Belonging Essay: “Rabbit Proof Fence” by Phillip Noyce

“A sense of belonging comes from having connections with people and place”/ Compare how the texts you have studied convey these ideas. Who am I? Where do I belong? ‘A person’s identity is shaped by their sense of belonging and/or not belonging’. This concept is clearly explored in the touching movie “Rabbit proof fence” of three girls running away to find way home, to where they belong to. Whereas, Peter Skrzynecki’s poems “Postcard” and “10 Marry Street” focus on the self-awareness and conflicts inside the author as he tries to find his identity and belonging through a postcard and his old house. “Rabbit- Proof Fence” is a 2002 Australian drama film directed by Phillip Noyce. The true story is set in 1931, about three aboriginal girls forced to leave their families in Jigalong as they are half caste children to be trained in the domestic ways of modern civilization. The film explores aspects of both belonging and not belonging in telling the story of these Aboriginal girls. Throughout Phillip Noyce’s “Rabbit Proof Fence”, Molly has a strong sense of connection to the land and to her family. As she says at the beginning, “Our people, the Jigalong mob, we were desert people then, walking all over our land”; it clearly shows where she feels she belonged. But her words “The white people”, shows her opposite feeling as she has no sense of belonging to white society.

Young Molly is told by her mother about a significant figure of her culture, the spirit eagle which symbolises the totem of her community and the connection to her ancestor. The image of the family playing and hunting together in the opening scene is one of unity, support and protection. Unfortunately, Molly’s family is soon separated as the children are sent thousands of miles away. The scene when the children are taken by the police is extremely dramatic and intense. The sense of loss is made greater by the screaming of the children and mother, her repeating the word “mine” showing her ownership of her children and the frenzied feeling created through hand-held camera work. The children’s new home at Moore River is so unfamiliar and is juxtaposed with the natural world of their bushland home. The image of Molly, her sister and her cousin sleeping together in the same bed focuses our attention on their need to feel secure and protected. They are forced to speak English, and their language was thought “wangka”, “jabber”.

The girls are taught to give up their culture and their language to learn the white culture which is completely strange to them. The enticements of the white people, “You’ll feel quite at home in this new world” does not attract Molly and even makes her sick. The climax is when Molly decides to escape from Moore River. They walked 1500 miles along the longest fence in the world being hunted by Constable Briggs and an Aboriginal tracker. The fence in the movie represents a symbol of the way to their home. When they grip the fence, the film juxtaposes image of their mother also gripping the fence, and a close-up shot of their smiles reveal their joy of being connected by beautiful emotional music. Molly and her sister then continue their long journey home overcoming many obstacles to be finally reunited with their family. The slow motion image of the mother crying, hugging the kids emphasises the significance of their need to belong and the strong connection to family. The movie would not have a happy end as Molly is then taken away after she gets home, but it cannot stop her from running away all her life to be where she belongs.

If “Rabbit-Proof Fence” leaves the audiences beautiful images of a family’s strong connection and the desire to belong to a real home, the poem ‘Postcard’ by Peter Shrzynecki explores the concept of belonging on the persona’s sense of cultural identity. It is a postcard that the author received, which depicts the city of Warsaw in Poland, his homeland. However he does not feel the same sense of connection to his homeland that his father feels, but rather feels alienated and disengaged. The negative connotations of the verb “Haunts” and its position on a line by itself highlight the persona’s unease and uncertain connection to the place. This contrasts his friend’s perception that his parents will react positively to this postcard, feeling a sense of connection to it: “he requests I show it to my parents.” The separation of “I” and his parents on a separate line suggests their different perceptions to the postcard. The poet described the picture in the postcard without enthusiasm, from the “Red buses” to “The River and its concrete pylons and the sky’s brightest shade”.

The colours in the post card are unnatural and his unfamiliarity with Warsaw is emphasised when he cannot tell whether something is a park. Skrzynecki however, is stuck by the moment. The usage of personification gives the effect of the poet’s conversation with Warsaw, “I never knew you”, which is his direct refusing of relation to the place. The following “Except in the third person” emphasises the poet’s sheer distance and detachment in his life from the city. Contrast to Skrzynecki’s negative to the city, his parents and their friend as “dying generation” are continuing the attachment to the city with a strong sense of belonging. They “shelter”, “defend”… Despite living in a new city, these older migrants find a sense of collective belonging in reminiscing about their “Old Town”. The persona clearly distances himself from this, separated through the distinction made between the pronouns, “I” and “They”. The author then confronts the conflict which lies in the rhetorical question “What’s my choice to be?” as his parents will be proud and speak of their “Beloved Ukraine”.

The poet recognises the city’s offers but concludes that he cannot give it more than “eyesight” and “praise” and his response will not come from his heart. Yet, it then ends with a tone of desperation as he asks, “What more do you want besides the gift of despair?” Which reinforces the poet’s conflict to acknowledge his connection and loss with the city. The use of direct speech: “A lone tree whispers, we will meet before you die” personifies Poland and suggests it is calling him home. It is a prophecy that he must visit Poland in order to understand his identity. The reason he could not yet belong to Australia is simply because he did not understand his original heritage. For Skrzynecki, to belong to Australia he must first belong to, and understand Poland by visiting it and giving in to its calling. The experiences of belonging on the other hand, are often initiated at birth within family, as it is the first group an individual becomes a part of. “10 Mary Street” is the address of Shrzynecki’s family, and the poem that conveys with insight into the concept of familial bonds, and our instinctive choice to belong in the home.

The sense of the comfort is established in the beginning of the poem with the simile ‘A well-oiled lock’ indicates the positive image of the Skrzynecki household going through the sense of ownership and security it provides. The ‘Nineteen years’ also adds a depth to this and expresses the sense of belonging Skrzynecki felt to the place. Plus the repeat of the pronoun ‘We’ emphasises their togetherness and belonging to each other. In another simile, ‘ ravage the backyard garden like a hungry bird…’, Skrzynecki compares his early boyhood days of hunger after school with a young bird in the nest revealing the delights of the family’s vegetable garden and it creates an image of comfort, security and familiarity. The garden is an important aspect of their lives where the poet’s parent “watered plants- grew potatoes… like adopted children’, stressing their strong connection to their home. The positive images ‘For nineteen years, we lived together’, and later of “visitors” sharing their common interests, ‘discussions’, ’embracing gesture’ present their home as a trusted site of the liveliness and friendliness. Contrasting to the warmth and security inside, outside of the house with “its china-blue coat”, represents a refugee for them, and an unwelcoming culture into which the family must go, but do not really belong.

Once again there was a barrier, the “still too-narrow bridge” that separated the two worlds. Besides giving them a haven from nature, the enclosed space gives them a chance to preserve a private life and include their past life in “pre-war Europe”. ‘For nineteen years’, Skrzynecki ‘lived’ his Australian life style while his parents ‘kept prewar Europe alive with photographs and letters’. This juxtaposition portrays the adopted nature of the home for his parents as a refugee, and for the persona as a home. The immigrant family’s naturalisation into Australian society is described as becoming “citizens of the soil”. This metaphor creates a feeling of being connected as Skrzynecki’s family accepted and became a part of the land.

Throughout the poem is tone of positive feeling and contented. The family’s only regret is leaving the home. In essence, belonging is a fundamental aspect of an individual’s life and one should make as many positive interactions with others in order to enrich their experience of this essential human need. Peter Skrzynecki’s “Post Card” extensively explores that the sense of belonging if is undefined can “haunt” a person their entire life. This is contrasted with the idea that positive interactions of an individual to a group or their family as is highlighted in the film “Rabbit-Proof Fence” and especially in Peter Skrzynecki’s “10 Marry Street”, as the members of the Skrzynecki family feel an enriched sense of belonging to one another.