This is another book that I picked up based on the Read Harder Challenge put on by Book Riot. Task number 9 was to read a book either by or about an indigenous culture. Scanning through recommended lists, I chose Rabbit-Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington, and it happens to satisfy both sides of the task. Pilkington recounts the true story of her mother and aunts escape from the Moore River Native Settlement outside of Perth and their nearly thousand mile walk home along the titular rabbit-proof fence that crossed Western Australia.
Pilkington, herself a former resident of the Moore River Native Settlement after having been taken from her own mother, traces in this slim volume a history of Aboriginal life before European arrival, the tenuous balance that was carved out once settlement occurred, and then the history of her own family and its ties to Moore River Native Settlement. We are then dropped into the story as reconstructed by Pilkington through primary sources and interviews with her mother Molly, and her aunt Daisy who as half-castes (Aboriginal mothers, white fathers) were removed from their Aboriginal families to be educated and westernized at the Settlement, which was notorious for terrible conditions, overcrowding, and the erasure of Aboriginal culture.
The book at times vacillates between reading like a term paper and reading an oral history. This is perhaps the weakness of Pilkington’s work, that she is giving the reader a needed description of the persecution of Aborigines in Australia, which in and of itself is an important task, but while I was reading I was left wondering at the gaps in information. What I was reading was interesting and captivating, but I wanted and needed more.
When I finished the book I went and did a little internet sleuthing about the Aboriginal Settlement Camps, the Stolen Generations in Australia, and the direct correlations to the American Indian Boarding Schools. These dark pieces of history are, to me, where we need to build our awareness. If we are striving to be more informed, better citizens then it is here we need to begin, by listening to the stories of the people who have walked the terrible path.