|“||We face an uphill battle with these people, especially the bush natives, who have to be protected against themselves. If only they would understand what we are trying to do for them.||„|
|~ A. O. Neville explaining his racist motivation.|
Auber Octavius Neville is the main antagonist of the 2002 historical drama film Rabbit-Proof Fence. He is an English bureaucrat who serves as Chief Protector of Aborigines in Western Australia whose policy is to remove aboriginal children of mixed marriages from their families and assimilate them into white society, so they can be raised as domestic servants.
He was portrayed by Kenneth Branagh, who also played Gilderoy Lockhart in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Iago in the 1995 film adaptation of Othello, Dr. Arliss Loveless in Wild Wild West, Viktor Cherevin in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, and Andrei Sator in Tenet.
|“||He had what seemed to be an admiration for the Aboriginal race, and yet he was the man behind a program which had both a profound and negative effect.||„|
|~ Kenneth Branagh about A.O. Neville.|
His main reasons for removing "half-caste" children from their families is because he wanted to prevent the existence of an unwanted "third race" and to assimilate them into white society in order to prevent them from marrying other aborigines. Since it was widely believed that the aboriginal race was dying out and that they couldn't sustain themselves, Neville wanted to remove the "half-caste" children from their families and "breed the color" out of them through biological absorption until there were no more aborigines in Australia. He saw the aboriginal race as inferior and was convinced that what he was doing was right. However, despite his good intentions and lack of malevolence, his actions of legally kidnapping "half-blooded" children from their families was still cruel and racist, despite his efforts to improve their lives. Neville thought that by having "half-caste" people marry white people, this would stamp out their aboriginal blood and believed that being white makes them smarter, hence the reason why he particularly targeted half-blooded individuals. Whenever children spoke their native language or tried to escape, they would often get beaten or get locked up for doing it. Even though Neville believed he was doing this for the children's own good, he didn't realize that his policies were causing psychological damage to the children and making them shame themselves over their identity. Although his role as Chief Protector of Aborigines was to protect the "half-caste" children from abuse by white settlers, his policies were inherently self-defeating, as the vast majority of the half-blooded children were often abused by their masters once they were adopted, both physically and sexually, as shown in the scene where Mavis' employer attempts to sexually assault her.
In 1915, Neville was appointed Chief Protector of Aborigines in the state of Western Australia and established the Moore River Native Settlement, an internment camp made to assimilate the Stolen Generations, a group of aboriginal children who were removed from their families in an attempt to "breed the color" out of them through biological absorption.
Neville first makes his appearance at his office in Perth, where he receives a letter from Constable Riggs and signs a decree to remove three girls from their family, being fourteen-year old Molly Craig, ten-year old Gracie Fields, and eight-year old Daisy Craig Kadibil. He then hands the papers to his secretary, Ms. Thomas and she heads out to give the papers to Riggs. The girls' mothers, Maud and Mrs. Fields are informed about their proposed removal, but they refuse to turn them over. Riggs arrives at Jigalong and abducts the girls, while their mothers and grandmother try to stop him, to no avail. Meanwhile, Neville gives out his speech to his white audience about his policy on removing "half-caste" children from their families and why they need to "protect them against themselves".
The girls eventually arrive at the Moore River Native Settlement and are taken in by a matron named Ms. Jessop with the other children to be trained for domestic service. The next day, Neville arrives at the settlement and the children sing "Swanee River", Neville's favorite Christian song. After the song, the settlement's superintendent, Mr. Neal calls over one boy and Neville examines his skin to see if he will be accepted in white society, but decides he's not light enough. When Molly's name is called, she hesitantly walks over and Neville tells her that they'll help her get used to her new life. Neville then examines her skin and decides she's not light enough, meaning she'll stay at Moore River. The girls then straighten up their beds and notice an escaped girl named Olive being brought in by Moodoo, an aboriginal tracker working for the settlement. Nina, the dormitory boss, states that Olive left to see her boyfriend and they watch her get locked up in a shed called "the Boob" get whipped by Mr. Neal. Neville thanks Moodoo for bringing back Olive and states that his daughter isn't ready to have a white family yet before leaving with Mr. Neal.
Fed up with this new life, Molly makes up her mind to leave the settlement with her two siblings and they escape during a thunderstorm. When the settlement finds out that the girls have escaped, Moodoo learns of this and heads out to find them. The girls manage to elude Moodoo by having their tracks swept by the rain and they sleep for the night. Neville receives a call from Mr. Neal and informs his secretary about the girls' escape and that Moodoo will eventually find them. The next morning, the girls cross a river and Moodoo is hot on their trail, but the girls manage to evade the tracker once more. Neville is annoyed to hear that the girls have outwitted Moodoo and sends the police to look for them.
The three girls arrive at a farm, where a farmer gives them food and clothes and gives them directions to the rabbit-proof fence, which will show them the way back to Jigalong. The girls eventually manage to find the fence and begin following it. When Neville finds out that the girls are following the rabbit-proof fence, he devises a plan to trap them at Yalgoo and recapture them there by having police troopers come in from the north and Moodoo come in from the south. The girls come across a worker and he informs them that they're on the number two fence. Molly realizes that they've been following the wrong fence and have been heading west instead of north. The camper directs the girls up north to the number one fence and their detour has saved them from getting caught by the search party. The girls come across a house in Queue and an aboriginal housemaid named Mavis, who happens to be a former Moore River inmate, invites them to stay for the night. That night, when the search party arrives, Mavis helps the girls escape and they hide in a bush. The authorities leave after failing to find the girls and the girls run away and continue following the fence. The next day, Moodoo and Riggs return and continue following the girls, but the girls once again thwart them. Neville gets angry and comes up with a plan to capture them before they head into desert country, so he spreads the word that Gracie's mother is waiting at Wiluna and hires a camper to wait for the girls. Riggs decides to continue searching for the girls, while Moodoo gives up on the search, admiring Molly for her cleverness.
The girls come across the camper and he informs them about them being in the newspapers. The camper tells Gracie that her mother is waiting at Wiluna and this makes her part ways with Molly and Daisy and follow her own path, so she can find her mother. Molly and Daisy eventually arrive at Wiluna, where they find Gracie. Molly calls her over, but before Gracie can walk over to them, Riggs finds her and recaptures her before taking her back to Moore River. Neville sends Riggs to Jigalong to wait there for the two remaining girls to arrive and recapture them. As time passes, Riggs suspects that the girls are up to something and decides to head to the fence to check out. However, he comes across the girls' mother and grandmother, who scare him away. The two girls finally arrive at Jigalong, where they are happily reunited with their family.
Neville realizes that he has been beaten and decides to call off the search for the girls and plans to recapture them at some point in the future. While his secretary is writing his letter, Neville states that he wishes that the aborigines would understand that they are trying to help them and Ms. Thomas sends his letter.
An older Molly states that she eventually got married and gave birth to two children a decade later. Then she and her children were taken back to the Moore River Native Settlement, but she walked all the way back to Jigalong with her youngest daughter, Annabelle. However, when Annabelle turned three, she was taken away by Neville and Molly states that she never saw her again. Molly implies that Gracie is dead and says that she's never going back to Moore River again.
An epilogue states that Neville retired in 1940 and that the removal policy continued until 1970. Even though the policy has ended, many aborigines continued to suffer from the destruction of their identity, family life and culture to this day.
- Director Philip Noyce stated that he thought that there couldn't have been a better actor for Neville than Kenneth Branagh and that Neville's sense of moral justification for his racist actions could have been lost in a lesser actor's performance. Noyce also concluded that there is nothing more threatening than a villain who believes he's truly doing the right thing and kills with his own kindness.
- Despite his seeming malevolence, he tries to do what's best for the "half-caste" children, as he believed the aboriginal race to be inferior. However, he didn't realize that he was causing psychological damage to the children and making them shame themselves over their identity and committing cultural genocide towards the aboriginal race.
- Kenneth Branagh stated that he admired the filmmakers in trying to neither judge Neville, nor to excuse him, and to portray a man who may be regarded as a monster, but also as a human being.
- The book the movie is based on, Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence is actually written by Molly Craig's daughter, Doris Pilkington Garimara and wrote about her mother's experience when she was taken to the Moore River Native Settlement, but escaped with her siblings back to Jigalong.
- The generation diagram Neville uses in his presentation was actually from Neville's real-life book Australia's Colored Minority, which was released in 1947.
- The title "Chief Protector of Aborigines" refers to the legal guardian of aborigines in Australia and Neville was trying to be their friend. This is somewhat ironic, considering that despite his efforts to help the "half-caste" children, he was making matters worse for the natives, hence the reason the aborigines call him "Mr. Devil", which rhymes with Neville.
- In real-life, while Neville himself wasn't responsible or aware of what was going on with the children at the Moore River Native Settlement, several half-caste children have died of disease and some have been abused and chained when they were adopted by white families. Others have also been impregnated by their owners after being raped and taken back to Moore River, where their newborn children would be taken away two years later. This is evidenced in the scenes with Mavis, where it's implied that her boss, Paul Evans sexually abuses her.
- One may notice that his his lack of empathy in his facial expressions and his dimly lit office throughout the film symbolize his oppressive attitude and policy towards aborigines.