The youngest of three girls from Western Australia’s north-west, whose life story inspired the award-winning film Rabbit-Proof Fence, has died at the age of 95.
Martu woman Daisy Kadibil was a small child when she was taken away from her family as part of the Stolen Generations.
She and her sister, Molly, and cousin, Gracie, used the rabbit-proof fence to find their way home from the Moore River Native Settlement, a 1600-kilometre journey.
The story brought the issue of Australia’s Stolen Generations to a national and international audience.
Grandson Darryl Jones said Ms Kadibil always sought to return home to the community of Jigalong.
He said after returning home, she had children in Wiluna but she then once again returned to Jigalong.
She lived for much of her life in the nearby Parnngurr Community, where her descendants continue to live.
Mr Jones said he watched the movie at school about how the sisters were determined to come back to their home country.
“For Stolen Generation, taking her kids away, they just fight to come back, and they never stop,” he said.
“They just came back to country she belongs to – Jigalong.”
He said Ms Kadibil was very young when she made the incredible trek.
“She (Daisy) was the smallest one and the oldest one [was] Molly, I think Molly knew the way back because they were fixing the rabbit-proof fence and Molly knew, my nanna Daisy was [a] little one then,” he said.
“Coming back, Daisy was just following [her] big sister, Molly.”
The incredible walk took the children through hundreds of kilometres of rough outback territory in the state.
A harsh environment for children
More than 200 children died at the Moore River camp where Daisy and her sister were transported, many succumbing to treatable respiratory and infectious diseases.
At the time, Western Australia had a policy of removing children from Aboriginal parents and taking them into state care for “integration” into western society.
Tens of thousands of Aboriginal children were forcibly removed from their families until the 1960s, an era known as the Stolen Generations.
Academic Paddy Gibson, a senior researcher at the Jumbunna Institute at the University of Technology, said in Western Australia the Department of the Chief Protector under the Commissioner of Native Welfare was given extreme powers.
“This was an incredibly destructive policy which left in its wake a real trail of heartache and pain in Indigenous communities, which continues to be felt today,” he said.
They didn’t need particular excuses to remove Aboriginal children from families, they could basically shunt children all around the state. And they did.”
He said the film helped bring home the reality of these policies.
“It’s obviously a story that struck a chord, right across Australia.
“With people actually looking through the eyes of those women, being able to see the brutality of what this policy meant.”
Strong Martu woman passed on culture
Tributes have flowed in the community for Ms Kadibil, who died in Jigalong last month but will not be buried until the end of June.
Community organisation Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa advisory director Sue Davenport described Ms Kadibil as an incredibly strong and determined woman.
She said she passed her knowledge of her Martu culture to her own children, teaching them to hunt and look after the culture, and respect the Martu Jukurrpa (Dreaming).
“She was really beloved. Beloved by her family and her community. She was just a very impressive woman,” Ms Davenport said.
“She was very determined to get back to country and family.
“Her family is a really pivotal and integral part of the Parnngurr community.”