November 2002
Rabbit-Proof Fence : Let the Truth be Told : An Interview with Director Phillip Noyce

Interviewed by Wilson Morales

Phillip Noyce and Everlyn Sampi on the set of Noyce’s RABBIT-PROOF FENCERabbit-Proof Fence : Let the Truth be Told : An Interview with Director Phillip Noyce

Coming out in limited markets is an extraordinary film based on a true event. Between 1905 to 1971, children who were labeled as half-caste from Australia were taken from their families and placed in a different area, miles away from home. There were half-caste if their parents were white and Aborigine. One such tale, which is a fact, is three little girls escaped to find their way home. Their only way to get home is follow the rabbit-proof fence, a 1500-mile long structure designed to keep rabbits away from Outback crops that also runs right through Jigalong Depot. In an interview with, Director Phillip Noyce talked about going back home to make this film.

WM: What drew you to make this film?

PN: Well, I had read many scripts in my long career as a filmmaker but I donít think I had read one that was so emotionally compelling as this. I guess because it obeys the rules of script construction in a classic way. It has three heroines who immediately you sympathize and empathize with. These are girls who are taken 1500 miles away from their homes and put into an institution from where there seems to be no escape and no possibility of ever seeing their families again, and they escape. They embark on their impossible journey to try get back home. The film is called THE RABBIT-PROOF FENCE because thatís a fence that goes from the bottom to the top of Australia and itís that navigational beacon these three girls aim for. They knew that if they could find that fence, then maybe it could lead them home.

WM: Whatís amazing about this film is that the script is somewhat straight forward, people may see this film as three girls looking to find their way home, yet one could see the political issue as an unseen character. Was that your intention to direct it that way?

PN: Itís inherited in the script that made it look attractive to me as a project. Itís a simple story of love, of courage, of determination, of the ties that bind on the one hand and yet contained within that is a portrait of a country, of racism, and a portrait of policies that were actually akin to genocide. The reason those children were taken away is so that at the time, the black could be bred out of them. It was part of an inter-breeding program that existed in Australia for almost 60 years. The official policy was that to avoid what was seen as a race problem, the idea was that children who were half-caste, once they were adults, would be forbidden from marrying those who had darker skins and would be encourage to marry lighter skins people with the idea of eliminating the black race from Australia and avoiding a race problem.

WM: Besides reading the script, how much research did you do for the film?

PN: This is a real story and fortunately for us, in western Australia where the story takes place, at that time, the ironically titled Chief Protector of Aborigines, the man who is in charge of administering every Aborigine in the state of Western Australiaís life, from cradle to grave, he was a very compulsive bureaucrat, who kept all the records, all of his records, all of his letters, and so we can follow this journey from the time the children were born, when they were first under the surveillance of the white authority, who were watching to see what would happen to these kids of mixed race origins, and then when finally the decisions were made to take the three children, all of that is documented. Their arrival to what amounted to a concentration camp and then their escape as the telegrams are sent out to the police force along the Outback and letters are coming back and forth trying to find these children. In fact, this story didnít stop with their escape and their attempt to get back home. It went on for years.

Rabbit-Proof Fence - Movie PosterWM: How did feel to go back home and shoot a film after 12 years?

PN: Itís a story about three little kids who want to go home and I guess one big wanted to go home too because those children wanted to retain their culture and I guess after 10 years in Hollywood, I felt it was time to have a dose of Australiana again. I had to become an Australian again and to go home.

WM: This story speaks so many volumes, and in taking that word in to another context, you got David Gulpill to do such a convincing job as the bounty hunter yet he hardly speak a line in the film. How were you able to convey his performance?

PN: David is one the greatest actors in Australia and also one of the most experienced. He first started in 1969 when he was 14 years old and British Director Nick Roe went to some parts in the north of Australia and found this charismatic 14 year old to star in ďWalkaboutĒ. David has been in so many films since then such as Crocodile Dundee, The Last Wave, and so on. He has such an understanding of story and of screen acting now that he was able to bring so much to the film. Heís also a very intelligent actor too. Heís telling us a whole alternate script without words. I think he only as three words in the film, and you become so invested in his emotions and once again, the politics. Those are the politics that never hit you over the head. You can receive them if you want to or appreciate the story on an emotional level or his characterís story.

(left to right) Laura Monaghan as Gracie, Tianna Sansbury as Daisy and Everlyn Sampi as Molly in Phillip Noyce’s RABBIT-PROOF FENCE.WM: What can you say about the three little girls?

PN: I can that those three little girls are a gift from the past. We went to the far corners of that huge island to find them. We went to areas where now the official policy rather than enforced assimilation, as it at the time this story took place, is now to try and encourage separation. To try and encourage indigenous Australians to hang on to their culture and so in tiny communities where we went, we eventually found these three girls. Out of the way places where the kids still have some contact with traditional Aborigine culture and most importantly with nature that undermines everything; that underpins indigenous cultures. My aim was not so much to get them to act as to be because in being, they convey the unique spirituality.

WM: Whatís the message you want the audience once they have seen this film?

PN: This is a message that is absolutely important more than it ever has been at this moment in world history. This is a message about commonality. In this film when you watch it, those three Aborigine children, those black Australian children would become your children and when they become your children, and you want to save them, youíll realize that we are all the same. Every being in the animal kingdom is the same when it comes to love and in the dependence of parents and children.