Essay by Larissa Behrendt
Doris Pilkington Garimara tells the story of her mother in Follow the Rabbit-proof Fence. She tells her own story in Under the Wintamarra Tree (2003), of her premature birth, under the tree of the book’s title on Balfour Downs Station, a pastoral lease and cattle station located about 132 kilometres north-east of Newman in Western Australia’s Pilbara region. She was so small when she was born that she could fit in a shoebox and it was believed that she would not survive. As her birth perhaps foretold, Doris’s life was not going to be easy. At the age of four she was taken, along with her mother and two-year-old sister, Annabelle, from Jigalong to Moore River Native Settlement. For Molly, Doris’s mother, this was not the first time she had been to Moore River, and that first visit – and Molly’s subsequent journey home with her younger cousins Gracie and Daisy – will become the heart of Follow the Rabbit-proof Fence.
To me, Follow the Rabbit-proof Fence is a book about connection to country and family. The heart of the story is the extraordinary journey Molly, Gracie and Daisy take as they escape Moore River Settlement and make the long walk home across hundreds of kilometres of desert back to their families. That story, central to the film adaptation, is given a more complex and expansive treatment in the book.
For Pilkington, the story of her own family cannot be told without the context of first contact and first settlement, of the erosion of physical security and the erosion of the way of life of Aboriginal people in other parts of the country. So she starts her story with the first encounters between Aboriginal people in Western Australia and sealers and whalers, as seen through the eyes of a warrior, Kundilla. He recounts the fate of the Nyungar people as colonial settlements are established on the west coast of Australia, and through these encounters we see the creeping but profound influence of European law, as it becomes the only law. Through these early conflicts, Pilkington explores the violence on the frontier so that we understand the motivations and contexts of the characters she will introduce us to.
Indigenous people have always understood interconnectedness. You had to work together in order to survive in a hunter/gatherer society. You understood the environment and how it could provide for your basic needs – food, tools, clothing, entertainment, medicine. You also had to understand your need for each other and to work together. Everything relates to everything else. And in this world of interdependence and reciprocity, you can’t think of the present without thinking of the past and the future.
And so understanding this context is critical. The story of how the Nyungar fared against the early colonists explains what is at stake for other Aboriginal people as Europeans expand their hold over the country. By the time we get to 1900 and the Mardudjara, Pilkington has illustrated what the Mardu (the traditional people) could lose as they navigate the profound changes affecting the Pilbara. Here there is less violent conflict than with the Nyungar but the relations are no less complex, and the symbiotic relationship between pastoralists and stockmen and domestic servants defines the relationship between Aboriginal people and colonists in the area for years to come. Aboriginal people, particularly men, worked for pastoralists and Aboriginal women performed domestic duties in homesteads, ensuring that pastoralists could make their properties profitable. As part of the exchange, Aboriginal people stayed on their traditional land and could carry out cultural activities.
This didn’t mean that conflict, violence, retribution and sexual exploitation weren’t rife. The creation of the Canning stock route caused considerable conflict and, once established, profoundly changed the rhythms and movements of traditional life. But what is evident in Pilkington’s account of this history is that there was not just fear and foreboding about what was happening – Aboriginal people had a natural curiosity and wonder at the changes in the world around them. They were intrigued by European customs and technology and fascinated with the species settlers introduced, including horses, cattle, sheep, foxes, rabbits. Pilkington shows that this is a people who had long adapted to everything around them to survive and would continue to show that same resilience in the face of huge changes. She shows a society in which there is evolution and adaptation as traditional people sought to keep their values and adapt to living between two cultures.
And it is this background that is necessary to explain how a once nomadic society is drawn to the safety of government outposts for protection. As was the case around the country, many Aboriginal people settled on missions and reserves to escape frontier violence. This was a large part of the pact with the pastoralists as well, and it is this promise of safety that leads Aboriginal people to Jigalong Depot. The depot is a source of both curiosity and interest, providing protection, clothes, food and blankets. It was a bustling little community by the 1930s. Sacred objects were brought in from the desert and buried there, ceremonies were still performed and again we see the adaptation of Aboriginal people to a new set of circumstances. Nomadic lifestyle becomes semi-nomadic. But this sanctuary also allowed for greater European surveillance and control of the Aboriginal people who lived there.
It is here that Molly is born to an Aboriginal mother, Maude, and a white father, a worker on the rabbit-proof fence. And it is here that we see the first role the fence will play in this family story as it brings Pilkington’s grandparents together. The fence is a symbol of colonisation. It seeks to tame the land and keep out the introduced scourge of rabbits, but it also becomes a link between worlds.
The fence was built in 1907 to stop rabbits migrating into Western Australia from the east, but there ended up being more on the WA side of the fence than on the South Australian. It provides a graphic example of the failed attempts by Europeans to understand their new environment and brings home the fact that European impact could not be tempered. Depots like Jigalong were established as part of maintaining the fence.
Molly is the first half-caste born at Jigalong. Her cousins, Gracie and Daisy, follow. Half-castes become a distinct part of the community and represent the conundrum of being caught between two worlds. The government’s removal policy focuses on them because they are seen as easier to assimilate; as well, their own community at first are wary of them and the disruption they pose to traditional tribal and kinship systems. Superintendent Keely from Jigalong Depot wrote to the Department of Native Affairs in Perth, observing that Molly and some other children weren’t getting fair treatment because they were half-caste. And so the wheels of removal are set in motion and the girls are designated to the Moore River Settlement.
Unlike the heart-wrenching scene in the movie where the children are ripped from the community, in the book, Molly and Gracie are given over almost as a faitaccompli (with Daisy later joining them), but the loss is no less heart-breaking. And this is not just so for the Aboriginal parents and families losing their children; Gracie’s white father watches her removal, feeling powerless to prevent it. That a white man feels the situation is beyond his control says much about the compulsion of the law and the sense of inevitability of removing children from one world to place them into another.
Pilkington describes the long journey the girls take to the Moore River Settlement – by boat and car – and what is striking is how the white people they come into contact with seem to express a benevolence and kindness towards the girls. For them, such forced separations are both necessary and inevitable even if the situation is also tragic and pitiable. As Pilkington observes of the girls: ‘They were doomed’.
But for me, this is not so much a book about the stolen generations as a story about the power of family and connection to country.
Once at the Moore River Settlement it doesn’t take long for the girls to plot their escape, drawn by their desire to be back with their families and be on their own country. Molly is clearly the leader in this, confident that her bushcraft can lead them home, and the younger girls trust her decision, her strength and her determination. In this there is the irony that the removal policy focused on half-castes, in the belief that they were more likely to lose their connection to family, community and country. Through Molly’s steely determination we see that the longing for family and home is instinctive, primal and urgent.
Molly and the girls knew about the fence and are armed with finely honed bush skills. They are helped along the way by a both black and white people who stand at arm’s length from the girls and their plight but assist with provisions. We see the curious role that black trackers played in hunting down their own people to send them back to the places they have fled and the complex relationships Aboriginal people have with pastoralists, who warily yet generously provide food for the girls, knowing they are fugitives but not actively helping or hindering them.
The officials seeking to recapture them assumed that the girls would not be able to make it home, underestimating their self-sufficiency and ability to adapt to the environments they encountered. The escape and journey home challenged the Department of Native Affairs. It was clearly underfunded for its tasks of providing education, support and provisions for Aboriginal people and it was under-resourced in its efforts to find Molly, Gracie and Daisy. Yet the officials seem cognisant of what the girls’ escape would symbolise and are nervous that the department’s prestige would be undermined if they were unable to bring the girls back to Moore River.
Gracie is eventually recaptured, but Molly and Daisy make it home. They are immediately taken out to the bush, away from the tighter surveillance of Jigalong Depot, though it is clear from the official paper trail that their movements were followed by the department throughout their lives. Molly would eventually go back to the Moore River Settlement as an adult, only to escape again – but that’s another story, one told in Doris Pilkington’s Under the Wintamarra Tree.
Doris’s own journey to get back home was also a long, circuitous one. She became a nursing aide, a wife and a mother to six children. She would go back to school as a mature-aged student, study journalism, work in film and video and eventually win the David Unaipon Award for what would become her first book – Caprice: A Stockman’s Daughter. Doris seemed to find a kind of closure to what had happened to her as a child and to how she felt about herself when she took the journey home to Jigalong, where she had been taken from her family. And it was when she went home and was reunited with her mother that she embraced her culture, after being brought up to view Aboriginal culture as ‘savage’. She learnt her traditional language in the hope that she would be able to speak with the older people.
Doris had to reconcile the joy of home-coming with some painful questions. Why had she been taken, and not her younger sister, Annabelle, who had been left behind? Why had she been abandoned at the age of four and a half, not to see her mother again until 21 years later?
I am interested in the choices authors make when facing the challenges of writing a story drawn from memory. There are always gaps in the family knowledge – the removal policy certainly complicates the ability to tell complete stories as sometimes relatives were dislocated permanently. Then there is the problem that, if five family members attend an event there will be five – sometimes more – versions of what happened. The challenge for Pilkington also includes the time lapse between when she was writing her book and when the events actually occurred. Memories are not always correct or complete. Doris allowed for ‘patches of dimmed memories and sketchy reflections’ (Follow the Rabbit-proof Fence, St Lucia: UQP, 1996, p. xii). She also had to bear in mind cultural difference – time, numbers and distances don’t have the same meanings for traditional Aboriginal people who may remember the season or the aspects of the physical landscape rather than dates, facts and figures. Doris explains that part of her creative practice as a writer was to ‘synthesise these different forms of knowledge to give readers the fullest insights into this historic journey’ (p. xiv).
The challenge for the author is: How do you fill in the gaps, especially when so much time has passed? And how do you decipher that when your characters and sources use seasons and landscape, instead of time and numbers, to remember when and where things happened? Doris addressed some of these conundrums by relying on an amalgam of official documentation, as well as the memories of her own family members. She took the skeletons of facts from the archive – dates, locations – and then fleshed them out with memories, anecdotes and recollections. She then added further colour by imagining what characters might feel and how they might react. This is the craft of the writer who chooses to tell a family history as a story.
I think of Doris so meticulously researching her story, using the skills that she went to university to learn, knowing that it was the quintessential tale to speak across generations and cultures about the cruelty, impact and legacy of the policy of removing Aboriginal children from their families. I think of how insular and introverted the atmosphere is in libraries – even more so in archives – where you breathe in the dust and the smell of slow-rotting paper. There are so many clues to the stolen lives of Aboriginal people in those archives.
In an ABC radio interview, Doris said that the cruellest thing she ever did was to accuse her mother of giving her away. It took her many years to accept her mother’s account of what happened to her, to change the narrative that had been drummed into her head that her mother hadn’t wanted her. Whatever her deep regrets about her relationship with her mother, she spent much time atoning for it by telling the story of Molly’s own journey.
When I see how Doris lovingly crafted her story in Follow the Rabbit-proof Fence, I am reminded again about the deep regret she had for the flash of unintended cruelty she showed to her mother. When I sit down to write, I do it because I want to tell a story, but I rarely do it just to entertain. I think most writers are like that. We also write to teach, to learn, to heal, to grow, to resolve. These might sound like clichés but they are nevertheless true. And I like to read Follow the Rabbit-proof Fence in the same way, as a love letter to a mother, a way of walking in her shoes.
In this way, Follow the Rabbit-proof Fence is a meditation on the cultural clashes of two worlds, where forced assimilation is just one of the very powerful forces at play. The book asks the reader to step into the shoes of the heroines and take that long journey – across a continent and across many decades – in order to see how central love of land and kinship ties are.
© Copyright Larissa Behrendt 2014
Life writing or Indigenous life writing?
Considering Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence as memoir and life writing
Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence is described as a ‘memoir’ by the Reading Australia Project. Many people have considered how this text and the form of the memoir belong to the genre, or type of text, known as life writing.
Life writing involves, and goes beyond, biography. It is a special form of creativity that involves using the writer’s memory, research skills and powers of description to tell a story. Life writing embraces the lives of objects and institutions as well as the lives of individuals, families and groups.
Marlene Kadar describes life writing as a ‘genre of documents written out of life or unabashedly out of personal experience of the writer’. Life writing includes texts which are fictional and non-fictional and which are linked by what Kardar describes as a ‘thematic concern of life or self’.
Critic and biographer Hermione Lee argues that life writing gives people different ways to tell their story through such forms as memoir, personal essay, autobiography, diary, journalism, letters, oral testimony and eye witness accounts, blogs, social media such as Twitter or Facebook, and even fiction. Lee argues that the process of life writing occurs when ‘the distinction between autobiography and biography is blurred’.
Max Saunders responded to Lee’s view of life writing by agreeing that the division between autobiography and biography is not so distinct. He observes how a ‘memoir of someone else, by virtue of the fact that you are writing about them because they are important in your life, will be part of your autobiography’.
What is a memoir?
‘Memoir’ comes from the Latin memoria, or memory. The word ‘memoir’ dates from the early fifteenth century. It comes from the Anglo French word memorie, meaning a note or something written to be kept in mind. The definition of a memoir as a ‘person’s written account of his or her life’ dates from the 1670s.
- A memoir is a written account in which a person describes past experiences.
- A memoir is a history or record composed from personal observation and experience of the subject matter.
- Memoir is closely related to autobiography. In an autobiography the writer is concerned chiefly with themselves as their subject matter.
- However, a memoir will be more concerned with external events. Writers of memoir have usually closely observed or played roles in the historical events they depict.
- The main purpose of a memoir is to describe or interpret the events described.
Features of the text
The current edition of Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence published by UQP contains:
- a biography of the author
- short reviews
- a title page
- a page with publishing details
- a dedication
- a table of contents
- a map
- an introduction
- eight numbered and titled chapters
- a glossary of Mardujara words
- a list of references.
Ask students to compile a list of the elements in their own edition of Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence. Then ask them to reflect on what this list of elements reveals about the nature of this text.
- What does each element help the author to achieve?
- How might they persuade the reader that this is a true story?
Where to begin?
Many readers of Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence will know the story of the girls’ journey from Philip Noyce’s film adaptation. They may be surprised to discover that the memoir starts at a far earlier time in the history of Indigenous Australians than does the film, which begins in the early 1930s.
Before shifting to the experiences of the Mardu people and the journey along the Rabbit-Proof Fence, the memoir depicts Nyungah (also spelled Nyungar and Noongah) society in the period prior to contact with the European colonists of Western Australia. The Nyungah are the Indigenous Australian people who first encountered European colonists following the temporary establishment of a British military outpost at King George’s Sound in 1826. The founding of the Swan River Colony in 1829 and the arrival and expansion of white settlement saw the Nyungah people suffer the loss of family, land, culture and autonomy. Doris Pilkington Garimara imagines and recounts their experience before she shifts to explore the impact of white settlement on the Mardu peoples.
‘The Nyungah people who once walked tall and proud, now hung their head in sorrow.’ (Chapter 3: The Decline of Aboriginal Society)
Ask students the following:
- Discuss the reasons why Doris Pilkington Garimara chose to depict the events that occur prior to the journey of the girls along the Rabbit-Proof Fence.
- Consider the characterisation of figures such as Kundilla and Yellagonga.
- How are they depicted and why are they presented in such a manner?
- What are the world views of Kundilla and Lockyer? How are they contrasted to reveal alternative views of land and culture?
Many readers may be tempted to skip over the Introduction but it is an important element of the text because of the ways it introduces the reader to some of the differences between the cultures and world view of white Australians and Indigenous Australians. The Introduction also reveals the challenges facing the writer in telling this story.
One strategy teachers might employ to engage students with the Introduction and the earlier chapters of the memoir is to use extracts from the audio book version. The memoir is read by Indigenous actor, narrator and director, Rachael Maza. The audio recording is available as a CD or MP3 from the ABC Shops and online (see Referenced works).
In the Introduction, Doris Pilkington Garimara reveals herself to be a literate and numerate historian who is writing stories about members of her family who are not literate or numerate in a Western sense. However, Daisy and Molly are literate and numerate in their own cultures. In the Introduction, the writer reveals she had to ‘synthesise . . . different forms of knowledge about time and place’ in order to tell the story.
Before students begin, ask them to:
- Imagine you were writing a memoir about the story of your family.
- Make a list of all the ways you would research their story.
- Make a list of the challenges and problems you might face in trying to research and tell this story.
- How does the Introduction reveal how Molly and Daisy think differently about time, place and the ways stories are told?
- From your reading of the Introduction, what were the challenges facing Doris Pilkington Garimara when she attempted to tell this story?
- How did she seek to overcome these challenges?
- Describe some elements of the process used by Doris Pilkington Garimara to research and tell the story of her family.
Research: seasonal time
Nganjinanga calendar yamba kari. Yamba nganjin Bamangka juku nyajil-nyajil.
Yinya juku binalbajaku nganjin bama jarra yala.
We don’t have a calendar. Bama story goes by the tree. The tree knows better than we do.
(Peter Fischer, ‘Indigenous Australians’ knowledge of weather and climate‘)
Discuss with students how information about plants and animals and the seasonal calendar assisted Doris Pilkington Garimara to correlate the journey with the western calendar and western ways of thinking about time. Then ask students to research the use of seasonal calendars amongst Indigenous Australian cultures. They might focus on researching the seasonal calendars used by an Indigenous Australian culture whose traditional lands are located close to their school community. Useful information can be found on:
The Larrakia or Gulumoerrgin calendar is another rich online resource for teachers and students exploring the idea of seasonal calendars. Gulumoerrgin is the language for Darwin and the surrounding regions of Cox Peninsula and Gunn Point in the Northern Territory.
Glossary of Mardujara words
Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence provides rich opportunities for students to consider the ways Indigenous life writing incorporates Standard Australian English, Aboriginal English and vocabulary from traditional languages such as Mardu Wangka.
Students should discuss the possible reasons for the inclusion of the Glossary of Mardujara words and the use of Nyungah and Mardujara vocabulary throughout the memoir. What is the effect of including such language in the memoir?
Close reading activity: survival guide
Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence is often read as a story of survival and resistance. Key to the success of the girls was their knowledge of the land that they had learned from their family.
This activity requires students to read the text closely for evidence of how the girls were able to complete their journey of over 1500 miles in nine weeks.
Ask students to:
- Construct a manual or guide book which outlines how to survive in the bush while travelling along the Rabbit-Proof Fence.
- Use evidence from the memoir to show how the girls:
- concealed themselves from detection by the authorities
- sourced food and water
- sourced warmth and shelter
- worked out their location and the direction in which to travel.
The table below could be used as part of a reading journal that students complete as they read Chapter Eight (which comprises over one third of the memoir):
|Strategy||Evidence/Quotation||Chapter and page reference|
Students might instead prefer to complete this activity by developing another type of text.
Ask students to compose a dialogue between Doris Pilkington Garimara and her mother Molly in which they discuss how the three girls managed to survive during the journey from Moore River to Jigalong. The discussion should focus on the strategies that the girls used to survive in the bush and to evade detection and capture by the authorities. Students should include information on how the girls managed to acquire food and shelter and use their close reading of the text to inform this discussion.(ACELT1773)(ACELY1744)(ACELY1745)(ACELY1746)(ACELY1748)(EN5-6C)(EN5-2A)(EN5-1A)
Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence as Indigenous life writing
It is worthwhile to allow the voices of Indigenous Australians to explain and define what is meant by Indigenous life writing. Daniel Browning, host of AWAYE! on ABC Radio National, describes it thus:
For a long time writing is something that happened to Aboriginal people. We all understand the power of the written word to turn other human beings into objects without a voice of their own. But more and more Aboriginal people are writing their own life stories. Whatever you like to call it – autobiography, biography, memoir – Indigenous life writing is emerging as a literary genre of its own.
In the same program, Frances Peters-Little, Indigenous Australian academic, musician and filmmaker, says:
Life writing is very quickly, it’s fast becoming one of the most popular ways that, internationally, people are learning about Indigenous peoples’ culture, life, history, life stories . . . autobiography and biography is really the voices of the people themselves who are getting that message across . . .
The nature of Indigenous life writing in Australia
Christine Olsen, screenwriter and producer of the film adaptation, Rabbit-Proof Fence,says this about the book: ‘The book was told very quietly, almost passively . . .’
Frances Peters-Little adds that it is:
. . . far more inclusive in the way Indigenous people talk about their life stories. We don’t say this is a story about me, we say this is a story about me, my people, my land . . . (it is) much more communal, personal and inclusive of our
family ties . . . It doesn’t have to be academic, formal . . . all people with all education levels, gender, goes across, gives more voices to more people to actually speak, have access. The mysterious thing about Indigenous knowledge is totally, you know, broken away . . . You have got that diversity . . . (that) vast variety of Aboriginal life experiences and they are all being expressed from those different views . . . you can have that voice . . .
Ask students to consider how Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence reflects the views expressed by Christine Olsen and Frances Peters-Little about the nature of Indigenous life writing:
- How is the memoir a quiet and almost passive story?
- How is it an inclusive piece of life writing?
- How do we see that it is an academic and formal piece of writing? How does the reader see that it is not always academic and formal?
Names and naming: students compose their own life writing
Doris Pilkington Garimara says: ‘Any person who was a member of the Stolen Generations owns their story.‘
Names in Indigenous Australian cultures
Many Indigenous Australians may have more than one name. They may have a European first name and surname. They may have a bush name or traditional name from their own Indigenous language. They may even have a nickname. A nickname is a replacement name for a person or thing, often given in affection or familiarity. Sometimes a nickname will shorten a name. A nickname might only be used by certain groups of people that you know. The word nickname dates from the fifteenth century Middle English word ekename, meaning an alternative name.
Doris Pilkington Garimara’s mother gave her the first name of Nugi. However, she was renamed Doris after Mary Dunnet, her mother’s employer at Balfour Down’s Station, expressed her belief that Nugi ‘was a stupid name’.
Many members of Indigenous Australian cultures also have a skin name. Some contemporary Aboriginal people will use their skin name in a way that is similar to a surname. Doris Pilkington Garimara uses the skin name (garimara, also spelled karimarra) of her mother as a surname.
Skin names are a feature of the kinship system in some Indigenous Australian cultures. The kinship system is a feature of the way Aboriginal people organise their society and family relationships. It is a complex system that determines people’s roles and how they relate to each other. It includes responsibilities and obligations to each other, in ceremonial business and in relation to the land. The kinship system will decide who an individual may marry, their relationships in ceremonies, their role at funerals and the way they can behave and interact with their kin. For more information, see the Central Land Council website.
In Mardu or Mardujara culture, the kin system consists of four sections or skin names. The number of sections or skin names can vary across different groups of Indigenous Australian peoples.
|Section or skin name|
This activity focuses on the significance and meaning of names and naming in people’s lives. Students have the opportunity to complete a piece of life writing and may choose between an activity that draws from their own life experience or one that is based on an interview with a family member or family friend.
This activity does not require students to complete life writing about a member of the Stolen Generations. These stories belong to them and students are rather given the opportunity to share their own stories or those from family members from whom they have sought permission.
Life writing about your names: pre-writing
- Make a list of all the names people call you by.
- In a table, identify who calls you by each of these names.
- Are there any rules or preferences you might possess about who might be allowed to call you by a particular name?
|Name||Who calls you this name|
Choice 1: Life writing about names
Compose a piece of life writing in which you explore the significance or origin of one or more of your names. This might include:
- the meaning or symbolism of your first name
- an explanation of the origin of your family name – or what some people might call surname. You may have more than one family name or surname.
- an explanation of how you acquired a nickname.
Choice 2: Life writing about names: oral history and interview
Frances Peters-Little says:
Let’s not forget we are an oral history culture, with traditional oral histories, and that is our way of telling stories . . . We should be encouraging more and more
people to collect these oral stories to be recorded now. Go out and grab those stories . . . firsthand primary sources . . .
Let’s remember in terms of schools and academia, and whatever, the way in which the colonised society is dominated in education is because they wrote everything down. Well, now it’s about time we recorded all of our stuff so we can make up for the stories that haven’t been recorded and that has to be done orally.
The written manuscript of Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence began when Doris Pilkington Garimara began to record in writing the stories told to her by her mother Molly. Indigenous Australian cultures have a tradition of oral storytelling. This task allows students to experience the collection of oral storytelling.
Students should interview a family member or family friend about the names they have acquired over their lifetime:
- Ask them to begin by considering the ways their names have changed or been added to over their lifetime. (These changes or additions may be due to marriage, becoming a grandparent or through other connections to people and places.)
- Please remember that the person who you interview owns their own life story.
- Explain that you are completing a piece of life writing as part of your school work in English and that the audience will include your teacher.
- Discuss with the person which of their stories they are happy to share with you orally and those which they feel comfortable being shared in a written form with a wider audience.
- Use your notes from this interview to complete a piece of life writing about their names. You may write about all their names or just one or two of them.
- Share a copy of your writing with the person you have interviewed.
Activity: describing and classifying Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence
In reviews and articles, Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence has been described in the following ways:
- autobiographical novel
- fictionalised account
- true account
- novelised version of history
- true story
- life writing
- Aboriginal literature
- true story
The Reading Australia project describes Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence as a memoir.
Allocate one or more of these terms from the list to small groups within the class.
- First, ask students to provide a brief definition of the term they have been allocated.
- Students may need to use a dictionary to seek out definitions of some of the terms on this list.
- Ask students to explain, based on their reading, why the text might be described using this term. Do they agree or disagree with the use of this term? Are there particular parts of the text that merit the use of this term more than others?
- Having read About the Author, the short biography of Doris Pilkington Garimara, ask them to explain why they believe Reading Australia prefers to use the term ‘memoir’ to describe the text.
- How might considering this list of terms help students to understand the nature of life writing and Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence?
- Which elements of the text (have students return to their list of the elements of the memoir) feel more appropriate to or suggest the term they have been allocated?
How is the memoir a hybrid text? A hybrid is a mixed thing made of different elements.
Ask students to discuss:
- Why do you think it suited Doris Pilkington Garimara to use elements of a range of texts in her piece of writing?
- How might the form and structure of the text reflect her life experience?