HanWay Films, the sales arm of UK producer Jeremy Thomas' Recorded Picture Company, has boarded Phillip Noyce's Rabbit-Proof Fence, the Australian-born director's first project in his home country after 12 years in the US.

Written by Christine Olsen, the adaptation of Doris Pilkington's book follows three Aboriginal girls forcibly taken from their outback families in 1931 to be trained as servants as part of a government policy. They escape and set out on the 1,500-mile journey home, pursued by the authorities.

Thomas is executive producing the project along with David Elfick, who worked with Noyce on Newsfront back in the late 1970s. Shooting starts in September in South Australia.

Chris Doyle, renowned for his work with Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wai, will act as cinematographer. Noyce has been visiting some of the most remote Aboriginal communities in Australia as part of a nation-wide search for three young actresses.

The director, whose credits include The Bone Collector, The Saint and Patriot Games, is also producing the film through his production company Rumbalara Films with writer Olsen and John Winter.

Additional backing comes from the Australian Film Finance Corporation, the South Australian Film Corporation and the Premium Movie Partnership pay-TV outfit. The film is the first pick-up for the recently formed Ocean Pictures, which will distribute it locally in conjunction with REP.

"This is a marvellous adventure story and thriller, celebrating courage and the resilience of the human spirit," said Noyce. "It tells the story of three unlikely heroines who refuse to let an uncaring bureaucracy destroy their lives and must trek across thousands of miles of the most exotic and forbidding countryside in the world."

Adam Minns IN LONDON contributed to this report