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Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence | Study Guide

Doris Pilkington

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Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence | Summary

See Plot Diagram


Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence is based on a true story. In 1931 Molly Craig (who will become the mother of Doris Pilkington Garimara) and her cousins, Gracie Fields and Daisy Kadibil, are taken from their Aboriginal homes because they are biracial. Each girl has an Aboriginal mother and a white European father, and the Australian government is becoming increasingly uneasy about half-caste children. Racist beliefs of the day held that biracial children are superior to Aboriginal children and should be separated from them. The three girls are transported to a distant settlement where biracial children are meant to be educated and trained for jobs.

Fourteen-year-old Molly realizes immediately that the settlement is prisonlike and decides that she and her cousins must escape. On their second day at the settlement, they pack their few possessions and sneak off school grounds. It's the beginning of a thousand-mile trek that will ultimately bring the girls home to their families.

18th-Century Aboriginal and British Cultures Meet and Clash

The book's opening two chapters are set in the 1700s, when British explorers first arrived in Australia. The author recounts the action through the point of view of several Aboriginal people: Kundilla and Yellagonga, leaders of two different tribes; their wives and children; and other members of the two tribes. The native people watch the British arrivals and try to make sense of what they see, but the tremendous differences between the two cultures seem insurmountable.

Kundilla and his sons watch the ceremony as Major Edmund Lockyer establishes a military base on the King George Sound. Yellagonga warns his tribe about Captain Fremantle's visit, during which he claims Western Australia for the British. Captain James Stirling and the first British settlers arrive in 1829, ill-prepared for their new home.

As more British emigrants arrive, the native populations begin to suffer. British people claim native land as their own, refusing to let the native people hunt there. They establish laws banning tribal ceremonies. They mete out harsh punishments to Aboriginal men who break British laws. They have little to offer the Aboriginal people besides blankets and—in one case—a bag of flour as reparation for an Aboriginal man's kidnapped wife.

Native Tribesmen Begin Moving South

By the end of the 19th century, Western Australia is prospering—for white people. White settlements begin to dot the landscape. Realizing that they will not be able to manage in areas dominated by European settlers, the native tribes begin moving south toward a government outpost at Jigalong. They use the British-built rabbit-proof fences to navigate.

These fences were built in 1907 as a futile attempt to keep rabbits from invading Western Australia. The one running north-south is almost 1,200 miles long. Although barbed wire does not work against rabbits, the north-south fence works like a compass for Aboriginal travelers. All they have to do is find it, and then they'll be able to find their way to Jigalong.

Jigalong, 1907–31

Jigalong is a government depot built for the men who maintain the rabbit-proof fence. The depot superintendent has a second role as Protector of Aborigines. Gradually, seminomadic tribes begin to settle there.

Maude is a 16-year-old Aboriginal girl who works at the station. She has an affair with a rabbit-fence inspector named Thomas Craig, and they have a baby girl whom they name Molly. Because Molly is biracial, the other Aboriginal children refuse to play with her. She's delighted when two other women with biracial daughters come to live at Jigalong and soon becomes close to Gracie and Daisy, who are both younger than her.

Members of the Western Australia government are troubled by the treatment of biracial children. They decide it would benefit these children to separate them from their families and move them to settlements where all the children are biracial. Realistically, the government hopes that full-blooded Aboriginal people will gradually die out.

One day, a constable arrives and takes Molly, Gracie, and Daisy away with him, planning to send them to the Moore River Native Settlement.

Trip to the Moore River Native Settlement

The three girls undergo a seemingly endless procession of short trips and overnight stays as they make their way south. Along the way they meet two older Aboriginal girls who have been living in a home for girls. The teens are excited about the prospects they believe lie ahead of them—dreams that will never come true. Their guardians will send them to work on farms, and they will not see their families again for years.

Finally Molly, Gracie, and Daisy arrive at Fremantle, from which they take a ship to Perth before being driven to their new home. They arrive at the settlement at dusk and are surprised to see no other residents outside. Then they're taken to their padlocked dormitory and told to find a bed. The mattresses are hard; they've each been given only one blanket, and the room is cold. Things look even worse the next morning, when they and the other residents are served scanty portions of insect-infested porridge. Another girl takes them on a tour of the place, which Molly thinks looks more like a jail than anything else. The girls are dismayed to learn that English is the only language allowed and horrified when they pass the "boob," where disobedient students are locked up for up to a week at a time.

When Molly is in bed that night, she hears the door being bolted and padlocked, and she decides she and her cousins must escape.

Escape and the Trip Home

Escaping from the Moore River Settlement is easy for the three girls. Finding their way home is another matter. Since her father is a rabbit-proof fence inspector, Molly knows that if they can find the fence, they can find their way home—but reaching the fence is an ordeal.

The girls start walking. They try to catch their own food, but that proves too hit-or-miss to sustain them. They take to begging for food from farmhouses they pass, aware that any of the occupants might report them to the police. Meanwhile, they keep walking. At last they arrive at the rabbit-proof fence, though they don't realize they're only halfway through their journey: there are still 500 miles to go.

As the girls press on, the rigors of the trek begin to take a toll on them. Scratches on their feet become infected to such a point that often Molly and Gracie must carry Daisy. The authorities are still eager to catch them, and they have a couple of narrow escapes. Not too far from the endpoint of their journey, Gracie decides she can't take any more walking. Hearing that they're near the station where her mother lives, she abandons Molly and Daisy and sets off to find her mother. (She will soon be caught and taken back to Moore River.)

After about seven weeks of walking, the girls finally return home. None of their relatives can believe they've made this incredible trip. The authorities learn that the girls are safely at Jigalong but decide not to pursue them any further. They've already spent too much money trying to catch them.


Molly marries a stockman and has two daughters, one of whom is Doris Pilkington Garimara. When the girls are very young, Molly gets appendicitis. As soon as she's out of the hospital, she and her daughters are transported back to the Moore River Native Settlement. Molly is able to escape with her younger daughter, but four-year-old Doris has to stay at the settlement. It will be decades before she sees her mother again.

Doris's younger sister, Annabelle, is taken from Molly and put in a children's home; Molly never sees her again.

Gracie never returns to Jigalong. She finishes her education at the Moore River Settlement and is then sent to work on various farms. She marries a station hand, and they have six children.

Daisy moves to another camp with her family. She trains as a housemaid, marries, and has four children.

Doris remains at the Moore River Settlement until she's 12, when she is sent to a Christian mission. Unwilling to become a domestic worker, she trains as a nurse's aide. She marries and has four children. In the 1960s, she takes the children to meet Molly for the first time. When her children are grown, she studies journalism and works as a researcher in Aboriginal stories. She writes three books, one of which is Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence.

Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence Plot Diagram

ClimaxFalling ActionRising ActionIntroductionResolution2134675


1 A British naval unit establishes a base in West Australia.

Rising Action

2 A naval commander claims West Australia for England.

3 The first nonconvict British settlers arrive.

4 British control devastates the Aboriginal culture.


5 Officials take Molly and others to a distant settlement.

Falling Action

6 The girls escape and trek for weeks before reaching home.


7 Adult Molly is returned to the settlement but escapes again.

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