The Aborigine Girl Who Walked 1,000 Miles
After 14 year old Molly, and her sister and cousin, are all ripped away from their mothers’ arms and transported almost 1,000 miles away to the other side of the country to be “re-educated and cared for” by white people, Molly makes one of the most epic decisions ever seen in Australia: She takes her sister and cousin, and they run away from the horrors of the camp to go back home…ON FOOT!
Her story is absolutely remarkable and it’s one you certainly don’t want to miss!
“Mum’s legacy is the calming influence and quiet dignity of the desert women, and the stolen generations story. She looked you straight in the eye.”
Hello and welcome to Broads You Should Know. I’m your host, Sara Gorsky, and we just finished wrapping up a fabulous pride month wherein Chloe and I not only covered some incredible trans broads, but we also spent some time talking about all the insidious anti-trans legislation and rhetoric that has been seeping into the media and state legislation and even, apparently the supreme court. If you missed any of June on this pod please do yourself, and all your LGBTQ friends and family a favor, and give those episodes a listen. I think you’ll find the history of those Broads, and the conversations with Chloe very enlightening.
BUT! Alas, Pride month is over for now and today I’m bringing you an entirely new Broad – and an Australian Broad, nonetheless! We really have not covered ANY Australian broads thus far on the history of this podcast – a HUGE oversight on my part. The closest Broad was Chloe’s episode on Jacinda Ardern, the PM of New Zealand. But New Zealand is NOT Australia, so it’s about f*cking time we covered that part of the world. And let me just tell you – WHOAAAA
When we’ve covered multiple Broads from the same region, as a novice researcher and pseudo-historian, I start to more clearly understand the over-arching histories of specific regions and when I research a new broad from the same time and region, I’ve got some foundation, historically, for the time and place and political atmosphere she was born into. But in the case of Australia, I really had no foundation. Other than knowing it was one of the major british colonies and a lot of criminals were sent there. I’m guessing, my listeners, that this may be true for you, too, so get ready to dive into a whole new time and place… with the same familiar colonizer bullshit…
We are in AUSTRALIA, 1931
Molly Craig was born in Jigalong, Western Australia, circa in either 1916 or 1917, so she’s 14 or 15 when this big event takes place.
Her mother, Maude, was an Aboriginal woman of the Martu people (Mardudjara). Generally speaking, the Martu are a combination of many different peoples, all whom were residents of the Sandy Desert, this big desert in the northwest of the country, and when the colonizers came into the region and forged the Canning Stock Route in 1906 many Martu people were forced to serve as guides and reveal water sources – they were run down by men on horseback with guns and were restrained by heavy chains and tied to trees at night.
As the colonizers began establishing settlements, the Martu were taken from the desert to these settlements, where missionaries and officials pushed them to stop foraging, making them reliant on market goods like flour and sugar.
Jigalong, where Molloy was born, was one such settlement, though despite the market influences, supposedly Jigalong also become kind of a centering point for the Martu – bringing previously disparate tribes together as one people.
What is ALSO happening at this time is that the colonizers were building this giant rabbit-proof fence spanning the entire continent north to south, with a branch of it also dividing the west part horizontally. This fence was designed to prevent animals from crossing from the east of Australia into the western farmlands. Of course giant building projects like that require a lot of manpower, so the colonizers establish Jigalong as an outpost where the men building and maintaining the fence get their rations and stuff.
WELL, as is so often happens in colonizer situations like this, the men sent to work on and maintain the fence become friendly with the indigenous women and naturally these relations produce beautiful mixed-race babies. The brits at the time LOVINGLY referred to these babies as “half-castes”. And GUESS WHAT? That’s right, Molly’s father, named Thomas Craig, was a white Australian fence inspector.
I think this is a good moment to talk a little more about what is happening in Australia at the time Molly was born into it…I do want to give you a content warning first though – because this information is going to hurt your heart. Or at least, it was painful for me to learn, and if you listen to this podcast I think it’ll be rough for you too…
SO – when the colonizers settled in Australia and began pushing the aboriginal tribes around, much like in north america and everywhere else that white people went, the indigenous tribes suffered GREAT LOSSES in population. A combination of violence against them and disease and at some point these boneheaded colonizers wrote up some kind of a narrative that the aboriginal tribes were in danger of extinction, and they needed to be saved because they could not save themselves.
and a number of legislative actions were passed towards this goal, but the big one that appears to kind of kick this part of history off is the Aboriginal Protection Act of 1869, which, amongst many things, authorized the state to remove children from Aboriginal parents. In particular, ‘half-cast’ children like Molly, were removed from their mothers and their homes and shipped to boarding-school-type camps where they were forbidden to speak in their native language or practice any native traditions and they were trained to be domestic servants and then fostered out to white families to serve – so basically forced slavery.
Each australian state appointed an “Aboriginal Protector”, who in effect became the legal guardian of these removed children – basically controlling where they lived and worked – their whole life.
The legislation continued to expand after the Aboriginal protection act – Under the Northern Territory Aboriginals Act 1910, the Chief Protector of Aborigines was appointed the “legal guardian of every Aboriginal and every half-caste child up to the age of 18 years”, then under the Aboriginals Ordinance 1918, the Chief Protector was given total control of all Indigenous women regardless of their age, unless married to a man who was “substantially of European origin”, and his approval was required for any marriage of an Indigenous woman to a non-Indigenous man…
BUT LET’S NOT FOOL OURSELVES, and maybe you’ve already guessed based on that last fact that – all this legislation wasn’t just aboriginal need protection’ narrative that drove these actions and legislation, there were also far more sinister and flat out racist powers at play
ENTER the real-life villain of this part of history: A. O. Neville. His full name was Auber Octavius Neville, but the history books call him A.O., and A.O. is appointed the Chief Protector of Aborigines for Western Australia in 1915. What qualified him for this position? NOTHING THAT I COULD FIND in my research. His previous posts included running immigration and tourism, and secretary of the War Patriotic Fund. But here he is appointed guardian of the aboriginal children.
Now Mr. A.O. was a big believer in “breeding out the color” – which was the belief that by breeding mixed-race children with white people, in 3 generations you would completely eliminate all signs of their aboriginal heritage. This absolute douchebag, Dr. Cecil Cook, who was one of the Northern Territory Chief Protector of Aborigines at the time, argued that “everything necessary [must be done] to convert the half-caste into a white citizen”.
They had a whole labeling system (not unlike we did in the US, I should add), these mixed children were called “half-castes”, “crossbreeds”, “quadroons”, and “octoroons” and there’s this visual chart that A.O. Neville used that shows the progression of skin color and facial features as you follow this “breeding pattern” across 3 generations. It’s SUPER GROSS, I’m going to post it on the website for reference but be warned that it’s disturbing.
Neville deeply believed that biological absorption was the key to “uplifting the Native race”. And was quoted saying “Are we going to have one million blacks in the Commonwealth or are we going to merge them into our white community and eventually forget that there were any Aborigines in Australia?”
BACK TO MOLLY – here we are in 1931 – Molly is 14 or 15 living with her mom, sister, aunts, cousin, and the rest of her people in Jigalong – north of the Sandy Desert not far from the Rabbit Proof Fence.
And the fucking BRITISH-AUSTRALIAN DICKHEADS wade in there and swoop up Molly, her sister Daisy Kadibil (who was 8) and her cousin Gracie ( who was 11years old) and they transport them to the Moore River Native Settlement, just north of Perth. That’s over 1,600 kilometres (990 mi)
The Moore River Native Settlement was – AS I’M SURE YOU’VE GUESSED – similar to internment camps, and the “native schools” that have recently made the news across north america for the sheer number of unmarked graves of native children the died there. Wikipedia had a stat that in 1933 the Aboriginal population at the institution had risen to over 500, with increasingly squalid conditions and between 1918 and 1952, 346 deaths were recorded at Moore River Native Settlement, 42% of which were children age 1–5.
And while we’re talking stats, I found another stat in my research from an official report interviewing 502 aboriginal witnesses, and from that total 17% of female witnesses and 7.7% of male witnesses reported having suffered a sexual assault while in an institution, at work, or while living with a foster or adoptive family.
So much for “protecting the Aboriginals” – these places were fucking DEATHTRAPS.
Kids ran away all the time from Moore River (because WOULDN’T YOU?!) but the people in charge there hired aboriginal trackers to hunt the kids down and punish them.
But here’s 14 year old Molly, her sister and cousin, and Molly is NOT having it. Literally the day after they arrive at Moore River, she gathers Daisy and Gracie and they make a run for it.
Now Molly is SMART AS HELL. She knows that the Rabbit Proof fence is east of them at Moore River, and that runs all the way from where they are at, south in Perth, all the way past Jigalong, so she’s able to somehow navigate all three of them east to find the fence and they follow it north.
In their journey, the three girls cross a flooded river, sand dunes, heathlands, wheatbelt, mallee country, gibber plains (which is basically desert cobblestones, red dust and mulga country, spinifex country, claypan and salt lake. They slept in dug-out rabbit burrows, they caught and cooked rabbits and ate bibijali, which is a kind of sweet potato, and karkula, a kind of wild banana. All the while evading any trackers that were sent behind them.
When the younger girls get tired, Molly carries them on her back, piggyback style.
They walk for nine weeks, and travel 1600km, or 900 miles, all the way back to Jigalong. To this day Molly’s walk ranks as one of the most remarkable feats of endurance, cleverness and courage in Australian history
HOLY. FUCKING. SHIT.
I WISH I could tell you that was the end of Molly’s trouble, but, my listeners, it was not.
YES, Molly and Daisy their mom and grandma retreated from the more populated Jigalong and continuously eluded authorities, and she marries Toby Kelly, an Aboriginal stockman, and the couple worked on Balfour Downs station together. She gives birth to her first daughter, Nugi Garimara (Doris), in 1936 under a wintamarra tree, then in 1937, her second daughter Annabelle is born.
but then in 1940 British Australian forces are somehow able to nab her AND HER DAUGHTERS again, and ONCE MORE transport them all the way back down to Moore River, which at the point had expanded from a boarding school to a full fucking internment camp – adults and all.
in 1941, she makes a run for it again, this time carrying 18-month-old Annabelle. She had to leave Doris (who was 4 years old) with a relative. And she walks the same route home, ONCE AGAIN this time with the baby.
Her pseudo-freedom is short lived, though, because in 1943, the fucking BRITISH AUSTRALIAN AUTHORITIES take Annabelle, too (who was later told that she was an orphan.) Annable would never see her mother again, although apparently they were able to exchange gifts before Molly passed
Doris, however, was reunited with her mother 21 years later, and she ends up writing a trilogy of books about her mother’s journey, one of which, Rabbit-Proof Fence, was made into a feature film in 2002.
I watched it! I was able to buy it on Apple TV and of course it was riveting. A.O. Neville is played by Kenneth Bragnah who’s kind of a perfect villain. It’s hard to tell what, if anything was incorrect or inaccurate – I would guess that pretty much all of the scenes with Neville are largely fiction, but the film is based on Doris’ first book, which was based on all that her mother told about the events.
And Molly was still alive when they shot the film!! She was actually there with them on set during the making of the film and apparently she kept asking the crew if anyone had seen her stolen daughter.
In 2004 Molly Craig, at the age of 84, laid down for a nap, and she passed in her sleep, having never again seen Annabelle, her stolen child.
Doris spoke of her mother thus: “Mum’s legacy is the calming influence and quiet dignity of the desert women, and the stolen generations story. She looked you straight in the eye.”
The Australian government continued to take aboriginal children from their mothers until – I can’t even believe I have to say this – THIS PRACTICE CONTINUED UNTIL THE 1970s!
It is estimated that between one in ten and one in three, or in real numbers, between 20,000 and 25,000 Aboriginal children were forcibly taken from their families and communities between 1910 and 1970.
All of these aboriginal children, including Molly, Daisy, Gracie, Doris, and Annabelle, are now widely known as the “Stolen Generations”.