By the late 1800s, rabbits had ruined much of the farmable land in the southeast by eating and burrowing . Their spread west was uncontrollable; trapping, shooting, poisoning, and warren destruction all failed to permanently reduce the population. Not that the farmers cared, but rabbits were also pushing out native species like the bilby.
The solution was to build a so-called rabbit-proof fence in Western Australia. From 1901 to 1907, three intersecting fence lines were surveyed and built to keep rabbits out of the western part of the continent. The fences stretched from the northern coastline to the southern one for an astounding 2,023 miles.
The Aborigines Act of 1905 allowed the Australian government to forcibly remove indigenous children from their families and resettle them to assimilate into white culture. These children became known as the stolen generations. In 1931, Dolly and her younger cousins Gracie and Daisy lived in Jigalong, a settlement that had been established to maintain the rabbit-proof fence. The three girls had white fathers, and the government’s removal policy focused on "helping" those that were part-white by moving them away to assimilate quicker. The three girls were torn from their families and moved to Moore River Native Settlement, around 1000 miles away from Jigalong. Dolly soon decided to escape, trusting in her bushcraft and ability to follow the fence to lead her and her cousins back home.
Author Doris Pilkington Garimara recounts the story of her mother Dolly’s epic trek in the book Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence. The book was later made into an award-winning 2002 movie by Phillip Noyce.
The Rabbit-Proof Fence Walk in 2017 commemorated the girls' journey. It was a chance for women to connect with each other and understand their roles in reconciliation.
The rabbit-proof fence may have been a utter failure at stopping rabbits, but at least it helped guide some stolen children home.