The lost child is a recurrent theme in the Australian cultural tradition. Narratives of lost children date as far back as the colonial period, where this figure characterised the hardship of life in the bush for new settlers. As Peter Pierce's comprehensive study of the subgenre shows, by the end of the 19th century the regular newspaper reports and stock illustrations of lost children that had well and truly captured the popular imagination had become the basis of literary works by many well-known Australian writers, including Henry Kingsley, Marcus Clarke, Henry Lawson, Joseph Furphy and Ethel Pedley, as well as visual renderings of the theme by well-known artists such as the g Heidelberg school painter Frederick McCubbin.26 In cinema, lost children js narratives date back to the 1930s with Charles Chauvel's mythic Uncivi-" lized (1936). They are also prevalent in the so-called New Australian cinema with features such as Walkabout (1971), Lost in the Bush (Peter Dodds,
< 1970), Barney (David Waddington, 1976), Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), 2 and Manganninie (John Honey, 1980), as well as contemporary cinema in
The Missing (1998) and One Night the Moon (2001). Rabbit-Proof Fence
< backtracks over and reworks many of the elements of this cultural tradition.
< In her survey of Australian action-adventure films, Susan Dermody £ argues that lost in the bush or lost children films are in the romance-
< quest mode: 'a form that organises meaning in stories as diverse as Homer's Ulysses, the biblical story of Moses, nearly every fairytale, and Shakespearean romances, such as The Winter's Tale.'27 What is interesting about Dermody's study of the Australian action film in terms of the conventions of the romance-quest is that she emphasises two main elements: first, the quest is fulfilled through a series of physical challenges in unfamiliar territory, and second, the motivation of the hero is idealist rather than comic-tragic or satiric and pessimistic.28 Moreover, Dermody argues that these films depict their respective searches or struggles to fulfil an ideal against a background of real anxieties.29
Working with Dermody's somewhat idiosyncratic, we could say 'Aus-tralianised', definition of the romance-quest, we can ask what exactly is the real, or social, anxiety behind the Australian tradition of lost children films. In a recent in-depth study, Pierce convincingly argues that the recurring motif of the lost child in Australian painting, literature and film amounts to 'a peculiarly Australian anxiety', namely European settler anxiety about belonging.30 Pierce shows how on one level these stories and images function as warnings of the very real dangers posed by life in the bush and the outback. But they also have a much deeper cultural significance. For Pierce, the image of the forlorn lost child that haunts both popular culture and canonical works by Australian writers and artists stands for an older generation of European settlers: 'Symbolically, the lost child represents the anxieties of European settlers because of their ties with home which they have cut in coming to Australia... The child stands for the apprehension of adults about having to settle in a place where they might never be at peace.'31 As Pierce observes, one of the best known images of the lost child is the stock 19th-century magazine illustration of a group of two or three children entwined in an exhausted sleep at the foot of a tree.32 Originating from true stories, such as the famous colonial story of the three Duff children lost in the bush in the Wimmera area of Victoria in 1864, this image is routinely rehearsed in melodramatic narratives of the lost child, for example Picnic at
Hanging Rock, where it sparks an uncanny remembrance, contributing to 0 the film's blurring of the lines between fact and fiction, fantasy and reality. , In Rabbit-Proof Fence this highly recognisable composition of lost children t
Was this article helpful?