Retracing The Rabbit Proof Fence

Meet Lindsey Cole. In 2016 Lindsey embarked on an 1600km adventure walking through the Western Australia outback, retracing the steps of three young Aboriginal girls took in 1931 along WA's rabbit-proof fence. We caught up with Lindsey to hear her story, who is now embarking on her second adventure of circumnavigating Australia with Truck Drivers!  

What inspired you to embark upon this particular adventure on the other side of the world?

I broke my ankle whilst backpacking in Australia ten years ago. Stuck in Byron Bay (there are worse places to be stuck) I had a stack of films and books to entertain me for the three months I was laid up, whilst my housemates were at work. Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence was one of them. I was obviously moved by the girls’ story but didn’t realise how much it would have an effect on me later on.

A few months later my dad passed away suddenly, and I was on the first plane home. Finding myself totally lost I threw myself into endurance and adventure to deal with the grief. I cycled to Paris. I liked it. So, I cycled the length of Britain. I liked that too. So, I then cycled the length of Africa. I found a way to channel my negative energy but I also found something I loved. And totally loved. Adventure. I then embedded myself with a Kenyan running troop. And, when i couldn’t run due to a foot injury, I turned to rollerskates and skated to Paris, and then to Bude (in Cornwall) because it rhymed (it made total sense at the time.) I just loved doing stuff and any idea that popped into my head i realised was possible to do. But, each adventure wasn’t without its challenges and I used Molly as a beacon of inspiration to push me on. ‘Linds, you’ve just got to push on up this hill. Those girls trekked across the Australian desert barefoot. Come on now,’ I’d think. And, because I always thought about what Molly did when I was adventuring I always wanted to return to Australia to retrace her footsteps and walk along the rabbit proof fence. So, I did.

Lindsey with Daisy, one of Molly's sisters who escaped with her. 

Lindsey with Daisy, one of Molly's sisters who escaped with her. 

Could you tell us a little more about your hero Molly Craig?

Molly Craig was the epitome of a hero. She was brave, resilient and determined. She didn’t let anything get in her way despite the adversity and challenges facing her.. Molly and her sisters were taken from their families in Jigalong due to the colour of their skin. During the Stolen Generation, the authorities deemed that lighter skinned Aborigines would have a better chance of being assimilated into white society, so they were forcibly removed from their families and placed in native settlements around the country. They would be punished if they spoke their native tongue, having to speak English and they were trained up to be labourers or domestic helps. Once placed, there would be little or no chance that they would see their families again.

Molly didn’t like it. She didn’t want to be a part of it. She wanted to be back home with her family where she belonged. So, she engineered an escape, which noone had ever achieved successfully from Moore River Native Settlement. She led her and her sisters 1600km home, across some of Australia’s harshest environments, following the Rabbit Proof Fence. They trekked barefoot with no provisions and would use rabbit burrows as shelter. I thought what she did was just incredible. So, I wanted to retrace her journey.

How did you prepare for the walk? Were you a keen hiker before you decided to embark upon this journey?

I didn’t really like walking. I also didn’t really like camping. I like having a reason or purpose to do something. I need a goal to get to. I like challenges.  I’ve wanted to do it for years, but I could only really put full effort into the preparation once in Australia. Via email and with the time difference from the UK planning was difficult. So, I decided to cease an opportunity when I didn’t have any work on. Booked a flight. Not knowing whether I was going to do it or not. And flew to Perth. Once there, I did Bob Cooper’s Outback Survival Course. I told my mum I’d reassess at the end of it.  I really enjoyed it and asked Bob for his advice. He invited me round to his to go through my maps. I also joined a ten day anti-uranium protest walk in the Karlamilyi National Park. Which, is close to where I was finishing. Bob told me to go on that and then come back to see him and reassess. I liked that too. So, I took my walking trolley and provisions and went to see Bob. He helped me customise it. We went through my route. Scenarios. Gear. I had to get permits and ask for permission of land owners to walk on their country. And then off I went.

During your hike, you were up against the heat of the desert and the chill at night - how did you prepare for Australia’s outback conditions?

Yes, Aussie winters get pretty cold. Especially in the desert. But, I also had to bear in mind weight. So, I only had one jumper and one jacket. It was a specifically designed hiking Northface jacket. So, it was light-weight warm. The days were actually not too bad. It only got seriously hot in the last two weeks. I had to do the whole expedition in Aussie winter and started end of June. If I’d started any later I think I would have found it really difficult towards the end. I was only able to carry as much as I could. So, my water had to last me as much as my next fill up station. I rationed myself to about 3 litres a day. But in the last week I needed more. Fortunately, friends came to see me four days before the end and gave me another 15 litres. So, I drank a lot more in those last days. And I needed it.

I’ve heard of people walking through north WA during Aussie summer. I don’t know how they survive for water.

What was a particular highlight from your latest trip? Was there anything you found peculiarly interesting?

One of the most incredible things that happeded was that Molly’s daughter, Maria, and her family, joined me for the last 5km and walked into Jigalong with me. I’d managed to get her number a few weeks before and kept pestering her whenever I’d get into phone range. She said she that she could go for a walk and that she’d join me. But, I had no idea whether or not she actually would. They took me honey ant hunting, we ate a kangaroo that they caught and I stayed with them for a week. It was just totally overwhelming. They treated me like one of the family.

I then met Daisy, who made the journey 86 years ago, in 1931. She’s now 96 years old!!! That was a very special moment.

Did you pitch a tent every night? Did you carry all of your food?

It took me about ten days to find the fence. It’s 200 miles east of the Moore River Native Settlement. Another reason why I found what the girls did so amazing. They had to find the fence in the first place, whilst being tracked, without a GPS or compass. They just knew that if they headed East, they’d find it. I had seriously bad blisters because my boots were made for desert weather. Not wet weather. I didn’t think I’d have a problem with rain, but it bucketed it down the first day. Obviously! My endurance ego got the better of me so I strode through it because I started late and wanted to make good mileage. My heels basically fell off, the blisters were so bad. So, for the first ten days til I got to the fence I wanted to keep them clean and stayed in taverns or farms. Country people are so kind and I only paid for accommodation once in that ten days. Once on the fence I pitched my tent every night. I loved it. I used to hate camping. But, being out in the wild, with nature, and the only person for miles, well, it was just incredible. I did try to sleep outside with no tent, like Molly and the girls did. But on the one occasion that I gathered the confidence to do so, blew up my sleeping mattress and lay it by the fire, it started to rain. I took it as a sign and just slept in the tent. It took me about 20 minutes at the start to erect it. But, then I got pretty rapid and towards the end it would take just a few minutes. I was quite chuffed.

Do you recollect any particular moments during your trip where you felt scared? Did you ever consider giving up?

No, I never wanted to give up. I knew from the start that it was going to be difficult. And because I ‘ve wanted to do it for so many years I was prepared to do anything it took to get to the end. Every day I just kept surpassing my expectations of the journey and myself. I kept learning new things, skills, and I now love anything to do with survival.  

My main fear was it all coming to an end. I just didn’t want it to end. And, that’s the main reason I’ve still not gone home five months later.

The fence was so much more to me than just a fence. It was company (I called her Philomena), a compass, a beacon of inspiration and it was also my shield. I came across big herds of cows, camels and emus and if I felt threatened I could hop on over or under. Mind you, my clothes would rip and I’d get scratched on the barb wire. But, id feel safe.

Towards the end the fence disappeared. And, then I had a run in with a big herd of wild camels. Ten of them. One guy was massive. I was the only other living thing out there. So, they were all gauping at me. As I was at them. I didn’t have the fence to protect me this time and I had to pass them. We had a stand off for a while, but I couldn’t stand there forever. So, eventually I pushed Trevor along, kept my eyes on them and just passed them slowly. As I got closer they cantered off, kicking up dust behind, they crossed my track and retreated into the distance. I carried on nervously. They kept their eyes on me until I was out of their sight. It was pretty intimidating, but quite thrilling afterwards.

What advice would you give to women who may read your stories and be filled with inspiration but don’t know where to start?

Oh wow. Life is really short and there’s so much fun and adventure to be had on this planet. I’ve wanted to walk the rabbit proof fence for almost ten years. It’s been niggling away at me every English summer. And it really was the best thing I’ve ever done. You learn so much about your self, life and the world. And you see things in a different light afterwards. I’d absolutely encourage anyone to do something they dream about. Just think about all the things you need to do to get to the start line and then the rest will come. I’d never set foot in the outback before getting on the plane to Perth last year. So, I did Bob Cooper’s course to give me confidence. Some Australians laughed at me for doing it. But, I’d rather be laughed at for doing his course and not needing to use any of it than laughed at for needing to be rescued.

Any favourite podcasts / music / books you think everyone should know about?

I like to totally immerse myself when I do adventures. So, the only books I had were Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence, which was my bible, and then Robyn Davidson’s Tracks, which I got so I could compare my experience to how her walk across the desert was 40 years ago.

What’s the best thing about yourself you’ve discovered whilst adventuring?

To not panic. It may seem like common sense, but I learnt it from Bob Cooper and I heard him say those words when I got lost one day. .

I got seriously lost. For two hours. The fence line disappeared and I was stuck and surrounded by overgrown bush. And my GPS wasn’t working. I panicked and kept trying to fight it and wanted to continue with the direction of where the fence line should be. But, I had a 40kg trolley, that I called Trevor, and it made it increasingly difficult to push/pull him over tree roots and thick bush. So, I had to bail and navigate around the bush. A few weeks later I got lost again and kept my cool. I took a step back, breathed and unravelled and then got…Unlost (a term I use a lot now.)  It made me realise that it’s also a metaphor for life. We all get lost at times and panic. We don’t know what we’re doing with our lives or where we’re heading. But, if we take a step back, breathe and think, then everything becomes much clearer and we realise that actually all is well.

Any final words of advice to anyone who may be thinking to embark upon a similar style of adventure?

Talk to and respect local knowledge. Keep an absolutely open mind. Don’t judge people and just do it. Go. Go. Go. When you’re old, sat in your chair, with your slippers on you will look back with fond memories and even relish in the hurdles and hiccups that you faced. You’ll be ordering your grandkids to sit on your knee, regaling the stories. You wont regret it one iota. Mind you. They get a bit addictive. And you may struggle sitting at a desk afterwards.

You can keep up with Lindsey's adventures on her Facebook page and Instagram