Daisy Kadibil, whose Australia trek inspired a film, dies at 95

SYDNEY — Daisy Kadibil, an Aboriginal Australian, was about 8 years old and living in the vast, sparsely populated Outback in the early 1930s when her country’s government forcibly separated her from her parents and sent her to a resettlement camp hundreds of miles away.

Her removal had been ordered under an Australian assimilation policy that sought to absorb Aboriginal people into the country’s white society by taking children from their families and indoctrinating them in the ways of that dominant culture.

Daisy was taken from her home in Jigalong, an Indigenous community in the Pilbara region in northwestern Australia, where she had grown up. A sister, Molly, and a cousin, Gracie, were also seized, and all three girls were sent to an Indigenous settlement near the Moore River, just north of Perth, the nearest city, about 800 miles to the south.


There, longing for home, they sought to escape. In 1931 they succeeded, embarking on foot on a treacherous nine-week trek north across rough terrain and using as their guide a barbed-wire fence that had been built to keep rabbits away from pastureland — an astonishing feat that inspired a book and the acclaimed 2002 Australian movie “Rabbit-Proof Fence.”

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Ms. Kadibil, the last remaining of the three, died on March 30 in South Hedland, Western Australia. She was 95. Her death, which was not widely publicized at the time, was confirmed by a grandson, Darryl Jones, who said she had dementia.

The film that depicted the girls’ journey, directed by Phillip Noyce, won numerous awards on the international festival circuit. (Kadibil was played by Tianna Sansbury.) It also brought the issue of the so-called stolen generation of Aboriginal Australian children to audiences around the world.

In his review in The New York Times, Stephen Holden described the movie as a “devastating portrayal” of Australia’s “disgraceful treatment” of its Aboriginal population.

“On the side of wrong is the Australian government,” he wrote, “which, for more than half a century, carried out this appalling program of legalized kidnapping.”


The movie was based on the book “Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence” (1996), by Doris Pilkington Garimara, who died in 2014. The author was the daughter of Ms. Kadibil’s sister, Molly Kelly, and her book was partly based on her mother’s experiences during the journey, though she interviewed Ms. Kadibil, her aunt, extensively in her research.

Kelly died in 2004, and the sisters’ cousin Gracie Cross died in 1983.

The girls were among thousands of Aboriginal Australian children forcibly removed from their families and transported to settlement camps hundreds of miles away. Once in the camps, as they were taught the customs of white Australian society, they were forbidden to speak their native language. The assimilation policy started in the early 1900s and lasted into the early ’70s.

Tributes to Ms. Kadibil poured out across social media after her death.

“May you finally rest in peace with your sisters, Aunty Daisy Kadibil,” the South Australian Film Corp. posted on Instagram.