Span 37

Journal of the South Pacific Assoc for Cwlth Lit and Language Studies
Number 37, 1993
Yorga Wangi:
Postcolonialism and Feminism

Edited by Anne Brewster, Marion Campbell, Ann McGuire, Kathryn Trees

The Escape

Doris Pilkington

This is an extract from a novel, Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence, which tells the story of three teenage Aboriginal girls who, in 1931, walked from Moore River Native Settlement to their home at the Jigalong Depot. This trek of over one thousand miles took four weeks. It is an incredible tale that must be told. Molly was Doris Pilkington's mother; Daisy and Gracie, her aunts.


It started to sprinkle again. The girls looked up towards the sky and saw that it was only scattered clouds of light showers, so they trudged on unperturbed through the open forest of banksia, pricklybark, and Christmas tree that covered the low sand dunes.

The showers passed over them heading inland as they tramped over the wet, thick grass and thick ground covers. They were moving into familiar woodlands with their acacia thickets, banksia trees, and scattered malli and marri gums. The heathland stretched out in all directions and extended to the ocean.

Molly, Daisie and Gracie tried not to look at the dark blue hills in the distance on their right; they were content to keep on walking in the northerly direction at the easy pace that suited them well, just keeping their sights on what lay before them.

They had covered a lot of ground since crossing the main branch of the Moore River, over hills and sand dunes, across the white sand plains. Yes, they were maintaining very good progress and had covered a wide area of coastal sandy heaths.

They were fascinated by the bright orange and white and red and yellow conical-shaped banksia flowers. They pulled the branches down so that they could examine them more closely. Beneath the banksia trees the ground was covered with tangled undergrowth of plants, creepers, tufts of grass, dry, decaying leaves, and dry banksia nuts.

It was impossible or almost impossible to find a patch of clean white sand amongst all that for the girls to pass through without scratching or stinging their legs on the prickly acacia bushes. Though it wasn't too bad when it was raining because the cool drops of rain washed and soothed the scratches on their skins.

They were almost past the clumps of banksia trees when they heard very heavy footfalls. It sounded like someone or something that was heading their way. At that moment it began to sprinkle with heavy raindrops. But they could still hear those footsteps. They were coming closer. There was a flash of lightning; in the distance they heard a rumble of thunder. The footsteps came closer.

"Quick," whispered Molly and all three of them dived head-first underneath the thicket and slid on their stomachs as flat and low as they could - not daring to breathe.

They kept very still, frozen stiff with fear as they lay under the cover of the tangled shrub and waited for whatever it was to appear. Molly had no intention of being caught only to be sent back to the Settlement to be punished by the authorities.

The footsteps were so close now, the ground was vibrating - they could feel every step. Then they saw it. They lay there, their eyes glued to the 'thing' that was emerging from behind the banksia trees.

Gracie started to say something in a low whisper but the words came out in an inaudible stutter. She tried once more, but the result was the same, so she gave up and shut her eyes tightly and began to swallow deeply, trying desperately to control her fear.

Several minutes later, after the 'thing' had gone by, its footsteps still thundering along, the girls remained on the prickly leaves and grass, pondering whether to move on or not. Their young hearts were still thump-thumping right up into their ears. All lay shivering with fear.

It was another few seconds before they regained their composure and their fears subsided. It was only then that they could rise and stand firmly on their feet without shaking, to continue their trek homewards.

"That was a Marlbu, indi Dgudu?" said Daisy, still obviously shaken by what she had seen.

"Youay, it was a Marlbu alright," agreed Molly. "A proper Marlbu."

Yes he - that thing fitted the descriptions of a Marlbu, a sharp-toothed, flesh-eating, cannibalistic, evil spirit that has been around since the Dreamtime era. The old people always told them to be careful and always to watch out for them and now this very day they had seen one.

"That Marlbu had a funny head and long hair. He was a big one alright," said Daisy.

There seemed to be only one logical explanation to that phenomenon. The so-called Marlbu may have been an extra large Aboriginal man with prominent Neanderthal features who was running to beat the storm that was brewing up and the fast-approaching nightfall. The man's giant-like stature had revived childhood imaginations and interpretations of a mythical being of the Dreamtime stories. But to these girls from the Western Desert it was genuine and real and no one could tell them otherwise.

"Quickly," urged Molly, "let us get away from this place." The sight of the Marlbu had unnerved her; she was really scared.

"There might be others round here. We gotta get away from this bad place. It's getting dark. We have to find a good safe place to make a camp for the night," she said, her eyes scanning the surrounding countryside. She paused and pointed to a small range of sand dunes not far from the woodlands of banksia trees.

The two younger sisters nodded; they could see the shallow valley of sand dunes on the left and began making their way towards them.

"See that," said Molly when they reached the sand dunes, pointing to the rabbit warrens. "We'll just dig one out. We have to make it big enough for the three of us to fit into," she told them.

"We gunna sleep in the bunn (ground) like rabbits too, Dgudu?" asked Gracie.

"Youay, nobody gunna look in a rabbit burrow for us, indi," replied Molly confidently.

"That's true, no one will find us in there," said Gracie as she joined them.

And so, crouching on their knees, they dug furiously, their elbows almost touching. Very soon, they managed to widen and deepen a deserted burrow to make a slightly cramped but warm, dry, shelter for themselves. This was their first sleep out in the bush since leaving their homes in the East Pilbara.

But before the three sisters settled in for the night, they ate some of the dry crusts of bread and washed it down with the cool, clear water from the pools in the bottom of the valley.

Molly had chosen a burrow that faced East because she had noticed that the rain came from the West over the coast. They would be well-protected from the wet and cold while they slept.

Crawling in one at a time, they cuddled up together in the rabbit burrow, wriggling and twisting around until they were comfortable. Soon, with the warmth of their young bodies and their weariness, Daisie and Gracie drifted off to sleep, their heads resting on their calico bags at the entrance and their feet touching the sandy wall at the back of the burrow. They felt safe and warm.

While the two younger sisters were sleeping, Molly lay listening to the rain falling steadily on the sand and vegetation outside. She had too much on her mind to relax and go to sleep just yet. But despite that, she felt safe inside the rabbit burrow.

Tomorrow, she told herself, I will find the Rabbit Proof Fence and it will take us all the way home to Jigalong. The thought raised her hopes and a few minutes later, she too drifted off into slumber land.

Curtin University

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