Britain’s Child Migrants Forum, Immigration Museum, 31st March 2012
- Alex Price, Programs Officer, Immigration Museum
- Ben Naparstek, Editor, The Age Good Weekend Magazine
- Kim Tao, Curator, On their own exhibition, Australian National Maritime Museum
- Peg Fraser, Oral Historian and Curator of Stolen Childhoods
- Norman Johnston, President, International Association of Former Child Migrants and Their Families
- Harold Haig, Secretary, International Association of Former Child Migrants and Their Families
Listen to audio recording
Alex Price (AP): On Saturday 31st of March 2012 the Immigration Museum hosted the Britains Child Migrants Good Weekend Event. This forum was organised with the assistance of the Good Weekend Magazine, the Child Migrants Trust, the International Association of Former Child Migrants and their Families and the Australian National Maritime Museum, as well as colleagues from Museum Victoria. The event was facilitated by Ben Naparstek. Ben graduated with degrees in arts and law from the University of Melbourne before taking up a graduate fellowship with the Humanity Centre at the John Hopkins University in Baltimore. Here he co-edited a book of cultural theory for Duke University Press. He has written for more than 40 publications and in 2009 he became the editor of The Monthly. Ben has recently begun his position as editor of The Age's Good Weekend Magazine which appears weekly in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age and has a readership of more than 1.5 million Australians.
Ben Naparstek (BN): Thanks everyone for coming today. We've got a really distinguished panel of four speakers, all who will address you for about five to 10 minutes each and we'll have plenty of questions from the floor afterwards and time for discussion. So jot down any thoughts you have and it would be great to hear from you afterwards. As Alex said, I've been editing Good Weekend for a couple of months now and it's really exciting to be working with Fairfax and editing the magazine which is the premier forum for quality journalism in the country.
(BN): Thanks a lot. We have here Kim Tao, Peg Fraser, Norman Johnston and last but not least, Harold Haig. I'm first going to ask Kim Tao to address you. Kim is the curator post federation immigration at the Australian National Maritime Museum and curator of this exhibition, On Their Own. In 2008 she was awarded a Churchill fellowship to study strategies for building sustainable partnerships between museums and culturally diverse communities in the UK, Canada and the USA. Kim has a Bachelor of Arts in archaeology, anthropology and sociology and a masters of arts in museum studies, both from the University of Sydney. So can you please join with me in welcoming Kim Tao.
Kim Tao (KT): Thank you Ben and good afternoon everybody. It's a pleasure to be here today to speak about the development of On Their Own, Britain's Child Migrants. This exhibition profiles a group who were an invisible part of Australia's history for decades. They were the lost children of the empire, the more than 100,000 British children sent to Canada, Australia and other Commonwealth countries from the 1860s to the 1960s. Children did not travel with mothers or fathers, but alone, through schemes which removed them from their homes and families or from work houses, orphanages and children's homes. It was believed that they would have a better life working in the clean expanses of the British Empire, where they were a source of much needed labour. Contrary to popular belief, few of these children were orphans. Many left families behind and separation from their homeland often led to a lonely, brutal childhood. Today, many former child migrants and their families are still coming to terms with their experiences.
The story of Britain's child migrants was largely hidden until the late 1980s when Nottingham social worker, Margaret Humphreys, formed the child migrants trust to help reunite families and raise awareness of the schemes. The story came to the attention of the media and general public with the release of the book and TV documentary, Lost Children of the Empire in 1989 and the ABC BBC mini-series, The Leaving of Liverpool in 1992. After years of lobbying by former child migrants and their families, the issue also became part of the political agenda. Government inquiries held in the UK in 1998 and Australia in 2001 condemned the schemes as fundamentally flawed. Submissions and evidence given at the inquiries revealed horrific stories of abuse, neglect and deception. In 2009, then Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, made an apology to former child migrants and Forgotten Australians who suffered in institutional care. Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, apologised in 2010.
The Australian National Maritime Museum began developing on their own two years before these apologies became a reality. We partnered with National Museums Liverpool in the UK to tell the child migration story in its global and historical context. The exhibition is designed to take visitors on a journey from the bustling dockside to the excitement of the ship voyage, the shock of arriving in a new land and the subsequent search for family and identity in adult life. The exhibition uses a mix of artefacts, audio visuals and oral histories. We also drew from the rich photographic records, in particular the evocative group portraits which convey the sheer volume of children being sent from Britain for a century, but we have also tried to balance the sense of volume with the power of personal individual lived experiences. The main part of the exhibition is New Lands, New Lives which presents 15 case studies of child migrants in Canada and Australia. The case studies are designed to showcase an individual perspective. They provide an opportunity to be heard and believed for those who were neither heard nor believed when they were powerless children.
We compare the cases of 12 year old Barnardo boy, David Summerfield who wanted to become a farmer and eight year old Ian Bayliff who saw no future in farm work and ran away from the Fairbridge farm school. We explore Catholic migration through the experiences of Raymond Brand, who was sent to a Christian Brothers institution in Western Australia and subjected to years of abuse and Yvonne O'Donnell, who only learnt her real name when she was given an inscribed suitcase before leaving Glasgow in 1953. For 10 years the nuns at Nazareth House had called her Marie. They also told her that her parents were dead and she had no siblings. Yvonne grew up in a highly disciplined atmosphere at Nazareth House in Geraldton, Western Australia. After finishing her schooling she worked in the kitchen preparing three meals a day for 200 residents. In 1979 Yvonne returned to Scotland and was shocked to discover her mother was alive and she had three sisters and two brothers. Yvonne only met her mother once. Two weeks later she was identifying her body. As a result, Yvonne had a breakdown and spent the next two years in psychiatric care. One of Yvonne's few possessions from Glasgow was this photograph of the girls at Nazareth House in the 1940s which she lent for the exhibition.
When the exhibition was showing in Sydney I received a call from a museum visitor from France, Ita, who was also at Nazareth House in the forties. She had seen the photo in the exhibition and wanted to get in touch with Yvonne. It turns out Ita is standing behind Yvonne in the photo. Yvonne later emailed me and said, "You have opened another pathway to the past for me as I have tried in vain to find some of the girls that were in the convent in Glasgow with me. This must certainly be another feather in the cap of the museum as nobody else has been able to put me in touch with girls with whom I spent the first 10 years of my life. I am still getting over the pleasant shock of it all." This was a wonderful but unexpected outcome of the exhibition, which has shown museum staff the value of telling personal stories and presenting living history. It was a joy to wander through the exhibition and see visitors, strangers, engaging in conversation and sharing their stories. It is clear evidence of the power of people stories to move and inspire visitors.
There was a remarkably positive response to the exhibition, both in the visitor comments book and our online message board. The comments revealed a powerful, emotional and intellectual response, even from young children and form a compelling archive of individual memories and social perspectives. They also highlighted the enticing potential for museums, the internet and new media to reconnect families and create a sense of community among those who often suffered alone. Many of our visitors were surprised to learn of this forgotten chapter in history and also questioned government policies that gave rise to the child migration schemes. We developed On Their Own against a changing political landscape which culminated with the Australian and British governments apologising for their role in the schemes that were once considered generous philanthropy but are now widely condemned as flawed social policy. We acknowledge that the history of child migration is complex and contested. Many former child migrants are still coming to terms with their experiences and condemn the schemes for removing them from their family, country and culture. Others prospered and defend the charitable organisations, maintaining that the nature of work and discipline were acceptable by the standards of the time. Opinions vary, even among child migrants who were at the same institution at the same time. There is no single narrative and many issues including redress and compensation remain unresolved. The exhibition development process certainly raised fascinating questions about the construction and de-construction of history, about changing perceptions of childhood and welfare and the complex historiography of Britain's child migrants.
Dr Stephen Constantine from Lancaster University has examined shifting constructions of child migrant history and identity, particularly in Canada. He argues that the shame or stigma once associated with being a child migrant has now been replaced by a sense of pride. Constantine links this to the re-appraisal of child migrants as victims of oppression who, in spite of rough beginnings, have made positive contributions to society. This certainly creates a distinctive sense of self and collective belonging for many former child migrants and their descendants. Over the past decade there have been determined efforts to document and amplify this previously silent history before ageing migrants pass on. Former child migrants have published their memoirs and taken part in oral history projects and a number of memorials acknowledging child migrants have been unveiled across the country, including one in the garden of this museum. The group referred to as the Forgotten Australians have now become the Remembered Australians. At the museum we are proud that On Their Own has contributed to the body of work on child migrants and helped to validate their place in the nation's history. As one of the former child migrants involved in the exhibition commented, "We, who grew up with nobody to turn to, find it gratifying." Thank you.
(BN): Thanks Kim for that terrific speech. Next up we have Peg Fraser, who is a professional historian with a background in material culture, exhibition development and oral history. She has worked extensively with people who have had traumatic experiences, including refugees and bushfire survivors. In curating Stolen Childhoods, Peg worked with former child migrants to help them tell the local and individual stories that bring the child migrant experience into the heart of Victoria and Tasmania. She continues to work as a freelance curator as she completes her PhD in history and is the 2011 holder of the 1854 scholarship at Museums Victoria. Please welcome Peg Fraser.
Peg Fraser (PF): Thank you Ben and thank you everyone for coming here today. I think you've just heard a wonderful description from Kim, both about the story the exhibition tells but how the exhibition has been developed and the impact that it has had during its lifetime and its travels. I'm going to give you a very different viewpoint. I'm going to speak from a very personal perspective about the process of working with former child migrants. And being involved in this exhibition has been a wonderful experience and I know that sounds strange because it's a story of grief and loss and hardship for many people, but in working on this project I've been witness to great courage and generosity and I've been constantly uplifted by the resilience and grace of many former child migrants, some of whom are here today. So I'd like to give you a brief idea of how Museum Victoria has been involved beyond hosting this major touring exhibition. I curated the small gallery right at the very end of the exhibition, the room with the video and the personal stories of people who were child migrants and who were sent to institutions here in Victoria and in Tasmania and we created this little exhibition because we were struck by what a big story this is. The movement of tens of thousands of children around the world, most of them without consent or even awareness of what was happening to them. It's a huge piece of history. I mean, I'm a Canadian and until I saw Kim's exhibition I really had no idea of the impact it had had on my own country. But we saw that this exhibition gave us the opportunity to bring an international story right down to the local level to say, this happened here in our place and time. And we didn't want anybody to walk away thinking it had nothing to do with them. So with the financial assistance of the National Maritime Museum, we were able to develop Stolen Childhoods, which is the exhibition you see in the small gallery.
Now, museums sometimes seem even to those who work in them to move at glacial pace. So it's an indication of the importance we set on this exhibition how quickly it all developed. From the first concept to the exhibition launch we had five weeks to create what would normally take five months. The usual channels were bypassed and everybody simply went and got on with the job. And it's a tribute to the museum team from the gallery's manager to the designers, fabricators and multi media people that it all came together so beautifully. But the people who really made this happen are the Child Migrants Trust and the former child migrants who agreed to take part, Hugh McGowan, Sandra Anker and Michael Harvey. Each of them agreed to let me, a total stranger, into their homes where they made me welcome, fed me pumpkin soup and spoke openly about difficult and unhappy times in their lives, not only while they were in these institutions but throughout their lives. And if you've seen the exhibition you'll understand the depth of their honesty and generosity.
So when I was asked to speak today, I asked myself what I'd learned from working on this exhibition. I've learned what an amazing thing resilience is and how mysterious. How some people can endure pain and abuse almost beyond imagining and yet find the strength and determination to create a meaningful life. I've learned the importance of strong partners. Hugh, Sandra and Michael all attribute their survival to having found people who love them, put up with them and occasionally put their foot down. Even they, the successful ones, face life long health and social issues related to physical and emotional deprivation. And I've learned that far too many people couldn't, despite their greatest efforts, overcome their grim beginnings. The fact that some former child migrants have made a good life for themselves should be understood as a kind of miracle and not reproach to those who simply could not climb out of the abyss of their childhood. But most of all, I've learned what a messy thing life is. This is such a complicated story. Many children were abused by people I can only describe charitably as deeply disturbed, but there were other people who tried to help them. There were children who probably were better off here than if they had stayed in Britain. Hugh thinks he would have landed in jail and Michael thinks he would have been dead, but none of that excuses for an instant the treatment that they'd received. The children who were involuntary migrants, or to use their own words deported, are clearly victims, but who's really the villain? The individuals who abused and exploited the children? The country that failed to protect its most vulnerable citizens and ship them around the world in some combination of imperial ambition, charity and stinginess? Or the country that wanted them but cared so little for them that even today we don't really know how many came here, where they went or what happened to some of them? Or a world that places the safety and happiness of children well down the list of priorities?
Because in the end, I learned that the message that Hugh, Sandra and Michael wanted most to give me was not about themselves at all, but about children today. Child welfare laws have done a great deal to improve the lives of children born into poverty and exploitation, but not enough. ACOSS reported in 2010 that 12% of Australian children live below the poverty line and though the numbers are hard to pin down, the National Child Protection Clearinghouse estimates that as many as 11% of Australian children are abused or neglected. Childhoods are still being stolen. I originally thought that the final statement of this exhibition was to love your children and to tell them so, but I've changed my mind. I think the real message from the former child migrants to all of us is to love every child as if she were your own. Thank you.
(BN): Thanks so much Peg. Next up we've got Norman Johnson who is a founding member of the International Association of former child migrants and their families. As president, Norman Johnson has given verbal and written testimony for the UK and Australian inquiries into child migration in 1998 and 2001. With fellow committee members he has campaigned for many years for recognition and justice for former child migrants. In 2002 Mr Johnson presented a paper at the first international congress on child migration in New Orleans, USA. During 2009 and 2010 Norman Johnson played a formal role in national apologies delivered by former Prime Ministers Kevin Rudd and Gordon Brown. He is a regular contributor to the Child Migrants Trusts newsletter. Please welcome Norman Johnson.
Norman Johnston (NJ): Thanks for the opportunity to address so many of you here today. I would like to thank Alex, Kim and Peg and all of the many dedicated staff at the Maritime Museum and Museum Victoria for their initiative and hard work in bringing this fine exhibition together. My thanks also go to The Age Newspaper for hosting this important event. This exhibition about Britain's former child migrants is appropriately called, On Their Own, because that is how many have felt for a long time. It is a very moving and often harrowing story which needed to be told. Let us hope that this time the message is both heard and understood. Both Harold Haig and myself have lived this nightmare of child migration. We are here to share our views and to represent the many hundreds of former child migrants and their families who are not with us today. Ladies and gentlemen, child migration was government policy. It was certainly misguided. It clearly violated the rights of children to have a family life and deported many to horrendous institutions which were, quite frankly, a haven for bullies and paedophiles. It was a policy that devastated many families during its long history. Many former child migrants and their parents were told cruel lies. We were told our parents were dead. Our parents meanwhile were often told their child had been adopted by a good British family or UK family. Some were told their child had died. Such lies were designed to stop parents and children from asking difficult questions. Perhaps they worked in the short-term, but now and for the last 25 years, former child migrants are asking very awkward questions of both governments and other agencies. We were given lies rather than honest explanations. We were not given passports for our deportation to Australia, nor citizenship when we arrived. We had no birth certificates.
Many of you might find it hard to believe that this deception lasted until the late 1980s when it was finally exposed by Margaret Humphreys, director of the Child Migrant Trust. Perhaps some assumed this deception involved only a few who arrived in the post war period up to the early 1970s. Sadly, this was not the case. Ladies and gentlemen, if this happened to just one child today, your son, your daughter, your grandchild, there would be a public outcry and rightly so. It is difficult to understand why the plight of one small child should provoke public condemnation, while the deception of betrayal of thousands of former child migrants is treated as just another statistic. Surely we can agree that every child is precious and full of potential, that every child needs to be protected from a variety of risks. The Association would argue that former child migrants were among the most vulnerable children in Australia, first at the time of their arrival and then for the rest of their childhood. Sadly, the safeguards which should have protected them were weak. In fact, one could say non-existent, and no match for those who chose to abuse them when they were most vulnerable.
As mentioned previously, in 2009 the then Prime Minister Mr Kevin Rudd apologised to former child migrants in Australia on behalf of the nation. Soon after in 2010, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown made a public apology in London. I was privileged to attend both ceremonies with Harold Haig and many other former child migrants. The acknowledgement of past wrongs was both loud and clear. That helped us and in our darker moments we remember those words of comfort. We had to wait over 60 years to hear that apology. For many whose lives were cut short by illness or utter despair, those precious words came too late. After the apologies we naturally reflect on what recognition has been achieved and what steps have yet to be taken. Obviously, no apology can right the wrongs of the past. We cannot turn back time and get our childhoods back, however we can and should expect a reasonable level of justice. Surely Australians believe that child abuse on this scale and severity requires, indeed demands some answers and more action. It cannot be right that those responsible have not been fully held to account just because this horrendous injustice on a daily basis every day of our lives. Now more than ever the time is right, while we are still alive to give our testimony before a judicial inquiry. The Association has continually called for a judicial inquiry. We believe that serious crimes against humanity, against society's most vulnerable members, its children, clearly requires a judicial inquiry. Surely everyone in Australia and Britain with a sense of social justice or fair play would agree that a judicial inquiry is both urgently needed and long overdue. Thank you very much.
(BN): Thanks Norman. Some very powerful words there. Without further ado, let me introduce Harold Haig to you. Harold is a founding member of the International Association of former child migrants and their families. As secretary of the Association he was involved in writing the Association's submission to the UK and Australian inquiries into child migration in 1998 and 2001 and giving oral evidence to both inquiries on behalf of the Association. With his committee colleagues he is campaigning for recognition and justice for former child migrants and represented the Association on Australian government forums, Departments of Ageing and Health and Find and Connect. He also had a former role in the UK and Australian national apologies. Please welcome Harold Haig.
Harold Haig (HH): Thank you Ben. Thank you all for coming today. It's great to see such a large crowd. I just wanted to talk briefly about how the Association was formed and why it was formed and our aims and just briefly about two major events that we have worked on over the last 14 years. Since 1987 when Margaret Humphreys founded Child Migrants Trust until 1997 when we formed the Association, Margaret Humphreys was a lone voice in informing governments of the consequences, the pain and suffering of thousands of people because of their shameful policies. Now, a group of us met who hadn't met before when we attended the awards ceremony when Margaret received her OAM in Canberra and we exchanged phone numbers and generally kept on contact over a few years and as time went on and we talked more we felt that it was time that there was an organisation of former child migrants who could stand up and stand next to Margaret Humphreys and fight and present a case in our struggle for justice. So in 1997 we formed the International Association and I won't bore you with the long name. And the reason we formed it was because while there were a couple of individual groups of former child migrants, such as Barnardos, Old Boys and Girls and Old Fairbridgians who were basically friendship and support groups amongst themselves, we felt the need for an organisation that could, if you like, represent child migrants so that child migrants could have and speak with a united voice, irrespective of what agency you came out with whether it was Fairbridge, Catholics, Church of England and that we could listen to their views, find out what they wanted and then represent their views and issues to both the British and Australian governments.
One of our first, if you like, things that we did was in 1998 when the Health Select Committee inquiry into child migration. We wrote a substantial submission to the inquiry and Norman and some other members of the committee went to London and gave oral evidence in the House of Commons. When the inquiry visited Australia the whole association committee gave evidence in support of our submission. Now, the British government response to that was in a way pathetic. The only thing that they really did was to give a travel fund, a very mean spirited travel fund. It was means tested and you couldn't use the fund if you'd already been back to the UK and met family; in other words you'd paid for yourself so that saved the government money. The Australian government response to the House of Commons report was, and I'm being very polite, it was pathetic. It was a waste of the paper that they wrote it on. It gave absolutely nothing. Basically the message underneath, the unwritten message, was this is all Britain's fault, they did it, they sent you here and it's their responsibility, it's got nothing to do with us. The Association was so disgusted with that report that we decided that we would hold a demonstration at Parliament House at the beginning of 2000 on the first sitting day in February.
Now, the Association have always worked alongside the Child Migrants Trust and we've always made that clear. So we discussed it with Margaret what we were going to do, what we aimed to do and we had just a very small group because child migrants are old, they don't have a lot of money, they can't afford to travel from interstate all over the place. So I think we finished up with about 10 former child migrants, mainly from Victoria, New South Wales and Canberra. We made big posters and Margaret, who had been having discussions with Senator Murray and the then opposition leader Kim Beazley, contacted them and said, "Look, there's a group of child migrants going to protest outside of Parliament House. I think it would be wise of you if you went down and had a chat with them." And so, from that day they came down and they both agreed to hold a senate inquiry into child migration. Once again, the Association presented a submission to the inquiry, we gave evidence to the inquiry, the Association committee, and we supported child migrants in every state when they appeared before the inquiry.
Now, there were probably four major things as a part of our inquiry we asked for and they were the same at both inquiries. We wanted increased funding for the Child Migrants Trust and that was our priority and it remains so today for, I think you would all understand, very obvious reasons, that not only were former child migrants getting older but certainly our parents were very much getting older and we wanted as many child migrants to be able to meet their parents and in particular their mothers, before it was too late. And other things that were asked for was firstly we wanted a travel fund which would provide funding for six visits back to meet family members. I mean, I'm sure you can all imagine, it's hard enough, you don't need a friend and suddenly everyone's happy. To go back and meet particularly parents and mothers who have all suffered the same loss, the pain and the grief of losing their child and not knowing where they are, takes a long time. It takes a lot of meetings. You build up a relationship that the majority of people take for granted. The other thing we wanted which was on our list was a judicial inquiry. As Norman said we've continually asked for and continue to ask for it today and compensation.
Now, following the two apologies we've at last got our wish of what we asked for with funding for the Child Migrants Trust. Both governments have significantly increased the funding and that is very welcome and very much appreciated. Sadly however, for the 20 years before those apologies for the first four years the Child Migrants Trust received no funding at all from anyone. So Margaret was totally on her own, with a volunteer secretary in the office. No one in Australia at all. For the 18 years following that, governments were totally aware of the consequences of their shameful policies and aware through Margaret of what they needed to do to help to heal the situation and to give child migrants back justice for the injustices that we've received as children. This is a human rights issue and no one can doubt that. Unfortunately, the funding that both governments provided to the Child Migrants Trust was disgraceful and the consequences of that for child migrants was two-fold. It meant that during those 18 years child migrants missed out on meeting their families, some of them by a year, some of them by months and some of them by a matter of weeks. They missed out on meeting, in particular, their mother. And their mothers went to their graves still believing the lies that they were told, never knowing where their children were, never knowing if they were happy, if they were grandparents or even if their child was still alive.
So, while as I say that we very much appreciate the funding the governments have provided now, this should have happened 18 years ago or more and there would be many child migrants who would meet their mothers, many mothers who would be able to hold their son or daughter and understand what had happened. Now, we're talking about a judicial inquiry. See, apologies are very important because they recognise what has happened. There are three strands to justice, to receiving justice. The first is recognition and that is what an apology does. It recognises that things were done wrong and they are understood and acknowledged. The second strand is reparation and both governments are now dealing with that more seriously than they have dealt with it before and that is through, as I say, increased funding to the Child Migrant Trust so that they can reunite more families and quicker so they can employ more social workers or office staff so that they can work through their terrific load, because there are still many, many former child migrants who haven't been reunited with their families. So that is the second strand. The third strand of justice, and I'm talking about a lasting justice, a real justice, is compensation. The Association believes quite strongly that child migrants should receive compensation for their pain and loss, for the denial of their rights to have a family life which the majority of us take for granted, for that whole experience of what happened to them as children being deported to the other side of the world. I mean, what happened to former child migrants if you look at it, is they were deported from their country of birth to the other side of the world, Australia, without their parents' consent, told they were orphans which stops you from looking for your family in the first place and put in horrendous, in many cases, institutions.
Now, we have never used the word stolen out of respect for the indigenous stolen generation but quite frankly, if you do what I have just explained and your mothers have been told that your child is dead or they've been adopted, you have effectively been stolen from your family. And so, we believe that child migrants should be compensated. We're not asking for millions. That this can happen through a judicial inquiry. You see the story of child migration has never been really told in effect. While both of the inquiries that we had were very important because they allowed child migrants to tell their stories and talk about their experiences, they effectively only dealt with what happened within the institutions. Those inquiries had no power, no legal power, to subpoena people to really look into the whole story and we believe that a judicial inquiry would also be able to deal with the issue of compensation. I'd just like to take this opportunity to firstly thank you all for coming, but to acknowledge child migrants' respect for Margaret Humphreys. We wouldn't be here today if it hadn't been for the determination of Margaret Humphreys to continue to fight for justice for child migrants under extremely difficult and quite often uncertain circumstances. Thank you.
(BN): Well thanks so much Harold. It's certainly hard to know where to begin kicking off after four such moving and rich speeches, but does anyone have any questions or comments that they'd like to raise? Any takers? Don't be shy. There's a question down here. Could I ask everyone to stand up just if you wouldn't mind just so that we can all hear?
Speaker: I just want to know when you were brought over without any documentation of your identification, how long did it take you to get some identification, legal birth certificates and identification for yourselves? Was it only when you were an adult you received the identification of who you were and your birth certificates?
(HH): Yeah. And the majority of the time that was done through the Child Migrants Trust. So the very first thing when the Child Migrants Trust meets a child migrant, the first thing they do, I mean after the council and everything like that, is to get them their birth certificate because that is extremely important. So that's basically how it is.
(BN): Norman, did you have something you'd like to add to that?
(NJ): Yes. Without any form of identity it was extremely difficult for any former child migrant to progress anywhere. You couldn't go to a government if you'd lost your job, you couldn't claim unemployment benefits. You had no identity. You had no passport, no birth certificate. You were in fact told, "You're illegal, you shouldn't be here." So of course, these young people lived on the streets, got into trouble, all the wrong things that we should have been protected from were just laid upon us and nobody seemed to worry. So that was the big thing about identity loss. There was just absolutely no way of progressing anywhere. As you can imagine, if someone took your papers away from you, you try and get somewhere. It's just absolutely hopeless and the fact being that we were foreigners made it even worse, or even more difficult. There was just no infrastructure in place to specifically look at our situation back at the time when we needed it. Does that help?
(KT): I just wanted to add that often the first time that people found out they weren't Australian citizens was when they went to apply for passports. And there are cases of people serving during the war such as the Vietnam war and then coming back and finding that they had never been granted Australian citizenship. So they'd fought for their countries but weren't recognised as Australians.
(BN): Another question? Lady in the black.
Speaker: Thanks for sharing what you have today. Obviously you've put submissions both here and in Britain forward to parliament. Was your own personal involvement a fuel or did it sometimes hamper your quest. Did it sometimes slow you down because it was so painful or did it make you more determined?
(NJ): We had the opportunity to give our individual stories, but in addition to that because we were the committee of the Association we were required to in fact speak for the many that just couldn't make it. So we spoke on their behalf and we were in a position where we in fact were aware of a lot of the problems that most of the child migrants had encountered, so we were able to speak very broadly on their behalf so they had a voice.
(HH): Well for me I think, I mean I couldn't have possibly have done it and I couldn't be sitting here today if it wasn't for Margaret Humphreys. In fact, I suspect if I hadn't have met Margaret Humphreys I wouldn't be here full stop. Margaret gave me the strength through counselling and understanding and helped me I think. I was quite an angry person and I internalised that anger because I didn't have anyone else to put it out to. So Margaret helps me to understand the anger, to understand what had happened and to help me to use that anger in a more positive manner.
(BN): Anyone else? Sir.
Speaker: I'll understand if Norman or Harold refuse to request, but I was wondering if you could describe to the audience in retrospect your feelings during the first few years you were in Australia?
(BN): Do either of you feel comfortable?
(HH): Do you want to go first?
(NJ): No, I'll defer to you Harold.
(HH): Look, I think when you're a child you get on with life, but when you're told you're an orphan what it does to you is that it lets you know that you are totally alone in this world and for former child migrants we're not only totally alone but we were on the other side of the world. And so when we were, for instance, sold if you like this huge adventure of coming to Australia where we the sun shone all the time and you could pick oranges off the trees and in my case I was going to live in a little white cottage by the sea and ride a horse to school, which happened many decades later I might add, and you finish up in an institution with 100 other Australian children and a few English, you are totally alone and you know that you've been betrayed and so you don't trust anyone and you put up a barrier which says you can get so far but you're not coming any closer. And then you get on with life. And it's only when things happen in your life, you get married, you have your own children, that suddenly all of these memories that you've been burying come to the forefront and that's when it starts affecting you and that's what we have to deal with and that's what we live with for the rest of our lives. I mean, I wasn't fortunate enough to be reunited with my mother. I don't even have my mother's birth certificate because she's very difficult to find for many complex reasons. I hate mother's day. I can't stand it. I never get out of my pyjamas, I never draw the blinds, I never turn on the radio or the television because everyone's happy talking about being with their mums. So there are all those sorts of things that you have to deal with and you deal with them in your own way. And Margaret Humphreys helped me to deal with all of these issues.
(BN): Thanks a lot. Norman, do you want to add anything?
(NJ): Can I add a little more to the gentleman's question? As much as we were institutionalised with hundreds of other children, both Australian but mainly former child migrants, the sheer isolation within that infrastructure was a terrible feeling. Whilst you had other kids your age to play with, there was no one to turn to. The brothers didn't want to hear your problems. They wouldn't communicate with you. You were just there as a seven, eight, nine year old kid. We were robotically required when shower time came, a siren went. When it was time to go to church a siren went. There was no personal touch, there was no bonding.
(HH): No love.
(NJ): It was just you were an island and you had to learn to survive. And in surviving is why Harold and I are here now. Many hundreds of former child migrants have taken their own lives in the years leading up to now and many have died from very silly accidents because of lack of education, alcohol related problems, drug related problems, things that they just weren't able to or they used as crutches because of their inability to cope with a society they knew nothing about. We didn't get taught anything about society. We left the institutions and where are we, what do we do now? It was an extraordinary set of circumstances and until we began to work our own way through the passageways of life that we began to put together what should have happened and where we should have been and what we maybe could have done back in those earlier years. But it was to no avail then. Thanks for that question. It was a very good one.
(BN): Yeah, man in the yellow.
Speaker: Thank you for that. It was really very insightful and it's good to get some stories out there. I'm interested in Peggy and Kim's angle of putting the exhibition together, the effects of documentation regarding the relationship between governments and the church organisations and the institutions and whether they actually had a policy that basically affected the children and migration.
(KT): Do you mean documentation like signing over permission for migration?
Speaker: Yeah and also a policy relationship saying that the government and the institutions actually had a policy and a reason to remove children and work with them.
(KT): Do you want to answer that Norman?
(NJ): It was a collusion between the church and government. Something that should never have happened in the first place. Australia needed young white stock to restock after World War II, so they had the immigration debate in 1947 which re-ratified the British immigration policy or migration policy of children to Australia, but there weren't enough volunteers. So the most vulnerable were the easy source. Let's empty the institutions and this is what happened and the government then just give it all to the different agencies that were used to deport us to Australia and there was no accounting, there was no requirement for parental signature. You could look at a thousand child migrant documents and you won't find one government official signature. It's all the nun or a priest or a social worker, but government didn't take any responsibility for it.
(BN): Kim, would you like to add something?
(KT): Yeah I would like to add something to that. When I was preparing for the interviews that I did I was astounded at the lack of documentation. The parliamentary inquiry into former child migrants spent a great deal of time and effort simply trying to figure out how many children were sent to Australia and they went through all the different sources they could find and added them up and it varied. So we don't actually know how many children came here. It ranges from I think about 5,600 up to nearly 8,000 and when the children were in those institutions there was no reporting required. So some children have simply disappeared and we don't know what's happened.
(BN): Harold, would you like to say something?
(HH): Yeah. Look, basically after the second World War Australia were petrified of being overrun by the Asian population. The term used at the time was the yellow peril. So that was a racist policy from the start and Australia wanted 50,000 British children to be sent to Australia. Now if you were a black child in an institution in England you couldn't be sent because of the White Australia policy, which must be about the only time that a racist policy has benefitted black people. You see it's important that Australian people understand that Australia was directly involved in this, because it's been a myth and politicians to this day would like to have people think that this was all Britain's fault, they sent them here, we accepted them and most of them did very well for themselves. That's not the case. And from Britain's point of view, it was after the war, the country was financially in a mess, Australia were looking for 50,000 children and they worked out that it was a financial benefit for them to send us here. It cost them ten shillings a year to send a child to Australia, whereas it cost them ten pound a year to keep them in care in England. So they both worked very happily together in doing something that they both wanted to happen. And in regards to Australia's commitment also, the 1946 Immigration Guardianship of Children Act is written and it's crystal clear that Australia were legally responsible for former child migrants who were here without a family member or a guardian until they reached the age of 21. Now the immigration minister delegated his responsibility to a minister within a state, but that did not alleviate their legal responsibility.
(KT): I just wanted to mention the popular slogan after World War II, which was the child the best immigrant and so they saw children as these ideal migrants because they were young and they had very long working lives ahead of them and so child migration policy was really tied to labour and building up Australia's labour force, but with children because they weren't going to compete for jobs in the immediate term.
(BN): We've got time for a couple more questions. Yeah, the lady in the orange.
Speaker: I'm originally English, been here just 30 years and I got very angry when I heard about what had happened, because I was actually adopted myself in 1949, so that's how close I got to it happening to me.
Speaker: Yes, very lucky. And what I will remember when I was a child, everywhere you went were collection officers from Barnados and when I realised they were one of the worst offenders I got exceptionally angry. I saw the film and everything that happened and I think what I would say to a lot of younger people today, they have no concept that back in those days people didn't question, politicians knew what they were doing, the government they were up there somewhere. They were God. And so, if something happened and people didn't hear about it very often, then that was okay because they knew what they were doing. It wouldn't happen today because people question them a lot more and it's not even to do with education. It's to do with the thought process of what happens these days that people are much more curious. Yeah, I mean I was very much brought up like you said with the bell ringer and all that and I went to a Catholic school and you do what you're told and you don't question and children should be seen and not heard. So I have huge admiration for you people and sorry, I get very upset about it. But thank you very much for everything you've done.
(BN): There was a question down here. Lady in the grey.
Speaker: I'd like to go back in time a bit and ask Peggy a question. I understand that the Canadian government ceased accepting child migrants something in the 1920s.
Speaker: It was just the start of the war was it? It was obviously not, yeah, the first World War. Obviously there were grave doubts about the scene there. The British government surely should have been aware of that and presumably the Australian and New Zealand governments as well. Why was something not done in the twenties or immediately after the first World War?
(PF): I wish I could tell you. Look, it's not an area I'm really familiar with but a lot of the children who were sent to Canada were sent to western Canada to the prairie provinces just as they were opening up and they needed farm labourers in particular for these vast tracks of grassland that were being turned into wheat and cattle farms and it was only when the Canadian government shut down and refused to accept anymore child migrants that the Australian one really took off. Why it wasn't recognised at that point, I don't know.
(BN): Would you like to add something?
(HH): Yes, well the British government were certainly very well aware of what happened in Canada. The reason that Canada refused to take anymore former child migrants in 1914, because the government had found out how those child migrants were being treated. They would arrive in ships and they would be lined up in cattle chutes and the farmers would come in and select a child and so, they would obviously select the biggest, the healthiest until they got right down to the end and when they didn't want anymore they just left them there. Children starved to death. They just left them there to die. Now when the Canadian government found that out they immediately stopped. Now, Britain was very much aware of that. It was brought up in the 1946 inquiry that they had in the House of Commons and yet they still decided to deport children to Australia. I doubt very much whether the Australian government had that information or the New Zealand one, but Britain certainly did. And could I just say that I mean, Canada received the largest population. There were 100,000 or more children that were deported to Canada. In fact, I think today that there's about 11% of the Canadian population who come from former child migrants.
(BN): Norman, would you like to add something?
(NJ): Just as a carry on from what Harold was letting you know. The British being well aware of the migration problem to Canada and its inherent cruelty, they still went ahead and in 1947 recommenced only to Australia. Their view was, and it's the only understanding we can take from it, is that as Harold point out before, we've handed them over, they're now your responsibility. Unfortunately, the British government did a Pontius Pilate. When they handed us over as children, they then sort of washed their hands. I think on record there are three inspections done by British authorities that come over here to actually physically check the wellbeing of the children. That's in 20 years plus, three inspections were done. And one of those inspections we know for a fact was a chap that was a public servant that was coming over here for a holiday and he said, "Oh well, while I'm there I might as well check in." I mean, that was one of their official inspections. And of course, all the institutions were forewarned these inspections were coming and of course we were emptied out of the institutions and sent out to the bush, sent out to the other institutions that weren't being inspected and a handful were kept back in the institution and they were well briefed as to what they would say and what they wouldn't say.
(HH): And well dressed.
(NJ): And well dressed I might add too.
(HH): Could I just add something. In that 1946 British inquiry in the House of Commons that I mentioned, the British Association of Social Workers were very critical of children being sent away from Britain and so, the only way that they in the end agreed that they were given assurances in the House of Commons and the House of Lords that children sent to another country would be treated with the same respect as they would be if they were in care in Great Britain. Now, the irony in all of that is that they put in place legislation to legislate the agencies as to how they could treat children 15 years after child migration ended.
(BN): Gentleman in the grey.
Speaker: It's interesting that they had policy and guidelines but these obviously weren't followed or enforced and I'm wondering what the discourse was on children at that point in time. At the turn of the century I think women were given the vote in Australia. We had slavery in American and other places. We knew during the industrial revolution I think that children were often seen more as a resource than as a child and you know, a member of the family and so I'm wondering what the discourse was on children. Was the general mentality really lagging behind the polices and guidelines of the day?
(BN): Who'd like to have a go at answering that?
(NJ): I think it's very difficult to pinpoint exactly what was in the minds of the people that made the decision to bring us out here, let alone what future events may occur to these children. The fact of the matter is that these kids were sent out here with the promise of all sorts of a new life. This was their reasoning. They will get a chance at a better life. How would they know that? They didn't even bother to come out and check to see whether we were still alive or not. I mean, you're talking thousands of children across the country. There was no interest shown at all. As far as the direction goes, we were meant to man the farms. We would work the land. That was from what we understand today, we were to be groomed to work the land, become farmers and that's about as best an offer I can give you.
(HH): And the girls were to be ...
(KT): Farmers' wives pretty much.
(HH): Farmers' wives basically. Look, I think probably the simple answer to that is it goes back to government policy and that is that Australia were desperate to have good white British stock sent here because they were concerned about being overrun by Asians and then they found out that it would be very much to their financial benefit, then both governments agreed. I don't think they went any further than that. There was lots of propaganda. They left it up to the agencies after that. And as Norman said, from Britain's point of view, out of sight, out of mind.
(PF): I think it also tied in with a lot of rhetoric of the time about removing children from slums and out of the cities and sending them somewhere where there's lots of space and fresh air and they would grow up to be strong and either manly or womanly and I think that that was a very dominant feature of the way in which they presented the public face of the migration scheme.
(NJ): And it would have worked beautifully if each country had carried out its responsibilities. If Britain had taken the time to care for the kids here and checked with the Australian government that things were functioning okay, then the federal government checking on the state governments to see that their role was being adhered to and then the state governments monitoring what the various institutions were doing. If those things had have fallen into – we wouldn't be here. We'd all be out having a great time. But there is just too much pain and hurt for us to just sit back and allow it now to go under the carpet. It's just not on, because we've got kids in the system now too and we want to make sure nothing like that ever before was your kids or my kids in any future time.
(HH): I have some disagreement. I think Norman is basically talking about what happened within the institutions right and that's fine. If everyone had acted properly and looked after the children, the abuse and the paedophilia, the rapes wouldn't have happened. That's fine. But from my point of view, we were sent 12,000 miles to the other side of the world, told we were orphans, our parents were told that we'd been adopted. They stripped us of our family life and that to me is just as important as what happened within the institution, because we were denied our family. And so you are denied your identity. You don't exist. You don't belong to anyone. You don't belong anywhere. You're totally on your own and that is a human rights issue as far as I'm concerned.
(BN): That's great there's so much interest but we've probably only got time for maybe two more quick questions.
Speaker: What's the current status of the judicial inquiry?
(HH): Well we don't have a status at the moment because neither government will agree to have one, but it doesn't mean to say that we haven't stopped fighting for a judicial inquiry. And I would say to anyone here today if they believe that there should be a judicial inquiry to this, write a letter to the Prime Minister. Help us.
(NJ): Every single one of our submissions to government have pointed out that we not only need we deserve a judicial inquiry and we've had no positive feedback from government in that sense. We've had feedback from other matters, but the judicial inquiry, it's all a bit much and really, it's the only way that thousands of people, now Australians, are going to get closure to their lives. There are just so many going around now that have no idea who they are still and they're 70 years old and they don't know what their roots are, they've just got no closure, they don't fit. They're asocial, not anti social. They just don't know how to fit. They've never been taught. Always been downgraded because that was their upbringing and their upbringing was you're worthless. This is again going away from Harold's point of view, more the institutionalised view. In fact, just one example is my very own. The day I left the institution in Perth the head of the institution said to me, "I guess the next time I'll be seeing you is in Fremantle jail." I mean, as a 15 year old, no good luck, take care of yourself, Godspeed or whatever, and this is a good Catholic man who says, "The next time I'll see you will be in Fremantle jail." I mean, such was the view they had on the kids in those institutions.
(HH): Could I just say the Association have written to the Attorney-General twice on this issue asking for a meeting and specifically on the issue of a judicial inquiry and compensation. We are awaiting a response. And on top of that, you see child migrants are a unique group of people in this community but we are also a minority and I'm sure you all know what happens to minority groups. We're not any political worry to anyone because we don't have the numbers to unseat anybody. They know that. And so, child migrants have been used as a political football. Britain says it's Australia's problem, Australia says it's Britain's problem, Australia says that it's now our responsibility it's the states. The states say well it was the agencies and they go round and round in circles and we wait for justice.
Speaker: There's a new Attorney-General a couple of months ago.
(HH): I know. I've written to both of them. Thank you very much.
(BN): There was one question here and then one very last question, the gentleman at the back. Maybe we'll take them both.
Speaker: Thank you. This is clearly ongoing, it's a really painful story. I'm also getting hints from Norman that some of the migrants of course have their own children and I just wonder what the ongoing effect has been then in the building of family lives and what may have happened in the lives of child migrants having children. Of course on one level there's that sense of you wanting to give your own children something you never had, but at the same time there's this ongoing pain that you're going through or many of you are going through. I just wonder what the actual effect has been on family life.
(NJ): Yeah, I do have children and I'm not unique in that sense in that other child migrants have children as well. But what we have in common is the difficulty that we experience embracing our own children. We don't get a feel for it. It's so weird because we didn't experience it. We can hug our kids because our kids hug us, so yeah, okay, but we don't know how to give it back, we don't know what the feeling is. It's just a remote thing and you do it by rote because they want the hug, you give them one. We do our best. Our kids are beaut and undoubtedly they've got lots of questions. My kids won't let me talk about my past because they're in their thirties now. They very quickly just turn and walk away. Not that I go out of my way to say that much to them, but sometimes if something comes on the media for example and they're there watching and they look straight across at you and you look at them and you think, no I won't say it. And that's the situation you have at home. And it's ongoing. It's something they've got to adjust to as well. But the lack of love I guess and yet it's there, but not in the sense of the description you would see it as.
(HH): I mean that was one of the things in the institution, was institutional life you don't get love. There's no such thing as affection or love. There's punishment. You do what you're told but there's no love. And so you grow up having no understanding of what love is, of what it means, of how to give it and as I have said before, you build a barrier because you've been betrayed and you don't let anyone close to you. You keep them at a distance. So I have three children. I have a good relationship with my son and I am estranged from my two daughters. They're very complex issues. If you damage a child they grow up to be an adult, they get married and the repercussions as we all know go out and out and out. They go into the next generation, they go into the generation after that unless something is done about it and that is part of the Child Migrants Trust work is to make sure and that is part of why we're here today, to set a legacy where this never, ever happens again to any child, where children are treated with respect, where they're listened to, loved.
(NJ): It would be wonderful if we could take out that portion of our lives between say the age of four and 12. If we could take that out, what we had and a proper childhood put in there, I have no doubt it would be wonderful but that's not possible. Therefore, because that part is missing it can't be replicated because your system has grown with what you know and what it's been allowed to know and it can't be altered because it's in your psyche. It's an unfathomable thing, but nonetheless it's a very real issue with us. We have to come to terms with that and pretend or act because we see other people doing it so it's something we should do.
(BN): Peg, do you want to add something briefly?
(PF): Yes. I do an oral history interview with Michael Harvey. He's one of the people profiled in that small gallery and he grew up in St John Bosco Boystown down in Tasmania which was listed as one of the worst institutions in Australia in the Ross report which was one of the British inquiries that Norman and Harold have been talking about, and he spoke at length and very movingly about how difficult it was to have a relationship with his children because he said he had no model for parenthood. And his model for raising children was based on violence. And now that his children are adults they have been able to create very strong and positive relationships, but the major regret of his life is that he did not treat his children better and he says he just didn't know how to be a father.
(HH): My grandchildren, I have three grandchildren, the eldest one Roxanne is 22, came to the premiere of Oranges and Sunshine in Melbourne. They were all very emotionally affected, particularly my eldest granddaughter Roxanne who I'm probably closest to. I mean, she sobbed most of the way through. And I can say my son didn't come and my grandchildren were angry with him because he didn't come. Their mother came. And when my daughter-in-law told me that my children were angry with my son for not coming I took them aside and said the way that I have acted in my life has affected their father. He is a second generation. And I wanted to let them know that I understood why Trevor could not come and that I wanted them to not be angry with him, because I wasn't angry, that I understood. And Roxanne, my granddaughter who was so upset, as soon as the DVD came out she rang her mother and said, "Mum, the DVD is out. Go and buy one." And she makes sure that everyone she meets sees Oranges and Sunshine. So you can get through. Sometimes it's not the first generation or the second generation it might be the generation after. I wasn't a good father. I admit that. Like Peg was saying, I had no understanding how to be a father. You've got no role model. I'd look at families and wonder how the hell you did it.
(BN): At that note I think we'll have to wrap it up. I know I've found this an incredibly moving and informative forum, so I'm sure that you all have as well. Can you please just join with me in thanking Peg, Kim, Norman and Harold.