Some of the policies Australia formulated in regard to its native population
eclipses anything America has done to its Indians and, even, in sheer
mindless cruelty and self-righteous superiority, challenges the hideousness
of Nazi racial ideas. The policy that this Miramax film chronicles is
just such a case.
Fearing the effect of mixed race on the Australian concept of purity, they
decided that mixed-race Aborigines should be denied the right to
marry full-blooded Aborigines. Their idea was to herd mixed race children
together with other mixed-race people, so that they would mate among
themselves, diluting the blackness of the population until successive
generations became as white as the palest Caucasians. They pulled out racial
diagrams to illustrate their reasoning much as Joseph Mengele might have done
to justify his experiments in Nazi Germany.
From 1905 through 1971, in order to apply this mindless concept, they
abducted mixed-race offspring from their parents and placed them in state-run
schools to be trained as domestic servants and farm laborers. A concept like
civil rights had no place in the matter. These were children; their parents
little more; and there was hardly any need to consider the grief and the loss
caused by the sheer inhumanity of their distorted ideas.
During these years, a series of fences were built across the plains of the
outback to keep wild rabbits from ravaging farmlands. They ran across the
land occupied by the Aborigines for thousands of miles and were as much a
means of navigation as a containment barrier.
Our story revolves around three particular mixed-race little girls: Molly
(Everlyn Sampi), Daisy (Tianna Sansbury) and Gracie (Laura Monaghan) who, in
1931, are snatched up for a government school destiny by order of Mr. Neville
(Kenneth Branagh) a smug, self-satisfied beaurocrat who is in charge of the
program. They are quickly and efficiently indoctrinated into the barracks
and school room life and are preached to by no less than Mr. Neville himself
about how privileged they are.
Fifteen hundred miles from home would seem an insurmountable journey and, for
awhile, the girls make the best of the situation, allowing their inner
rebellion to boil. When they learn that the rabbit-proof fence, however, is
not too far away -- the one that can lead them home -- their desperation
boils to the surface and they escape. The main body of the story is their
flight and Mr. Neville's forces in pursuit. The indomitable spirit of
humanity is given expression as Molly, the older, wiser leader of the family
trio, outsmarts her pursuers and survives extreme hardships.
David Gulpilil, an actual Aborigine with movie credits ("Crocodile Dundee",
"Walkabout"), plays Moodoo, a tracker who tends to easily find and recapture
escapees from the school. He seems to be in league with the whites until we
see that what's keeping him at this bitter job is his desire to oversee his
own daughter's training at the school. When, on the trail, he finds himself
outsmarted by Molly, he smiles, exulting silently in her cleverness and
suggesting she's won him over to her side.
Branagh, supressing a tendency to project that Shakespearean training in all
he does, contains himself within the role and achieves a fine portrait of a
mentality that derives its awareness from state manuals and rules of
conduct. In his fastidious, buttoned down way that allows for no alternate
views or interpretations to challenge his own, he efficiently depicts evil
without conscience or consideration.
While one appreciates the casting of the three girls from among a pool of
untrained actresses, no doubt in the interest of sibling similarity and for a
sense of reality, this approach is as much a weak link as it is a strength.
The girls' inability to act is too obvious (with all their time on screen)
for the limitation to be overlooked. One can see how a semblance of
"performance" was patched together in the editing room from whatever takes
Australian director Philip Noyce allowed to be printed. But, the
unmeaningful expression, the lack of concentration, etc. show too often for
belief in the struggles to be maintained. These are three girls who are
supposed to be starving and stretched to the extremity of their beings but
who are constantly reminding us that they're actually receiving three square
meals a day and tutoring between scenes.
Nevertheless, there is value in bringing this dark passage in Australia's
history to light, for whatever lessons in it that might reach and influence
backward thinking third-world countries. Add to the list of virtues a really
fine and evocative score by Peter Gabriel, using Aboriginal and contemporary
sources as a highly rhythmic backup to the often silent action.
More virtues include a generally good supporting cast and photography by
Christopher Doyle who ably captures the harsh beauty of the Australian plains
and the people who both threaten and inhabit it.
~~ Jules Brenner