they heard the “frightened” cries of men and women, along with other strange noises. When the men climbed the sand hills to get a better look at the beach, they saw a group of “strange people” and, all along the beach, scattered and ruined belongings. Yellagonga speculates that perhaps the men and women had been shipwrecked.
Yellagonga, believing the white invaders to have been shipwrecked, mirrors Kundilla’s inclination for assume the best, and to feel empathy and concern for the newly-arrived white men. Pilkington is foreshadowing that, like Kundilla and his men, Yellagonga and his tribe will be made to suffer. 
Themes
Loss, Dispossession, and Reclamation Theme Icon
Family, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Altruism vs. Cruelty Theme Icon
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Actually, Pilkington writes, these people were the first European civilian settlers. It is June of 1829, and Australia’s wet winter weather is a “disappointing” introduction to their new country. As the settlers sit on the beach in their fine clothes, pelted by the rain, they watch their trunks, furniture, finery, and even a piano being ruined by the weather while their crew struggles to bring livestock ashore. One of the settlers, a businessman from London, laments that they are not in a land of “rustic paradise” as they’d been told they would be. Another man comforts his wife, assuring her that their captain, Captain Stirling, must have made a simple miscalculation.
The English settlers seem surprised by the winter weather in the middle of their “summertime”—symbolizing their ignorance of the Australian continent and their disdain for the way things are there. This attitude of derision and dislike will fuel their violence against the Aboriginal people as they ravage their land, culture, and traditions.
Themes
Racism and Colonialism Theme Icon
Loss, Dispossession, and Reclamation Theme Icon
Family, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Pilkington describes a silent war between two captains—James Stirling and Charles Fremantle—who were both vying for the same swath of Nyungar land as they journeyed from England. Captain Stirling, arriving to find Fremantle and his men already present, panicked and ran his ship aground. None of the English settlers on his ship have drowned, but they are now stuck in a miserable and “unproductive” terrain. Moreover, Stirling will soon find that Fremantle has gone ashore and taken formal possession of one million square miles of land, naming his bounty Swan River Colony.
In this passage, Pilkington highlights the greed and competitiveness of the English settlers. They are so obsessed with amassing land for themselves that they completely discount the fact that a thriving civilization already exists on this strange continent—and that their actions could decimate and eradicate that culture.
Themes
Racism and Colonialism Theme Icon
Loss, Dispossession, and Reclamation Theme Icon
Family, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Altruism vs. Cruelty Theme Icon