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7 November 2002 Edition

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The Colour of Prejudice

Rabbit Proof Fence
Directed by Philip Noyce
From Friday 8 November

Rabbit Proof Fence is a film based on the 'stolen generations'. This is the term given to the thousands of 'half-caste' Aboriginal children taken from their mothers in Australia in the first half of the last century. Philip Noyce's work is the first important feature film on the subject and tells the true story of Molly Craig, a young Aboriginal girl who leads her younger sister and cousin in an escape from a government institution, one of the many set up to train Aboriginal children as domestic servants and integrate them into white society.

The issue of the 'stolen generations' is still one of contention in Australia today. The present government under Prime Minister John Howard, steadfastly refuses to give an outright apology to the indigenous people of the country for its predecessors' policies of 'breeding them out'.

No episode in Australia's history is more ideologically sensitive or of greater contemporary significance than this policy. It began in earnest in 1905, with the decision to remove all mixed race children from their rightful homes, so as to slowly rid Australia of all Aborigines. Contemporaries believed that the pure-blood Aboriginal would eventually die out, as a result of continued liaisons between Aboriginal women and white males who worked in the outback. Government officials believed that if mixed race children were removed and married other mixed race or white people, the race would eventually fade out.

Institutions, like the one in this film, were set up to train the children, often as young as six, in white culture, and to prevent the Aboriginal culture from surviving.

Molly is 14 in the film, one of the children who for a while escaped the government's attention and was allowed remain in her home. When it is reported that three 'half-caste' girls (Molly's sister and cousin also have white fathers) are living in Jigalong in Western Australia, the order is given by the 'Protector of Aborigines', Mr Neville, played by Kenneth Branagh, to have the girls removed to the institution in Moore River, 2,400 kilometres from their home.

The girls are seized from their loving mothers, who display unbearable grief on screen, by the police acting as agents for Neville. Authorities at the time are quoted as saying that the separation of a child and an Aboriginal mother was felt no deeper than the loss of a pup to a bitch. The most enthusiastic child removalist in the early days, James Isdell, argued that the mother's display of grief reflected exclusively the anticipated loss of clothes or drink they hoped to acquire by turning their daughters into whores. "All Aboriginal women," he explained in official correspondence, "are prostitutes at heart, dirty, filthy and immoral".

The film portrays the real pain felt by both mother and child, as the girls' mothers run after the car their daughters are being taken in, and the children cry hysterically. The policeman in charge of the case explains to the mothers that they have no rights, as the girls' legal guardian, Mr Neville, has instructed their removal.

After a long and exhausting journey, the girls arrive at Moore river, where they quickly learn that they must speak English and cannot display any of their native culture. The institution portrayed in the film has conditions actually better than the one the girls would have ended up in, even though it looks bad. We see the girls forced to sleep in crowded dormitories that are locked at night, and eat unappetising and insufficient food. Discipline is harsh and those that commit a 'crime' are put into solitary confinement in a small windowless iron shed known as the 'boob'.

Molly soon realises she will never settle into this place and escapes, bringing her sister and cousin with her. They begin to walk the 2,400 km home, pursued all the way by a tracking team with orders to bring them back. Attempted escapes from these institutions were common, though rarely successful. It is worth reminding yourself at this point of the film that the real Molly Craig and her family actually went through this ordeal, as we see the girls take on 1,500 miles of rough desert terrain.

Rabbit Proof Fence is a remarkably accurate account of a dark episode in Australia's history. It is both harrowing and heart-warming, and gives us just a glimpse into the pain and suffering of Aboriginal people in Australia as a result of the policy of 'breeding out'.

The film doesn't even touch on the genocide or appropriation of lands by the Europeans that the Aborigines experienced, but in showing the heartbreaking suffering inflicted on innocent families as a result of racial intolerance and phobias, people watching may finally begin to understand why the Aborigines are so desperate for an apology from the government even now, over 60 years later.


Now that was scary

28 Days Later
Directed by Danny Boyle
Now playing

28 Days Later did what any top notch horror movie should - it made me jump out of my seat at least once and frightened the bejaysus out of me. I was well satisfied.

The fact that two of the movie's main characters are played by Irish actors was just icing on the cake. Danny Boyle, the director of Trainspotting, is back on top form with this horror masterpiece, in which almost the entire population of Britain falls victim to a plague that turns its victims into homicidal lunatics. There are disturbingly close-up camera angles, painful suspense punctuated by intense shocks and some fine performances. If you don't jump in your seat at least once, you are a better man than I am, Gunga Din.

I wanted to see the movie because I had recently been impressed by Cillian Murphy's performance in On The Edge. In that low budget Irish movie, he plays a teenager who tries to commit suicide after his alcoholic father's death and the plot follows his progress as he enters a psychiatric hospital for treatment under the care of Stephen Rea, falling in love along the way. Like 28 Days Later, the story is primarily told through his experience, but this latest project is in a different league.

The basic plot is that a virus locking those infected into a permanent state of killing rage is accidentally released from a British research facility. Carried by animals and humans, it is impossible to contain and spreads like wildfire.

Murphy plays a bicycle courier who is hit by a car and wakes up from a coma alone in hospital 28 days later. He wanders the eerily deserted streets of London, without a clue as to what manner of catastrophe has struck, before making contact with a small group of survivors and joining the desperate struggle to protect themselves from the infected. Brendan Gleeson is his usual impressive self as another survivor.

I won't spoil the plot or give away the most terrifying moments, but there is no space to relax in this movie. The tight camera angles and grainy picture add to the tension and the infected are wonderfully disgustingly manic baddies.

Go see it if you enjoy a good scary movie.


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