Jour­ney ends for one of the ‘stolen gen­er­a­tion’

Waikato Times - - News - Daisy Kadi­bil ‘‘Stolen’’ child b 1923 d April 2018

Daisy Kadi­bil, who has died aged 95, was 8 when she was forcibly re­moved from her mother by the Aus­tralian au­thor­i­ties and sent, with her half-sis­ter Molly, 12, and their cousin Gra­cie, 9, to a bleak gov­ern­ment in­sti­tu­tion to be trained as do­mes­tic ser­vants. The story of their es­cape, and their 2000-kilo­me­tre trek home, in­spired Phillip Noyce’s ac­claimed yet har­row­ing film Rab­bit-Proof Fence (2002), star­ring Ken­neth Branagh.

The film shone a light on one of the most shame­ful episodes in Aus­tralian his­tory, that of the ‘‘stolen gen­er­a­tions’’, when thou­sands of chil­dren, many of mixed Abo­rig­i­nalEuro­pean her­itage, were kid­napped by gov­ern­ment de­cree as part of an at­tempt to ‘‘breed out the black’’.

The eu­gen­ics­based pol­icy was ex­plained in 1937 when Au­ber

Oc­tavius Neville

(played in the film by Branagh), chief pro­tec­tor of Abo­rig­ines in Western Aus­tralia, told a con­fer­ence in Can­berra: ‘‘We have power . . . to take any child from its mother at any stage of its life . . . Are we go­ing to have a pop­u­la­tion of one mil­lion blacks in the Com­mon­wealth, or are we go­ing to merge them into our white com­mu­nity and even­tu­ally for­get that there ever were any Abo­rig­ines in Aus­tralia?’’

The fence of the film’s ti­tle had been built north-to-south across Western Aus­tralia in 1907 to pro­tect farm­land from a plague of im­ported rab­bits. The re­mote set­tle­ment of Ji­ga­long, about 1000km north­east of Perth, was where Daisy’s Martu fore­bears set­tled af­ter be­ing driven off their land; it be­came a de­pot for fence main­te­nance work­ers.

Speak­ing when the film was re­leased, Molly re­called how ‘‘white­fel­las took us from Mother’’ in Ji­ga­long in July 1931. They were bun­dled into the back of the first mo­tor car they had ever seen, and driven away. Through the rear win­dow, Daisy could see her mother bang­ing her head against a rock in de­spair.

They were taken north by road to Port Hed­land, by ship to Fre­man­tle and road again to Moore River, north of Perth. It was a cheer­less in­tern­ment camp for mixed-race Abo­rig­i­nal chil­dren. Any at­tempt at es­cape was pun­ished with soli­tary con­fine­ment.

They had been there only one night when Molly woke the younger girls be­fore dawn dur­ing a storm and told them they were go­ing to walk home to Ji­ga­long, fol­low­ing the rab­bit­proof fence.

‘‘We’re gunna walk all the way?’’ asked Daisy. ‘‘Yes,’’ came her sis­ter’s re­ply.

Their first chal­lenge was to cross the flooded river. They had no map or com­pass, but had been brought up with bush skills. They crossed wet grass, sand dunes and heaths, and slept in rab­bit bur­rows – af­ter first catch­ing, cook­ing and eat­ing the rab­bits.

In the scorch­ing desert, two Abo­rig­i­nal men gave them a goanna and a kan­ga­roo tail, while on an­other oc­ca­sion they caught and ate a feral cat. When their lac­er­ated legs were weary, sore or in­fected by grass cuts, they gave each other pig­gy­backs.

Mean­while, a statewide alert had been is­sued for their re­cap­ture, and when they saw an air­craft swoop­ing over­head they dived into a banksia tree.

Once the girls found the fence, they knew they sim­ply had to walk north. But they still had 800km to go. At Wiluna, on the edge of the Western Desert, Gra­cie peeled off, but she was cap­tured and re­turned to Moore River. She later mar­ried and had six chil­dren; she died in 1983 with­out ever re­turn­ing to Ji­ga­long.

Even­tu­ally Daisy and Molly, close to col­lapse, came across main­te­nance work­ers on the fence, who al­lowed them to take turns rid­ing a camel the rest of the way to Ji­ga­long. ‘‘Ev­ery­one happy,’’ re­called Daisy of their re­turn. ‘‘Proper cry­ing.’’ Their epic odyssey had taken al­most nine weeks.

Daisy Bu­rungu was born at Ji­ga­long, on the edge of the Gib­son Desert. Her mother was a mem­ber of the Mar­dud­jara peo­ple; her father, Thomas Craig, was an English-born fence in­spec­tor, who had sev­eral chil­dren with lo­cal women. Other than her brief stay at Moore River, Daisy had no for­mal ed­u­ca­tion.

Af­ter re­turn­ing to Ji­ga­long, Molly be­came a do­mes­tic help and mar­ried Tom Kelly, an Abo­rig­i­nal stock­man, with whom she had two daugh­ters; Daisy helped to de­liver the older one, Doris.

Molly was cap­tured again in 1940 with her daugh­ters, and taken once more to Moore River. She es­caped the fol­low­ing year but had to leave Doris, aged 4, in the care of rel­a­tives, who trans­ferred her to a Chris­tian mis­sion. There she was brought up to be­lieve her mother had de­lib­er­ately aban­doned her.

In 1962 Doris traced her mother and her aunt; in con­ver­sa­tions with Molly and Daisy over the next three decades she grad­u­ally learnt the truth, ver­i­fy­ing the facts us­ing of­fi­cial records. Her book Fol­low the Rab­bit­Proof Fence was pub­lished in 1996.

The prac­tice of re­set­tle­ment con­tin­ued un­til the 1970s, and only in 1997 did an of­fi­cial re­port by the na­tional in­quiry into the stolen gen­er­a­tion pub­licly ac­knowl­edge that it had ever ex­isted.

Hav­ing been re­united with her mother, Daisy grew up and mar­ried a sta­tion hand called Kadi­bil. Molly died in 2004, and her daugh­ter Doris died in 2014.

Daisy Kadi­bil had a son and three daugh­ters. –

They were bun­dled into the back of the first mo­tor car they had ever seen, and driven away. Through the rear win­dow, Daisy could see her mother bang­ing her head against a rock in de­spair.

FAIR­FAX

Daisy Kadi­bil, right, with her half-sis­ter Molly Kelly. Their 2000km trek home in 1931 in­spired the film Rab­bit-Proof Fence.

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