In March of this year, Daisy Craig Kadibil, aged 95, passed away, with seemingly very little notice, at least in North America. Her passing was noted in the June 27 edition of the New York Times. Daisy was an Aboriginal Australian, born in 1923. Her mother was of the Martu people (native to central western Australia), and her father was Thomas Craig, who was English. At the age of eight, Daisy, her older sister Molly, and her cousin Gracie were forcibly removed from their family homes in the Jilalong Community by the Australian government and sent to the Moore River Native Settlement. The Settlement was near Perth, and some 800 miles from Jilalong. Daisy, Molly and Gracie were not long for Moore River. The three girls stayed but a night before deciding to return to Jilalong. It took them nine weeks, on foot, evading the authorities, and surviving in the Outback, to return home. They followed Australia’s rabbit-proof fence as a sort of compass to lead them north from the Settlement. The following is a photo of Daisy, later in life, together with her note that very simply and humbly, depicts her journey.
The Rabbit Proof Fence
This needs some explaining. Let’s start with the rabbits, of which, it seems, there may be no end. Yes, rabbits are prolific. A female over her brief lifetime may produce 1000 offspring. This apparently was lost upon Thomas Austin, an England-born Australian settler who introduced the rabbit to Australia (releasing 24 breeding rabbits) stating that “the introduction of a few rabbits could do little harm and might provide a touch of home, in addition to a spot of hunting.” The year was 1859. Within three decades Australia had a major rabbit problem that among other things, had devastating effects on vegetation. This is Mister Austin below – he passed on in 1871 – leaving behind several million rabbits that would provide more than a “spot of hunting.”
As the sign above would indicate, a rabbit proof fence was completed between 1903 and 1907. It ran north and south with the premise that the farmlands of Western Australia would be protected from further invasion by rabbits – albeit ignoring the capacity of rabbits to burrow and jump. Oops – just had the thought that a wall separating the U.S. southern border and Mexico could be scaled by ladders and tunnelled beneath. What is it with rich, old, white men in government who seem to be absent the logic gene? Just one more interesting aspect of the rabbit proof fence; it was constructed using some 350 camels as work animals. Yeah – camels!
Rabbit-Proof Fence – the movie
In 2002, the director Philip Noyce (noted for the films “Clear and Present Danger” and “Patriot Games”) released the film “Rabbit-Proof Fence” to much acclaim. The New York Times reviewer, Stephen Holden, while calling it a “sturdy, touching movie,” also described it as “a devastating portrayal … of the disgraceful treatment of the Australian Aboriginals” and referring to the Australian government practice of “legalized kidnapping.” Who, in this age, would possibly think of a forcible mass separation of children from their parents?
The movie featured, among others, Kenneth Branagh (recently as Hercule Poirot in “The Murder on the Orient Express”) in the role of A.O. Neville, chief protector of Aborigines in Western Australia. It was Neville in 1937 who asked the question, “Are we going 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 were any Aborigines in Australia?” Definitely would not want Neville as my protector.
In the following image are the young actors portraying Molly, Daisy and Gracie. The movie was based on the book “Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence” written by Doris Pilkington Garimara. Doris, since passed, was the daughter of Molly, Daisy’s older sister.
The Stolen Generations
Also known as Stolen Children, these were the children of Aboriginal Australians who were taken from their families to live in reserves and compounds and to be re-programmed as it where, to embrace Western “culture.” There seemed to be an early distinction in which some children, who were referred to as “half-castes” or “cross-breeds” were “institutionalized” with the stated mission of the government “to convert the half-caste to a white citizen.” Soon after, there was the move to send all Aboriginal children for re-settlement. There are conflicting estimates of how many children were taken from their families – the numbers range from 25,000 to 100,00. The children would be released from government control at age eighteen. The practice remained in place into the early 1970s. Residential schools anyone?
Molly and Gracie pre-deceased Daisy, who worked as a housekeeper and cook, married and had four children.
In her 80s she moved into a nursing home suffering from dementia, and passed away March 30, 2018.