In these days of watching the state separate children from their parents and families, it was impossible to ignore the passing of Daisy Kadibil this week. Kadibil was the youngest of the three children whose journey home from a detention center inspired the film “Rabbit Proof Fence.” The film is about three girls who were taken by the Australian government from their homes and “resettled” in a camp where they would be indoctrinated in White Australian culture.
Really, these were imprisoned children, and more than 200 of them died at the Moore River Native Settlement where Daisy, her sister Molly and their cousin Grace were interned. Determined to get back home, the girls, then aged 8, 14, and 10, escaped and followed the fence that was built to keep rabbits out of farmland 1600 kilometers to go home to their community of Jigalong. The film is a testament to their courage and determination. It reminds me that people will do ANYTHING to get back to family and home, and that kids are capable of far more than we think. It is a great story of girlhood, agency, love and heroism.
This history mirrors that of the United States, where Native children were routinely stolen from their parents, sent to “boarding schools” that were really juvenile detention centers and sent to be adopted by White couples so they would assimilate. This kind of thing is key to genocide, the idea being to wipe out a culture and a people by, if not killing them, breaking all their ties to their community.
At the time, Western Australia had a policy of removing children from Aboriginal parents and taking them into state care for "integration" into western society.
Tens of thousands of Aboriginal children were forcibly removed from their families until the 1960s, an era known as the Stolen Generations.
Academic Paddy Gibson, a senior researcher at the Jumbunna Institute at the University of Technology, said in Western Australia the Department of the Chief Protector under the Commissioner of Native Welfare was given extreme powers.
"This was an incredibly destructive policy which left in its wake a real trail of heartache and pain in Indigenous communities, which continues to be felt today," he said.
"They didn't need particular excuses to remove Aboriginal children from families, they could basically shunt children all around the state. And they did."