Rabbit-Proof Fence: Peter Gabriel's score

Rabbit-Proof Fence: Peter Gabriel's score
WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
Access fees

This is probably the film’s most controversial scene, as well as the most harrowing, partly because it’s different to the way Doris Pilkington Garimara describes her abduction in the book. The book’s description is more resigned and less violent, although it describes an aftermath that’s very similar, with the women wailing and beating their heads with rocks, to draw blood.

One of the reasons the scene is controversial is that it leaves no doubt that the children were 'stolen’ from their families. That word is highly contested by some white historians and politicians, who argued that the removal of Aboriginal children was not stealing, but legal and necessary for the welfare of children at risk. The debate over the language used to describe the policy of forced removal continued to rage in Australia, 10 years after the Bringing Them Home report was published in 1997.

Notes by Paul Byrnes


Additional notes on musical score

Though Rabbit-Proof Fence’s performances, direction and screenplay provide a crucial foundation for engaging the audience empathetically, the soundtrack extends the film's potential emotional reach and scope.  

The soundtrack to Rabbit-Proof Fence holistically integrates sound effects, score and dialogue. At times it is difficult to tell them apart – a slowed-down magpie call, for instance, is seamlessly integrated into the broader elements of the score.  

The film's score was composed by British pop star and key proponent of the world music genre, Peter Gabriel. It includes scripted musical themes that have origins in the folklore of Aboriginal culture and several other Indigenous cultures from around the world.

These include gospel vocals by the Blind Boys of Alabama, didgeridoo by Ganga Giri, African tribal drums by Babacar Faye and over 50 other artists and instrumentation from various musical lineages.  

According to Gabriel, one key intention for the music was to evoke a mythical connection of belonging between the characters and the landscape. But the music could also, however,  be interpreted as connoting a culture pre-existing European colonisation and responding to what is known as the ‘great Australian silence/emptiness’ trope found in art, literature and film.

This trope has come to signify the silencing of the landscape and Aboriginal peoples, culture and languages, as well as a preoccupation with the displacement felt by the early settlers. In Rabbit-Proof Fence, the landscape regains it voice.  

Interestingly, the world music approach to composing can be found in other famous Australian features. Consider, for instance, the Romanian panpipes in Picnic at Hanging Rock or the use of Bulgarian folk ballads in Jindabyne.

Notes by Johnny Milner