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Silent tears

By Stephen Hagan - posted Monday, 22 October 2007

Publilius Syrus, a Latin writer of the 1st century BC once said: "The pain of the mind is worse than the pain of the body."

I recall seeing Rabbit-Proof Fence on the opening night in my home town in February 2002 and was inspired by the brilliant acting performances of the three young girls: Molly (played by Everlyn Sampi), Daisy (Tianna Sansbury) and Gracie (Laura Managhan) playing the principal roles of the characters of the book of the same name as they attempted to free themselves from Moore River Mission.

Why was it so popular?


Because this film was able to tell the story of the stolen generation in 94 minutes so clearly: it dispels the mistruths spread by politicians and social commentators who claim past thefts of thousands of Aboriginal children from their mothers never happened.

It was therefore with great delight that I took a back seat in my recent weekly tutorial session at the USQ Springfield campus (Brisbane) to mark a module presentation of one of my students.

I knew the student, a non-Indigenous lady, was going to invite a local Aboriginal Elder to assist with her presentation, but it wasn’t until she rose to address the tutorial session that I realised how significant her address would be for the room full of trainee teachers and myself.

Auntie Rhonda Collard, as she was introduced by the student presenter, opened her address by saying she was the grand daughter of Edna Ronan (later Spratt and then Bellotti), a Yamatji woman, who shared the humble living quarters in Moore River Mission with the young girls of the Rabbit-Proof Fence fame.

She showed a document signed by A.O. Neville, Chief Protector of Aborigines, of April 9, 1931 to the Officer in Charge, Police Station, Narrogin, which refers to her grandmother.

I desire to ascertain the whereabouts of a native named (blacked out) who has abducted Edna Ronan from Moore River to have proceeded towards Narrogin or one of the other towns along the Great Southern Line.

This man should be dealt with and I do not think this is his first offence.


Auntie Rhonda said her grandmother wasn’t abducted but chose to run away with the man in question to escape the harsh conditions she endured at Moore River Mission.

She said it wasn’t the first time she had run away and speaks fondly of her grandmother as she retold a story passed onto her of a similar escape as told in Rabbit-Proof Fence. However in this story her grandmother and a couple of other girls ran away from Moore River Mission to go home but instead of following the rabbit-proof fence, they followed the water pipe line.

A question from the floor as to whether any of the girls involved in the Rabbit-Proof Fence story took part in this escapade was met with a wry grin from Aunty Rhonda which proved inconclusive.

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About the Author

Stephen Hagan is Editor of the National Indigenous Times, award winning author, film maker and 2006 NAIDOC Person of the Year.

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