Introductory activities

Warning: this resource may contain references to and images of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have passed away.


Teachers are advised that exploration of the experience of the Stolen Generations may produce strong emotional responses in both students and members of their wider community. Care should be taken in considering this text and the important issues it explores, particularly where such exploration includes students from an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander heritage.

While the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children occurred throughout Australia, the relevant laws and government practices did vary across the nation. Doris Pilkington Garimara’s Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence primarily records the experience of the Stolen Generations in Western Australia during the 1930s. Teachers are encouraged to explore with their students the experiences of the Stolen Generations as they occurred in the state or area of Australia in which they are located. A resource that may assist teachers in this process is the Stolen Generations’ Testimonies project, which archives video recordings of members of the Stolen Generations. The site includes maps and photographs relating to the individuals providing testimony of their experiences. Teachers are urged to view the video footage prior to sharing it with their students. Some students may find the contents distressing.


In Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence, Doris Pilkington Garimara presents the true story of the Stolen Generations as told to her by members of her family in Western Australia in the 1930s, and as represented in her research of the parallel archival records from white Australia. For many Australians, their experience of the true story of the journey of sisters Molly Craig Kelly (aged 14), Daisy Kadibil (aged 11) and their cousin Gracie Cross (aged 8) following the Rabbit-Proof Fence home to Jigalong in 1931 will be based on their viewing of director Philip Noyce’s 2002 film adaptation, Rabbit-Proof Fence.

This set of teaching resources focuses on the text of Doris Pilkington’s 1996 memoir, Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence. As an example of Indigenous life writing, Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence explores far more than the events depicted in the film. The memoir imagines the historical experience of Indigenous Australians prior to contact with European colonists and the experience and consequences of invasion. Indigenous life writing provides an opportunity for the writer to share and educate the reader about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures. Doris Pilkington Garimara’s memoir therefore documents more than the removal of children from their families, land and culture.

The genre of life writing also allows Indigenous Australians to provide testimony of their experiences and to demonstrate ownership of their stories. In order to explore this text, students will engage in activities where they:

  • explore some of the key ideas explored in the memoir
  • consider the social, cultural and political context of the events depicted in Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence
  • explore the possibilities and fluid nature of life writing and consider the ways this particular memoir can educate and serve as a witness to history
  • communicate their personal response to the text and experiment with the form of life writing to explore their own stories and experience
  • develop their understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures.

Pre-reading activities

The idea of home

A key idea explored in this memoir is the importance of home. In an interview with ABC television, Doris Pilkington Garimara recalled the driving determination of her mother Molly to return home to her family and country. She recounts the following conversation with her aunt Daisy Kadibil about her memories of Molly Craig Kelly during their journey back home to Jigalong along the Rabbit-Proof Fence:

She said, ‘I kept looking back’ and seeing whether we were being followed.
‘I wasn’t looking forward’, she (Daisy) said.
‘My sister (Molly) was facing one way, and that was home.’


Ask students to brainstorm what ‘home’ means to them.

Get students to share their personal experience of the idea of home and then reflect on what it means to different members of their group.

About the Mardu: Indigenous language map

Doris Pilkington Garimara is a Mardu (sometimes spelled as Martu) or Mardujara woman from Jigalong in the northwestern desert region of Western Australia. Their language is called Mardu Wangka. Mardu means ‘one of us’ or ‘person’. The Mardu people belong to the Western Desert cultural bloc of Indigenous Australians and this covers one sixth of the continent of Australia. The name Mardu is a collective term invented by white people because there was no traditional term to describe the groups of people who speak the dialects that comprise this cultural bloc.

The Mardu lands are located in one of the harshest environments in Australia. Its inhabitants are desert people who live in areas of irregular rainfall and few permanent supplies of water. The temperature range is extreme, from -4 to 54 degrees Celsius. The country consists of stony and sandy plains, red-coloured sand ridges, acacia thickets and creek beds lined with tall eucalyptus.

Today there are believed to be about 1,000 Mardu who mostly live at the Jigalong Community or in outstations located in their traditional lands. They continue to speak Mardu as a first language and continue traditional practices. It is impossible to estimate how many Mardu people existed prior to contact with white people. In 2002, the Mardu were granted native title to much of their country. At the time, it was geographically the largest ever native title claim.

In Chapter Four, ‘From the Deserts They Came’, Doris Pilkington Garimara relates how as pastoralists and graziers expanded into the Pilbara, the Mardu people gradually moved from the desert to live and work on stations and in depots such as Jigalong.

The website of the Wangka Maya Pilbara Aboriginal Language Centre provides further information about the history of the Pilbara region and the Mardu or Martu language. It features examples of sentences in Mardu translated into English and an online Mardu dictionary.

Activity: Indigenous language map

Ask students to locate the Mardu language area on the interactive Indigenous Language Map on the ABC website.

Ask students to discuss the following questions:

  • How might accessing this interactive map develop your understanding of Indigenous Australia?
  • How might this map increase or reflect your understanding of the events depicted inFollow the Rabbit-Proof Fence?
  • How might accessing this map support some of the ideas communicated in Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence?

Activity: what is the Rabbit-Proof Fence?

In Chapter Four, ‘From the Deserts They Came’, Doris Pilkington Garimara describes the Rabbit-Proof Fence, now known as the State Barrier Fence of Western Australia. It was constructed between 1901 and 1907.

  • Ask students to research the history and purpose of the Rabbit-Proof Fence.

Some of the sites listed below may assist students in this research process:

A number of images of the Rabbit-Proof Fence are available on the Pinterest site curated by the author of these resources especially for the Reading Australia project.

Students might be asked to share their research through presentations such as:

  • a script for the narration of a promotional film to be screened in cinemas in the 1930s as part of a government information campaign
  • a script for a radio advertisement promoting the goals of the Rabbit-Proof Fence as part of a government information campaign.

If teachers are familiar with the form they might ask students to present their findings through a digital poster, infographic or pictograph using software such as Glogster. A range of software is available for teachers to consider if they adopt this approach to disseminating student research about the Rabbit-Proof Fence.

The Stolen Generations


The Stolen Generations is the name given to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children taken away, forcibly removed or made wards of the state by the assimilation policies of successive Commonwealth, State and Territory governments of Australia. The practice of removing Aboriginal children from their families began in the first days of the colony, but the process intensified at the end of the nineteenth century and became official government policy in all states of Australia in the twentieth century.

The Bringing them home report was tabled to Federal Parliament in 1997, following a national inquiry into the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families. The report concluded that between one in three and one in ten Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families between 1910 and 1970. It also revealed the mistreatment of many Indigenous children while they were living in government custody.

In 2008, Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivered in the Federal Parliament a national apology to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples for the removal of children from their families, children and country. The definition of the Stolen Generations provided above references the Bringing them home report and the national apology delivered by PM Kevin Rudd.

Teachers can read the entire Bringing them home report (along with a host of other resources) and a transcript of the national apology at the Australian Human Rights Commission website.

Defining the term: the Stolen Generations

Teachers will find alternative definitions and explanations of the Stolen Generations. The glossaries of a number of syllabus and curriculum documents for a range of subjects across states and territories feature definitions of the Stolen Generations. Teachers are encouraged to refer to these as they develop their understanding of how to describe and define this important term.

The following definition from the glossary of the NSW Board of Studies K-6 HSIE Syllabus (published May 2006) may prove useful:

stolen generations: The term used for the significant number of Aboriginal children who were forcibly removed from their families. While separation of Aboriginal children from their families had taken place from the time of colonisation, the most damaging and extensive of the removals took place in the twentieth century. The removal of Aboriginal children from their families was government policy in all Australian States. The policy has had an extremely damaging legacy on the self-esteem and identity of those who were subjected to it.

Many students will already have pre-existing knowledge of the Stolen Generations.


A useful introduction for students to the Stolen Generations is this excerpt from the documentary First Australians, produced by Blackfella Films in 2008.


Ask students to share:

  1. one fact or piece of information they already know about the Stolen Generations
  2. a question they may have about the Stolen Generations (this may emerge from their reading of Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence).

Teachers may wish to follow these guidelines for the activity:

  • Ask students to write down these two short pieces of writing on separate post-it notes. Perhaps use different colours for each question.
  • Assemble the information and questions separately – perhaps on a labelled sheet of cardboard or even grouped on the classroom wall.
  • Ask each student to share the information of another student. Discuss this information.
  • Ask each student to read the question of another student. See if the class is able to answer these questions.
  • Students may be better able to answer the questions of their peers following a viewing of the excerpt from First Australians.
  • Unanswered or partially answered questions will help direct and motivate student research of the Stolen Generations for the following activity.


Synthesising task/activity

Activity: compose a text box about the Stolen Generations

Ask students to imagine that a feature article about the Stolen Generations is being published in a magazine aimed at a young adult audience. The article will explore the life of one of the Indigenous Australians who has shared their experience as part of the Stolen Generations’ Testimonies project.

The editor has asked for a text box to be written to accompany this feature article:

  • The text box consists of five to seven dot points summarising key background information for the reader about the Stolen Generations.
  • The text box is titled: Stolen Generations: what you need to know.
  • Students write the copy for this text box, individually or in pairs.

(ACELA1553)   (ACELT1633)   (ACELT1635)   (ACELT1773)   (ACELY1739)   (ACELY1741)   (ACELY1742)   (ACELY1744)   (EN5-2A)   (EN5-8D)   (EN5-7D)   (EN5-6C)

Other Resources: Stolen Generations

Reconciliation Australia Fact Sheet: The Apology to the Stolen Generations 
Timeline: Stolen Generations on SBS website

Life writing or Indigenous life writing?

Considering Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence as memoir and life writing

Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence is described as a ‘memoir’ by the Reading Australia Project. Many people have considered how this text and the form of the memoir belong to the genre, or type of text, known as life writing.

Life writing involves, and goes beyond, biography. It is a special form of creativity that involves using the writer’s memory, research skills and powers of description to tell a story. Life writing embraces the lives of objects and institutions as well as the lives of individuals, families and groups.

Marlene Kadar describes life writing as a ‘genre of documents written out of life or unabashedly out of personal experience of the writer’. Life writing includes texts which are fictional and non-fictional and which are linked by what Kardar describes as a ‘thematic concern of life or self’.

Critic and biographer Hermione Lee argues that life writing gives people different ways to tell their story through such forms as memoir, personal essay, autobiography, diary, journalism, letters, oral testimony and eye witness accounts, blogs, social media such as Twitter or Facebook, and even fiction. Lee argues that the process of life writing occurs when ‘the distinction between autobiography and biography is blurred’.

Max Saunders responded to Lee’s view of life writing by agreeing that the division between autobiography and biography is not so distinct. He observes how a ‘memoir of someone else, by virtue of the fact that you are writing about them because they are important in your life, will be part of your autobiography’.

What is a memoir?


‘Memoir’ comes from the Latin memoria, or memory. The word ‘memoir’ dates from the early fifteenth century. It comes from the Anglo French word memorie, meaning a note or something written to be kept in mind. The definition of a memoir as a ‘person’s written account of his or her life’ dates from the 1670s.

Memoir: definition

  • A memoir is a written account in which a person describes past experiences.
  • A memoir is a history or record composed from personal observation and experience of the subject matter.
  • Memoir is closely related to autobiography. In an autobiography the writer is concerned chiefly with themselves as their subject matter.
  • However, a memoir will be more concerned with external events. Writers of memoir have usually closely observed or played roles in the historical events they depict.
  • The main purpose of a memoir is to describe or interpret the events described.

Features of the text

The current edition of Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence published by UQP contains:

  • a biography of the author
  • short reviews
  • a title page
  • a page with publishing details
  • a dedication
  • a table of contents
  • acknowledgments
  • a map
  • an introduction
  • eight numbered and titled chapters
  • a glossary of Mardujara words
  • a list of references.

Ask students to compile a list of the elements in their own edition of Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence. Then ask them to reflect on what this list of elements reveals about the nature of this text.

  • What does each element help the author to achieve?
  • How might they persuade the reader that this is a true story?

Where to begin?

Many readers of Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence will know the story of the girls’ journey from Philip Noyce’s film adaptation. They may be surprised to discover that the memoir starts at a far earlier time in the history of Indigenous Australians than does the film, which begins in the early 1930s.

Before shifting to the experiences of the Mardu people and the journey along the Rabbit-Proof Fence, the memoir depicts Nyungah (also spelled Nyungar and Noongah) society in the period prior to contact with the European colonists of Western Australia. The Nyungah are the Indigenous Australian people who first encountered European colonists following the temporary establishment of a British military outpost at King George’s Sound in 1826. The founding of the Swan River Colony in 1829 and the arrival and expansion of white settlement saw the Nyungah people suffer the loss of family, land, culture and autonomy. Doris Pilkington Garimara imagines and recounts their experience before she shifts to explore the impact of white settlement on the Mardu peoples.

Discussion questions

‘The Nyungah people who once walked tall and proud, now hung their head in sorrow.’ (Chapter 3:  The Decline of Aboriginal Society)

Ask students the following:

  • Discuss the reasons why Doris Pilkington Garimara chose to depict the events that occur prior to the journey of the girls along the Rabbit-Proof Fence.
  • Consider the characterisation of figures such as Kundilla and Yellagonga.
  • How are they depicted and why are they presented in such a manner?
  • What are the world views of Kundilla and Lockyer? How are they contrasted to reveal alternative views of land and culture?

The Introduction

Many readers may be tempted to skip over the Introduction but it is an important element of the text because of the ways it introduces the reader to some of the differences between the cultures and world view of white Australians and Indigenous Australians. The Introduction also reveals the challenges facing the writer in telling this story.

One strategy teachers might employ to engage students with the Introduction and the earlier chapters of the memoir is to use extracts from the audio book version. The memoir is read by Indigenous actor, narrator and director, Rachael Maza. The audio recording is available as a CD or MP3 from the ABC Shops and online (see Referenced works).

In the Introduction, Doris Pilkington Garimara reveals herself to be a literate and numerate historian who is writing stories about members of her family who are not literate or numerate in a Western sense. However, Daisy and Molly are literate and numerate in their own cultures. In the Introduction, the writer reveals she had to ‘synthesise . . . different forms of knowledge about time and place’ in order to tell the story.

Before students begin, ask them to:

  • Imagine you were writing a memoir about the story of your family.
  • Make a list of all the ways you would research their story.
  • Make a list of the challenges and problems you might face in trying to research and tell this story.

Discussion questions:

  • How does the Introduction reveal how Molly and Daisy think differently about time, place and the ways stories are told?
  • From your reading of the Introduction, what were the challenges facing Doris Pilkington Garimara when she attempted to tell this story?
  • How did she seek to overcome these challenges?
  • Describe some elements of the process used by Doris Pilkington Garimara to research and tell the story of her family.

Research: seasonal time

Nganjinanga calendar yamba kari. Yamba nganjin Bamangka juku nyajil-nyajil.
Yinya juku binalbajaku nganjin bama jarra yala.

We don’t have a calendar. Bama story goes by the tree. The tree knows better than we do.

(Peter Fischer, ‘Indigenous Australians’ knowledge of weather and climate‘)

Discuss with students how information about plants and animals and the seasonal calendar assisted Doris Pilkington Garimara to correlate the journey with the western calendar and western ways of thinking about time. Then ask students to research the use of seasonal calendars amongst Indigenous Australian cultures. They might focus on researching the seasonal calendars used by an Indigenous Australian culture whose traditional lands are located close to their school community. Useful information can be found on:

The Larrakia or Gulumoerrgin calendar is another rich online resource for teachers and students exploring the idea of seasonal calendars. Gulumoerrgin is the language for Darwin and the surrounding regions of Cox Peninsula and Gunn Point in the Northern Territory.

Glossary of Mardujara words

Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence provides rich opportunities for students to consider the ways Indigenous life writing incorporates Standard Australian English, Aboriginal English and vocabulary from traditional languages such as Mardu Wangka.

Students should discuss the possible reasons for the inclusion of the Glossary of Mardujara words and the use of Nyungah and Mardujara vocabulary throughout the memoir. What is the effect of including such language in the memoir?

Close reading activity: survival guide

Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence is often read as a story of survival and resistance. Key to the success of the girls was their knowledge of the land that they had learned from their family.

This activity requires students to read the text closely for evidence of how the girls were able to complete their journey of over 1500 miles in nine weeks.

Ask students to:

  • Construct a manual or guide book which outlines how to survive in the bush while travelling along the Rabbit-Proof Fence.
  • Use evidence from the memoir to show how the girls:
    • concealed themselves from detection by the authorities
    • sourced food and water
    • sourced warmth and shelter
    • worked out their location and the direction in which to travel.

The table below could be used as part of a reading journal that students complete as they read Chapter Eight (which comprises over one third of the memoir):

 Strategy Evidence/Quotation Chapter and page reference

Alternative approach

Students might instead prefer to complete this activity by developing another type of text.
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Task: dialogue

Ask students to compose a dialogue between Doris Pilkington Garimara and her mother Molly in which they discuss how the three girls managed to survive during the journey from Moore River to Jigalong. The discussion should focus on the strategies that the girls used to survive in the bush and to evade detection and capture by the authorities. Students should include information on how the girls managed to acquire food and shelter and use their close reading of the text to inform this discussion.(ACELT1773)   (ACELY1744)   (ACELY1745)   (ACELY1746)   (ACELY1748)   (EN5-6C)   (EN5-2A)   (EN5-1A)

Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence
as Indigenous life writing

It is worthwhile to allow the voices of Indigenous Australians to explain and define what is meant by Indigenous life writing. Daniel Browning, host of AWAYE! on ABC Radio National, describes it thus:

For a long time writing is something that happened to Aboriginal people. We all understand the power of the written word to turn other human beings into objects without a voice of their own. But more and more Aboriginal people are writing their own life stories. Whatever you like to call it – autobiography, biography, memoir – Indigenous life writing is emerging as a literary genre of its own.

In the same program, Frances Peters-Little, Indigenous Australian academic, musician and filmmaker, says:

Life writing is very quickly, it’s fast becoming one of the most popular ways that, internationally, people are learning about Indigenous peoples’ culture, life, history, life stories . . . autobiography and biography is really the voices of the people themselves who are getting that message across . . .

The nature of Indigenous life writing in Australia

Christine Olsen, screenwriter and producer of the film adaptation, Rabbit-Proof Fence,says this about the book: ‘The book was told very quietly, almost passively . . .’

Frances Peters-Little adds that it is:

. . . far more inclusive in the way Indigenous people talk about their life stories. We don’t say this is a story about me, we say this is a story about me, my people, my land . . . (it is) much more communal, personal and inclusive of our
family ties . . . It doesn’t have to be academic, formal . . . all people with all education levels, gender, goes across, gives more voices to more people to actually speak, have access. The mysterious thing about Indigenous knowledge is totally, you know, broken away . . . You have got that diversity . . . (that) vast variety of Aboriginal life experiences and they are all being expressed from those different views . . . you can have that voice . . .

Ask students to consider how Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence reflects the views expressed by Christine Olsen and Frances Peters-Little about the nature of Indigenous life writing:

  • How is the memoir a quiet and almost passive story?
  • How is it an inclusive piece of life writing?
  • How do we see that it is an academic and formal piece of writing? How does the reader see that it is not always academic and formal?

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Names and naming: students compose their own life writing

Doris Pilkington Garimara says: ‘Any person who was a member of the Stolen Generations owns their story.

Names in Indigenous Australian cultures

Many Indigenous Australians may have more than one name. They may have a European first name and surname. They may have a bush name or traditional name from their own Indigenous language. They may even have a nickname. A nickname is a replacement name for a person or thing, often given in affection or familiarity. Sometimes a nickname will shorten a name.  A nickname might only be used by certain groups of people that you know. The word nickname dates from the fifteenth century Middle English word ekename, meaning an alternative name.

Doris Pilkington Garimara’s mother gave her the first name of Nugi. However, she was renamed Doris after Mary Dunnet, her mother’s employer at Balfour Down’s Station, expressed her belief that Nugi ‘was a stupid name’.

Many members of Indigenous Australian cultures also have a skin name. Some contemporary Aboriginal people will use their skin name in a way that is similar to a surname. Doris Pilkington Garimara uses the skin name (garimara, also spelled karimarra) of her mother as a surname.

Skin names are a feature of the kinship system in some Indigenous Australian cultures. The kinship system is a feature of the way Aboriginal people organise their society and family relationships. It is a complex system that determines people’s roles and how they relate to each other. It includes responsibilities and obligations to each other, in ceremonial business and in relation to the land. The kinship system will decide who an individual may marry, their relationships in ceremonies, their role at funerals and the way they can behave and interact with their kin. For more information, see the Central Land Council website.

In Mardu or Mardujara culture, the kin system consists of four sections or skin names. The number of sections or skin names can vary across different groups of Indigenous Australian peoples.

Section or skin name
 Karimarra Panaka Pal.yarri
 Panaka Karimarra  Purungu
 Purungu  Pal.yarri  Panaka


This activity focuses on the significance and meaning of names and naming in people’s lives. Students have the opportunity to complete a piece of life writing and may choose between an activity that draws from their own life experience or one that is based on an interview with a family member or family friend.

This activity does not require students to complete life writing about a member of the Stolen Generations. These stories belong to them and students are rather given the opportunity to share their own stories or those from family members from whom they have sought permission.
(ACELA1550)   (ACELA1553)   (ACELT1635)   (ACELT1773)   (ACELY1739)   (ACELY1746)   (ACELY1748)   (EN5-3B)   (EN5-2A)   (EN5-7A)   (EN5-6C)   (EN5-8D)   (EN5-1A)

Life writing about your names: pre-writing

  • Make a list of all the names people call you by.
  • In a table, identify who calls you by each of these names.
  • Are there any rules or preferences you might possess about who might be allowed to call you by a particular name?
Name Who calls you this name


Choice 1: Life writing about names

Compose a piece of life writing in which you explore the significance or origin of one or more of your names. This might include:

  • the meaning or symbolism of your first name
  • an explanation of the origin of your family name – or what some people might call surname. You may have more than one family name or surname.
  • an explanation of how you acquired a nickname.


Choice 2: Life writing about names: oral history and interview

Frances Peters-Little says:

Let’s not forget we are an oral history culture, with traditional oral histories, and that is our way of telling stories . . . We should be encouraging more and more
people to collect these oral stories to be recorded now. Go out and grab those stories . . . firsthand primary sources . . .

Let’s remember in terms of schools and academia, and whatever, the way in which the colonised society is dominated in education is because they wrote everything down. Well, now it’s about time we recorded all of our stuff so we can make up for the stories that haven’t been recorded and that has to be done orally.

The written manuscript of Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence began when Doris Pilkington Garimara began to record in writing the stories told to her by her mother Molly. Indigenous Australian cultures have a tradition of oral storytelling. This task allows students to experience the collection of oral storytelling.

Students should interview a family member or family friend about the names they have acquired over their lifetime:

  • Ask them to begin by considering the ways their names have changed or been added to over their lifetime. (These changes or additions may be due to marriage, becoming a grandparent or through other connections to people and places.)
  • Please remember that the person who you interview owns their own life story.
  • Explain that you are completing a piece of life writing as part of your school work in English and that the audience will include your teacher.
  • Discuss with the person which of their stories they are happy to share with you orally and those which they feel comfortable being shared in a written form with a wider audience.
  • Use your notes from this interview to complete a piece of life writing about their names. You may write about all their names or just one or two of them.
  • Share a copy of your writing with the person you have interviewed.

(ACELT1633)   (ACELT1635)   (ACELT1773)   (ACELY1742)   (EN5-8D)   (EN5-7D)   (EN5-6C)   (EN5-2A)

Activity: describing and classifying Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence

In reviews and articles, Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence has been described in the following ways:

  • autobiographical novel
  • fictionalised account
  • true account
  • novelised version of history
  • true story
  • novel
  • life writing
  • non-fiction
  • Aboriginal literature
  • true story
  • biography
  • history

The Reading Australia project describes Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence as a memoir.

Allocate one or more of these terms from the list to small groups within the class.

  • First, ask students to provide a brief definition of the term they have been allocated.
  • Students may need to use a dictionary to seek out definitions of some of the terms on this list.
  • Ask students to explain, based on their reading, why the text might be described using this term. Do they agree or disagree with the use of this term? Are there particular parts of the text that merit the use of this term more than others?
  • Having read About the Author, the short biography of Doris Pilkington Garimara, ask them to explain why they believe Reading Australia prefers to use the term ‘memoir’ to describe the text.
  • How might considering this list of terms help students to understand the nature of life writing and Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence?
  • Which elements of the text (have students return to their list of the elements of the memoir) feel more appropriate to or suggest the term they have been allocated?


How is the memoir a hybrid text? A hybrid is a mixed thing made of different elements.

Ask students to discuss:

  • Why do you think it suited Doris Pilkington Garimara to use elements of a range of texts in her piece of writing?
  • How might the form and structure of the text reflect her life experience?

(ACELA1553)   (ACELT1633)  (ACELT1635)   (ACELT1636)   (ACELY1742)   (ACELY1744)   (ACELY1745)   (EN5-2A)   (EN5-8D)   (EN5-7D)   (EN5-4B)   (EN5-1A)

Comparison with other texts

Other experiences of child removal

The Stolen Generations are one of a number of groups in Australian history that have endured removal from their family and home. However, the practice of removing the children of Indigenous peoples was not isolated to Australia in the twentieth century. Such removal also occurred in countries such as Canada, New Zealand, the USA and Switzerland. Child migrants from England are another significant group that students might consider in this research activity.

Ask students to:

  • Research the experience of an Indigenous people who have also experienced removal of their children.
  • Compare their experience to that depicted in Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence.

The website of the Australian Human Rights Commission provides resources about experiences of child removal in Canada, New Zealand and South Africa as part of its rightsED resources.

Composing activity

This activity asks students to attempt to understand the story of Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence and the experience of the Stolen Generations by considering possible hypothetical parallels to the experience of other groups of people that may include white Australians.

Students are to consider the comparison made by Professor Marcia Langton in First Australians:

. . . compare the impact of these so-called assimilation policies in their consequences to doing something similar to the Australian population today. Let’s say we’d leave one third of Australians living in their family homes,
living their lifestyles. Another third we’d take out of their homes and we’d put them in the illegal immigrant detention centres and then the other third, take
them away from their families, their children, and we’d enslave them and we’d make them work on cattle stations and on mines or leave them with strange families to cook and clean.

When Philip Noyce’s film adaptation Rabbit-Proof Fence was released in the USA, the posters advertising the film were produced by the distributor Miramax. They were not the same as the posters used in the advertising campaign in Australia.

The US posters were headlined in big black letters with the question: WHAT IF THE GOVERNMENT KIDNAPPED YOUR DAUGHTER? This was followed with: IT HAPPENED EVERY WEEK IN AUSTRALIA FROM 1905 TO 1971.


Students should compose a piece of imaginative writing inspired by the tagline: What if the government kidnapped your daughter?

Consider the perspectives they could take. It could be from the point of view of a parent, a sibling, a grandmother or one of the government officials involved in the kidnapping. The choice should be left open and more than one perspective may be included. The context of the writing – time and place – may not be contemporary.

Students can see refer to images of the American poster for the film adaptation. See also images and posters featured on the Pinterest page curated for Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence by the author of these resources.
(ACELA1553)   (ACELT1635)   (ACELT1773)   (ACELY1739)   (ACELY1742)   (ACELY1746)   (ACELY1748)   (EN5-2A)   (EN5-7D)   (EN5-6C)   (EN5-8D)   (EN5-1A)

Comparison between film and text

The opening of director Philip Noyce’s film, Rabbit-Proof Fence, opens with an intertitle which describes the film as a true story. The memoir describes the journey in the Introduction as an ‘historical event’. However, students who have read the memoir on which the film is based will quickly realise that the two texts portray the manner and circumstances in which the children are removed in very different ways.

A number of teaching and learning resources are available on the internet that compare the treatment in the memoir and the film of the removal of Molly, Gracie and Daisy from their family, land and culture.

Ask students to consider the following:

  • Identify and describe the differences in the depictions between the two texts.
  • They could then assess what motivated the different choices of the screenplay writer Christine Olsen.
  • Students might be encouraged to reflect on how such differences might affect responses to the Stolen Generations.
  • They could be asked to reflect on how they would have depicted the removal of the children if they were adapting the memoir for the screen.

(ACELA1553)   (ACELT1633)   (ACELT1635)   (ACELT1636)   (ACELT1772)   (ACELY1739)   (ACELY1742)  (ACELY1744)   (ACELY1745)   (EN5-2A)   (EN5-8D)   (EN5-7D)   (EN5-4B)   (EN5-6C)   (EN5-1A)


Identifying and justifying textual elements for specific purposes in the memoir

The memoir as counter archive

Australian academic Anne Brewster has described Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence as a ‘counter archive’. By this it could be said that Anne Brewster sees the memoir’s recording of the oral histories of Indigenous Australians as an alternative and a challenge to the official and white version of events documented in government records now stored in archives. Brewster notes that this Indigenous version of history always existed alongside the official white version. It often reflected the oral culture of Indigenous Australian groups by being preserved through their spoken stories.


Ask students to identify each of the texts which are official government records from white Australia that Doris Pilkington Garimara inserts into the memoir, and answer the following:

  • Assess the reasons for the inclusion of each of these texts.
  • How might they reveal the attitudes of some white Australians to Indigenous Australians and the removal of their children?
  • How might they shape the reader’s perception or response to the events depicted?
  • Consider how the memoir would be different if each of these texts was not included.

(ACELA1550)   (ACELA1553)   (ACELT1633)   (ACELT1635)   (ACELT1636)   (ACELY1739)   (ACELY1742)  (ACELY1744)   (ACELY1745)   (EN5-3B)   (EN5-2A)   (EN5-8D)   (EN5-7D)   (EN5-4B)   (EN5-1A)

Rich assessment task

Book cover design

This activity requires students to represent their understanding of the ideas and the nature of the memoir. Students evaluate what they see as being the key ideas in the text. They then decide how they would represent these ideas to a potential reader through manipulating the conventions of a book cover.


Ask students to imagine that a new edition of Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence is being released for an Australian audience of young adult readers. Students are to design the book cover for this edition.

The purposes of this cover design are to:

  1. Engage and attract readers.
  2. Communicate the key ideas and mood of the memoir.

The students’ design should be a wraparound and include design elements for both the front and back cover and the spine of the book. The brief should ask students to include the following:

  • Front cover:
    • title
    • author details
    • publisher’s name or logo.
  • Spine:
    • publisher’s logo or name (for example, in 2013 the publisher of Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence was the University of Queensland Press, or UQP).
  • Back cover:
    • a blurb, short summary or promotional piece of writing about the book
    • the back cover may also include:
      • a portrait of the author
      • short quotes or endorsements of the text (often excerpted from reviews or people prominent in public life).

Students need to consider: What is the message they wish to send to the reader about this book? They should be able to summarise this in one sentence or a short phrase. They may want to use a table to help them summarise and collate the elements of their design, such as the one below.

Back Cover Spine Front Cover

Ask students to write a paragraph summarising their proposal for their book cover design. For non-fiction books it is important that the book cover communicates its tone (the writer’s attitude to their subject).

Here are some tips for students on book cover design:

  • Look at lots of great book covers as inspiration (looking at terrible book covers or negative role models can also be useful to see what to avoid).
  • Make sure that the title is large and easy to read.
  • Less is often more: a minimalist design can focus attention on the title and the name of the author.
  • Use a background – avoid dead white space in a book cover design.
  • Choose one element as the focus of the book cover design.
  • Choose an appropriate font – avoid script fonts that are curly and fussy. Research the nature and impact of sans serif and serif fonts.
  • Choose an image that clarifies what the book is about. Avoid being literal and choose an image that functions as a symbol of the themes of the book.

Students may find inspiration in the following:

There are also many Pinterest pages devoted to book cover design, such as this one. You might choose to have students register and create their own Pinterest page to collate their investigation of book cover design for this activity. A good way to begin this activity may be to have them pin the book cover designs they discover online for previous editions of Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence.

A collection of book cover designs for, and images relevant to, the study of Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence have been collated in a Pinterest board by the author of this resource.

Oral presentation

Students are to imagine they are pitching their book cover design to publishers at the University of Queensland Press. They should present their design for the new cover as a PowerPoint or Prezi presentation.

In their pitch, they should explain what they see as being the key ideas about the text that they wish to communicate through their book cover design. They should explain how their choices of visual and written elements communicate these ideas and engage the specified audience of Australian young adults.
(ACELA1550)   (ACELA1553)   (ACELT1773)   (ACELY1739)   (ACELY1811)   (ACELY1741)   (ACELY1745)  (ACELY1746)   (ACELY1748)   (EN5-3B)   (EN5-2A)   (EN5-6C)   (EN5-8D) (EN5-2A)   (EN5-1A)

Ways of reading the text

Different readers will respond to a text in different ways. Their response will be shaped by such factors as their context, life and reading experience.

This activity requires students to identify and explore their own view or way of reading the memoir. They will focus on what they see the text as being about.

Students will see below how the view of the story held by Christine Olsen, who wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation and was one of its producers, continued to alter during her long relationship with the text.

What happened to them? Where are they now?

In the final chapter of the memoir, Doris Pilkington Garimara explains what happened to the three girls following their journey in 1931. However, the memoir was published in 1996, and the life stories of Molly Kelly Craig and Gracie Kadibil continue after this date. Molly made a second journey back to Jigalong from the Moore River Native Settlement in 1941 with her baby daughter Annabelle. Molly Kelly Craig passed away in 2004, when she was believed to be 87.

The world premiere of Philip Noyce’s film adaptation of Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence was held in Jigalong in 2002. Molly Kelly Craig attended the screening and enjoyed the film. However, at the end of the film she told Philip Noyce that he had made a film about the wrong journey, as recounted in the article ‘Molly’s story‘, by Karl Quinn in The Sunday Age:

‘On the second journey, she had to leave one child behind and carry the other’, says Noyce, ‘and then that child that she’d carried was taken from her and she’s never seen that child and she’s still waiting to hold that child. So that for her was more traumatic, because she mended the wounds of the first journey, she was reunited with her own mum. But the second part of this unbelievable story was that her child was taken, never to come back.’

As the film ended at Jigalong, Molly turned to Phil Noyce and said, ‘That’s the story you should have told’.


Ask students to research and update the story of Molly Kelly Craig and Daisy Kadibil. For example, students might complete an obituary for Molly Kelly Craig and respectfully document her entire life story, including elements of the second journey and its consequences.

Ask students to research the form and conventions of the obituary as a form of life writing. The links below connect students to obituaries for Molly Kelly Craig published in Australia and overseas:

(ACELA1550)   (ACELA1553)   (ACELT1633)   (ACELT1635)   (ACELT1636)   (ACELT1772)   (ACELY1739)  (ACELY1742)   (ACELY1745)   (EN5-3B)   (EN5-2A)   (EN5-8D)   (EN5-7D)   (EN5-4B)   (EN5-6C)   (EN5-1A)

Writing activities: student choice

The following activities function as possible approaches to writing in response to Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence. Teachers could request that students complete one narrative and one piece of narrative writing by choosing from the range of activities below. Students might also suggest and devise their own writing tasks following negotiation with their teacher.

Activity 1: writing a monologue

Students compose a monologue from the perspective of Gracie explaining why she chose to part from Molly and Daisy at the railway siding near Mount Russell Station (Chapter 8, The Escape).
(ACELA1553)   (ACELT1773)   (ACELY1742)   (ACELY1746)   (ACELY1748)   (EN5-2A)   (EN5-6C)   (EN5-1A)

Activity 2: creative writing using multivalent or layered symbols

A multivalent symbol is one that has multiple or many meanings. These meanings can shift across time and culture and can vary according to the context in which they are received. Colours function as multivalent symbols. Students might begin by brainstorming the ways colours such as red, yellow and white may have different meanings in different cultures and time periods.

In Doris Pilkington Garimara’s memoir, the Rabbit-Proof Fence can be seen to symbolise:

  • the failure of the white people to control the rabbit population
  • the nature of the relationship white Australians have with the environment.

Ask students to consider what else the Rabbit-Proof Fence might symbolise? They should consider the perspective of different readers and individuals depicted in the memoir. For example, ‘For the three runaways, the fence was a symbol of love, home and security’ (Chapter 8). 

Students then compose a narrative which is inspired by a symbol that has more than one meaning.
(ACELA1553)   (ACELT1772)   (ACELT1773)   (ACELY1739)   (ACELY1742)   (ACELY1743)   (ACELY1746)  (ACELY1748)   (EN5-2A)   (EN5-6C)   (EN5-8D)   (EN5-1A)

Creative writing and life writing

Activity 3: narrative carrying and being carried

One of the powerful images of cooperation and survival in the memoir is that of the girls taking turns to carry or ‘piggy back’ each other during their long journey back home to Jigalong along the Rabbit-Proof Fence.

Have students compose a narrative that explores the idea of carrying or being carried.
(ACELA1550)   (ACELA1553)   (ACELT1772)   (ACELT1773)   (ACELY1739)   (ACELY1742)   (ACELY1743)  (ACELY1746)   (ACELY1748)   (EN5-3B)   (EN5-2A)   (EN5-6C)   (EN5-8D)   (EN5-1A)

Activity 4: life writing based on family and learning

The knowledge of country passed to Molly by her father, who worked along the rabbit-proof fence, is crucial to the survival of the girls.

Have students compose a piece of life writing in which they reflect on the experience or significance of learning something from a family member.
(ACELA1550)   (ACELA1553)   (ACELT1772)   (ACELT1773)   (ACELY1739)   (ACELY1742)   (ACELY1743)  (ACELY1746)   (ACELY1748)   (EN5-3B)   (EN5-2A)   (EN5-6C)   (EN5-8D)   (EN5-1A)

Activity 5: narrative writing inspired by an object

Objects can function as powerful talismans or symbols of connections to people and places. Students can brainstorm a list of special objects that reveal their connections to family, home and/or place.

Have students compose a narrative inspired by an object that represents the idea of family, home or connection to place.
(ACELA1550)   (ACELA1553)   (ACELT1772)   (ACELT1773)   (ACELY1739)   (ACELY1742)   (ACELY1743)  (ACELY1746)   (ACELY1748)   (EN5-3B)   (EN5-2A)   (EN5-6C)   (EN5-8D)   (EN5-1A)


Rich assessment task

Persuasive speech: ways of reading Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence

Have students compose a persuasive speech or essay in which they argue for their own interpretation of the story of Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence.

Before students identify their own interpretation of Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence, they should identify ways of reading or understanding the text outlined in each of the six extracts below. Teachers might like to have students complete this activity in pairs or small groups and have them report back their findings to the group.

These interpretations should consider the points of view of both Indigenous and white Australians. Students should summarise the interpretation revealed in each extract in a short phrase or sentence. For example, students might begin with, ‘Extract One suggests the memoir can be read as being about . . .’

Extract One: Molly Kelly

From an obituary written for Molly Kelly by Christine Olsen, writer and co-producer of the 2002 film adaptation, Rabbit-Proof Fence: I wanted to go home – to Mother. 

Extract Two: Doris Pilkington Garimara

From an interview with Doris Pilkington Garimara on the ABC’s 7:30:

DORIS PILKINGTON GARIMARA: See, mum and aunty Daisy don’t see themselves as heroines. I don’t think they know the meaning of the word.

MICK O’DONNELL: Well, they went for a long walk?

DORIS PILKINGTON GARIMARA: Oh, yes. That’s what she said – ‘We only walked.’

Cut to MOLLY KELLY: Now we go back.

DORIS PILKINGTON: She always said this. ‘We go back to mummy and daddy.’

Extract Three: Christine Olsen

From an interview with Christine Olsen, writer and co-producer of Rabbit-Proof Fence, for RealTime:

It was like a classic fairy story actually, even down to the number 3, which you quite often find in fairy stories – 3 sisters, 3 brothers, 3 witches – and it was about 3 little girls stolen from their home by the wicked witch and taken to her house where everyone is under a spell, and it’s a spell of forgetting. The longer you are in the house the stronger the spell becomes. It was imperative for the girls to get away as fast as they could before they fell under that spell . . .

At various points I thought I knew what the story was – yes, this is what the story is, it’s a classic fairy story – you keep working on it and then you think . . . maybe this is an escaped prisoner story, a world war story; this is a script about a land taken over by invaders, they’re now reaching
far into the hinterland and are stealing the children and taking them back into their own territory to train them as domestic slaves. The children escape as in any prisoner of war story and make their way home through enemy-occupied territory. Then this becomes a layer within the story. I think when I finished the script I knew this was (a) film about home and what home means.

Extract Four: video conference

In a video conference for the National Film & Sound Archive, Christine Olsen observed that her understanding of the story evolved even during the production of the film. When shooting the scene where the girls are taken, Christine realised that this was a story about ‘. . . children being taken from their mothers’.

Extract Five: Anne Brewster

From Anne Brewster’s ‘Aboriginal life writing and globalisation: Doris Pilkington’s Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence‘: ‘. . . this is indeed a story about escape, about resistance in the face of the prodigious effort to surveil, monitor, track and incarcerate indigenous people.’

Extract Six: dedication

Dedication of Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington Garimara: ‘To all my mother’s and aunty’s children and their descendants for inspiration, encouragement and determination.’
(ACELA1550)   (ACELA1553)   (ACELT1633)   (ACELT1771)   (ACELT1635)   (ACELT1773)   (ACELY1811)  (ACELY1741)   (ACELY1746)   (ACELY1748)   (EN5-3B)   (EN5-2A)   (EN5-8D)   (EN5-1A)   (EN5-7D)   (EN5-6C)