that most Australian critics welcomed Noyce's decision to return home e and reconnect, as he suggests, with Australian issues. The film is consis- ^ tently praised for being both profoundly moving and politically astute. D Many critics also comment on the film's timeliness - 'long overdue', as ° one critic wrote.6 The film is based on a non-fiction book written by Molly D Craig's daughter, Doris Pilkington-Garimara, and many of the reviews and commentaries address the film's claim to historical truth.7 For critic Evan Williams, for example, 'Rabbit-Proof Fence has been made with such transparent humanity and idealism it scarcely seems to matter whether the story is true or not'.8 For others, however, it matters a great deal. Upon its release in 2002, Rabbit-Proof Fence became a target in the neo-conservative antiStolen Generations campaign and the history wars debate (see Chapter 1). In a scathing commentary in the Daily Telegraph, one of the campaign's leading players, columnist Piers Akerman, attacked the film's depiction of historical events and figures, claiming they were misleading to audiences.9 He also used a sustained assault on the film's depiction of this episode in Australian history to take several swipes at the public intellectual Robert Manne, who a week earlier had published a feature article on the Stolen Generations in the Sydney Morning Herald in which he describes Rabbit-Proof Fence as 'the first important feature film on the subject'.10
Akerman's attack on Rabbit-Proof Fence and its admirers rehearses the arguments and rhetorical stance of the wider ongoing campaign against Bringing Them Home. As Manne notes, Bringing Them Home, which is based on the testimonies of more than 500 witnesses, had a profound impact on national identity. In the days following the report's tabling in parliament, politicians openly wept as they acknowledged the report's findings that a minimum of 10 per cent and perhaps as many as 30 per cent of all Aboriginal children born between 1900 and 1970 were forcibly removed or 'stolen', as Indigenous people put it, from their mothers and communities.11 Public response followed suit, mediated by a national media that by and large accepted both the findings and the emotional tone of the report. It was an intense moment of national shame and collective remorse that crystallised around the question of a national apology to Indigenous Australians. In fierce opposition to this general mood of shame and call for an apology, neo-conservative politicians, academics and journalists began a series of public attacks on the report, claiming, among other things, that it damaged Australia's 'good name'. For Manne, retired Liberal politician Peter Howson g goes as far as to suggest that the report's findings about the racist and geno-js cidal dimensions of the state-sanctioned policies of removal are an act of " treachery.12 Akerman's commentary takes a similar view, directly disputing as racist and genocidal the way the film represents the policies and admin-
< istrative practices of Western Australia's then Chief Protector of Aborigines, 2 A. O. Neville. Here and elsewhere, Akerman argues that Aboriginal prou tectors like Neville did not 'steal' children from their families but rather
< 'rescued' them from hostile tribal Aborigines who refused to recognise chilli dren of mixed descent. Noyce's public refutation of Akerman's claims refers £ to a wealth of historical and anthropological evidence to the contrary.13
< But there is something else at stake in Akerman's attack on Rabbit-Proof Fence. His commentary also displays an age-old cultural prejudice that emerged as a peculiar by-product of the anti-Bringing Them Home campaign, namely the Platonic suspicion of the image. Campaigners against the report argue that the document is fundamentally flawed because it is based on the testimonies of witnesses, which are, in their view, 'distorted memories' of the past, instead of what they call 'official' history: government documents, statistics, legislation, and the like.14 In his analysis of the campaign, Manne explains that despite the fact that left-wing intellectuals and historians have provided a great deal of'official history' to support witnesses' claims, neo-conservatives have continued to pursue this line of thinking, culminating in a national conference on the subject titled 'Truth and Sentimentality' and organised by the right-wing journal Quadrant.15 Here, participants argued in one way or another that they were dealing with historical truth based on empirical evidence while the left or new intelligentsia, which includes at least one of the authors of Bringing Them Home, infect the public spheres of politics and media with a dangerous sentimentality about the so-called 'Aboriginal problem' which, they claim, encourages an anti-Australian ethos.16
Returning to Akerman's commentary we find a similar line of thought when he dismisses the film's contribution to national culture and history on the grounds of an effect Ross Gibson calls 'international contamination' (discussed in Chapter 5).17 For Akerman, Rabbit-Proof Fence cannot be regarded as 'one of Australia's best films' because it is culturally inauthentic, or, to use his words, 'a Tinseltown version of an Australian story'.18 Here, Akerman accuses the filmmakers of taking licence in their representation of historical reality, suggesting that the film fails as a work of history because its primary aim is to elicit emotion. 'The film Rabbit-Proof Fence', he writes, 'is not about facts; it's about sentiments'.19 In other words, while Noyce sees Rabbit-Proof Fence as a form of escape from 'the sausage factory' that he believes the Hollywood studio system is, Akerman perceives the film as nothing more than an imported sausage: a distasteful, overblown product 0 that is positively 'un-Australian' in its appeal to the emotions. ,
It is interesting to note that while Noyce's response to Akerman in the t
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