Molly Kelly, who as a child trekked 1,000 miles across the Australian desert to return to her Aboriginal mother in a journey that inspired Phillip Noyce’s 2002 movie “Rabbit-Proof Fence,” died Jan. 13 in the Western Australia town of Jigalong while taking an afternoon nap. She was thought to be 87.
Kelly — taken from her mother in 1931 as part of a government policy aimed at assimilating Aborigines into white society, was about 13 when she, her younger sister and a cousin made the nine-week journey with little food and water. When her story came out decades later, she became a symbol of Aborigine resilience in the face of mistreatment by Australia’s European settlers. Thousands of such forced separations created what are now known as Australia’s “stolen generations.” The policy began in 1905 and continued until 1971.
“She was a person that was utterly willful, who decided she would not be dictated to, took on the whole state apparatus and managed to win,” said Christine Olsen, the film’s screenwriter.
Kelly’s daughter, Doris Pilkington Garimara, learned of the story and wrote it down only after she was reunited with her mother more than 20 years after she also was taken away by authorities.