Stolen Childhoods Video



Hugh McGowan (HM): I was one of the ones selected to go. There was a number of tests. There was medical for a start, to make sure that you're healthy enough. There was an IQ test. They wanted you to be above average, because you were going out to Australia. You were representing Scotland.

I went to Mr Mack, and I said, Mr Mack, I don't think I want to go to Australia. And he just said, too bad, you're going. And that was it.

Michael Harvey (MH): We were told that our parents were killed during the war. I just hated the place. I hated the atmosphere. I just hated the country. I hated it. It was miserable, cold, and it was just - we, I lived in an atmosphere of fear. I just wanted to get out and go somewhere as it were.

Sandra Anker (SA): I was taken out and taken into London and told that I was going to be sent to South Africa to join my cousins in South Africa. When the ship berthed in Melbourne, I was told that I was to get off. And I just keep saying, no, no, I'm not. I'm going to South Africa to visit my family. I was taken to a cottage where there were 12 other children.

So I waited quietly. Very quietly, because this was all going on around me, and I didn't know what was going on. And I waited for someone to come and collect me and put me in the right place, but of course, it never happened. And so you have to toughen up and become part of the orphanage scene.


We were disciplined, and some of the discipline could be really, really cruel. When I say that, the strap was common practise. Standing in a corner in the dark for a long, long period on your own of a night time, if you talked in bed was terrible. Not kind. And there were many things seen as the norm in those days, which would have an effect on you for the rest of your life.

(MH): We were playing a football match, an Aussie Rules football match. My brother was playing in one of the teams. I'm not exactly sure who he was playing for anyway. But he started to abuse one of the brothers or dispute, I don't say abuse, dispute the brother about certain decisions. Anyway, what happened was, this particular brother ended up kicking him and bashing him all over the field. And that really tore me to pieces and he just kicked and bashed him, kicked and bashed him.

(HM): It was the first time that I experienced sexual abuse by an adult. I didn't know. I was too scared to say to anyone that I had been attacked by this bloke. And I - I just, I find it - Enough. Find a different thing to talk about.


(MH): When I got married, that was the most frightening day of my life, because I had the impatience of a snake, and I had no tolerance whatsoever. I hated Christmas, even when I was married. It took me about 14 years to come to terms, because I was brought up in an atmosphere of - how can I put it - paternal ignorance.

And I was full of anger, full of despair, frustration. I had to cope with a family, and that was just beyond me capabilities at the time.

(HM): I say, people didn't understand me, but I think, also, I didn't understand them. I'd never come from a family home. I had live in a - I had lived in family homes here and there, but I was always the hanger on, the outsider. I don't blame the people that I worked with. I blame both our inabilities to communicate at the same level.

I was being labelled a problem because a culmination, again, I didn't understand what they were talking about, and they didn't understand me. They're dealing with someone who didn't have anyone to support them, and that's hard. That makes it very difficult for me, but also I recognise that it makes it difficult for them to.


(MH): Always in the back of my mind was when we first found Mum, was whether she would accept or reject us. We had a two way hook up here, a three way hook up here. My brother and Margaret Humphreys in Perth with my mother. Regarding our mother, and the first word she said to us was I want my boys home. That floored me. That absolutely floored me.

In her circumstances, it was just absolutely - she was in a situation where she couldn't cope, and she put us in the orphanage. And, from words with mum, when I first met mum, the first thing that she said to us later on when I got to speak to her privately was the fact that she thought that we were adopted out to a rich Australian family. I wouldn't know what a family was about anyway.

But it took me probably about a couple of weeks before I started to warm to her. You haven't seen your mother for over 50 years. It's pretty hard to sort with people coming and saying, oh, you found your mother, great. But when you built up this wall that she's dead, and she's been away for so long, you just adapt to that condition. And you just carry on with life.

It wasn't a simple process. It was a gradual process. So I cherish the moments. They are precious moments to me, because I was fortunate in the sense that I met her. And to have seven weeks out of over 50 years, where some fellows, the migrants who came out and had parents and never had the chance to meet them for circumstances beyond their control, that's the hard part.

It made me think, it's not about me only. There are other people who were hurt.


(SA): I was impressed with Kevin Rudd, our Prime Minister at the time, for having the fortitude and guts to publicly apologise. It meant a lot, because that's accepting what has happened as the truth, and the harm and the pain that had been caused to so many children from abuse in orphanages. So that was really very, very good.


(MH): I had the pleasure of sitting up in the House of Commons. I'm sitting there and I thought to myself, you know, I'm part of history here. I'm sitting probably in the very same seat that some of these politicians made decisions about our futures. To be able to walk into that house and not think, after 60, 50 odd years, that the chicken's come home to roost.

One of its own children, lost children, comes home. Here we are righting a wrong that happened so many years ago. And I, as a victim have the humble pleasure of sitting there where decisions were made that ruined many a life. It was certainly a great honour, and a privilege to come. And it's certainly one of those moments in my life time I will never forget.

(HM): You hear people say, not all of the institutions were that bad. Some of the kids were treated very well, and I say, yes, that's true. But there's something that they all miss out on, and it was simply not available. Most children, it is available. And that's love. That's the love of a family, and love from people who are raising you.

We didn't get love. There was no such thing. They couldn't afford to give love. I still struggle with the understanding of what it is, because I never got it. And I was never able to give it. I could never share. I could never say to someone, I love you, because it just wasn't there. You didn't. Yeah there was no point.


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About this Video

Sandra, Hugh and Michael speak about their experiences as child migrants.
Length: 16:33