Alexander Averin

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

The Lost Children

Dear Diary,

I was going to post just a poem, a picture, a song and a  thought for the day.

I was going to have a little rant about the media’s obsession with so called celebrity’s divorces.

Other things are on my mind. 

On this days of apologies there will be a lot of tears being shed all over the world.  My thoughts are of all lost children wherever they are.

I copied this from a CBS website.  I make no apologies.   Their story needs to be told.

Feb. 3, 2002
The Lost Children

It's a mind-boggling story, one that sounds more like a bad movie than reality. But it happened. In the two decades after World War II, 10,000 English children were sent to Australia, reports 60 Minutes II Correspondent Bob Simon. Many were mistreated and abused. All were lied to.

The story begins in Britain after World War II - a nation victorious but battered, broke, and burdened by overflowing children's homes. Many of the kids were put there by families too poor to raise them. What happened next is almost unfathomable in civilized countries or in modern times.
The British government, in collaboration with churches and charities, developed a secret plan to clear out these children's homes; a plan which has only recently been uncovered. The kids were told that they would be adopted by loving families in Australia. And they were shipped off by the thousands. It was as simple as that.

The first ship to sail in 1947 was the SS Asturias. Cargo: 147 boys and girls. John Hennessy, 11 years old at the time, was one of those children. Only a few weeks before it sailed, some priests and bureaucrats showed up at his children's institution in England. They were rounding up kids to go to Australia.

"We thought Australia was down the street or it was around the corner," says Hennessy. "How did we know it was on the other side of the world? Well, anyway, they, they came with the stories, you know, that there's fruits there, plenty of fruits."

Like many children, Mary Molloy didn't quite grasp what was being proposed: "I just thought, you know, we're going away for a while."

All across Britain, at children's homes and institutions, kids were being told the same thing: you're going to a new land, a new life, a new family. Many were illegitimate children. Many were dropped off by single mothers who'd fallen on hard times.

But that's not what the kids were told. Tony Jones, who at the time was in a boys' home in Malvern, England, was told that his parents had died: "They said, 'You're an orphan now.' And I was an orphan."

That's what they told all the kids, that they were orphans. That there was nobody for them in Britain.

Over the next 20 years, 10,000 children, somas young as 3, none older than 15, would depart unaccompanied for their new homes in Australia.

Six weeks and 12,000 miles later, the children arrived at the Fremantle docks in Western Australia. They looked around for the fruit trees, the kangaroos, the adoptive families they were told would be waiting for them. But there was none of that here. There was something quite different.

Not long after they disembarked, they received a lecture from a man in black, the archbishop of Perth.

Hennessy remembers the man's speech: "He said, 'We welcome you to Australia. We need you for white stock.' Because at this stage, the 'white Australia' policy was on. And we didn't know that we were part of the scheme to - to populate Australia with the - the white people. And the archbishop says, 'The reason why we do [is] because we are terrified of the Asian hordes!' Course, we didn't understand that."

These children were a commodity to a continent that was terrified of being overwhelmed by Asia. They had, in essence, been exported by a nation that had a surplus of white people.

Afterwards, the children's fingerprints were taken and they were herded into lines. Says Hennessy: "They grabbed the girls from their brothers. Brothers from their sisters, screaming. And I can still hear the screams today."

These children, who'd been plucked from institutions in Britain, were now trucked to all over Australia. Where? To institutions. No parents were waiting for them - just picks and shovels.

John Hennessy was sent to a place called Bindoon, an institution run by the Christian Brothers, an order of Catholic monks 60 miles from civilization in the sweltering bushland of Western Australia. Bindoon was a home and school for boys. But this was no Boys Town, and education was not the priority.

The priority was construction. Brother Francis Keaney, an imposing, white-haired Irishman who ran the place, was obsessed with building the largest Catholic institution in Western Australia. He used his charges as labor. From sunrise to sunset, the boys built Brother Keaney's shrine, with no shoes, and no questions asked.

Bindoon is a real school now, an agricultural college. But it's still run by the Christian Brothers. And old boys are not welcome, particularly not when they're accompanied by newsmen. When Bob Simon went back with Hennessy, who helped build Bindoon, they were kicked off the premises. The Christian Brothers are not eager to showcase their past as users and abusers of child labor.

"They got us dirt cheap," says Norman Johnston, another boy who helped build Bindoon. "We might as well have been slaves. And, you know, we endured all of that when we didn't have to."

For these children, there was nowhere to run. At the Fairbridge institution, sponsored by the Church of England, Tony Jones tried to escape whenever he could. He once made it as far as the docks where the children had first arrived.

Says ones: "I got down to the beach. I remember looking all over the ocean, and I asked this couple, 'Which way is England?' If there was land all the way across, I would have walked there. I would have walked there."

The food at the institutions seemed to have been cooked up in a Dickens novel. At Bindoon, the boys were so hungry one Sunday, 12-year-old John Hennessy led a raid on the vineyard out back. They enjoyed their grapes, but after mass the next morning, Brother Keaney was in a rage. He'd learned of the raid, and he called out for his leading suspect.

Then the man whipped him. "He stripped me naked," he says. "In front of 50 boys, put me across the chair and nearly flogged me to death. I've-I've-I've got medical advice that that's where I got the stutter from." He had never stuttered before that day, and has ever since.

The children say that floggings and beatings were part of a daily routine. The nightly routine with the Christian Brothers included priestly visits to the children's beds. The brothers were taking away boys who were less than 10 years old.

Hugh McConnell was 9 years old. One night, a bad storm hit Castledare, his children's home run by the Christian Brothers. Terrified that the world was coming to an end, Hugh ran outside and hid under a tree, where a Christian Brother found him. The man invited McConnell into his bed, where the boy fell asleep quickly. Later that night, the priest raped him.

There was no one to go to. Certainly not the Australian government, which was the legal guardian of the children. "The state supposedly were to be looking after us," says Johnston. "In the nine years I was institutionalized in Australia, I have never been spoken to by a child welfare officer. These Christian Brothers had us for what they wanted in those institutions. And they did with us what they would."

The head of the Christian Brothers in Western Australia, Tony Shanahan, admits that there was abuse, but he also suggests that some of the stories may have been exaggerated. A British government inquiry last year was more critical, saying that what happened at institutions run by the Christian Brothers in Western Australia was of "a quite exceptional depravity."

In 1993, the Christian Brothers, responding to a lawsuit, officially apologized to the child migrants and paid reparations totalling $2.5 million dollars to 250 who'd been abused at their institutions. The girls, who'd been sent to different places, suffered very little sexual abuse compared to the boys, but many were beaten, and all were exploited as free labour.

The shipments of both boys and girls stopped suddenly in 1967. The British simply didn't have any more children available for export.

But the 10,000 already in Australia? Only five - not 5,000 - were ever adopted. Few had birth certificates or documents of any kind. It seems their motherland wanted them to disappear without a trace.

Mary Molloy grew up in an institution outside Sydney. When she graduated into the real world and applied for a passport, she was in for a surprise.

"The only way I could get a passport was to become a naturalized Australian," says Molloy. "I thought I was. Now, to me, that was crazy. I've been out here since I was 9. I was brought out here. And yet, I wasn't acknowledged as an Australian. And yet, according to Britain, I didn't live there anymore. So, where was I?"

For decades, Britain was able to forget about the children it threw away. For decades, the children believed what they were told, that they were orphans.

But just a few years ago, these lost children - now lost adults scattered all over Australia - were stunned to learn that none of this was true. They weren't orphans at all.

The governments of Great Britain and Australia, the Catholic Church and the Church of England had not only exploited and abused these 10,000. They had conned the kids for 50 years.

Not only had these lost children been shipped 12,000 miles from Britain to the bottom of the world. Not only had they been exploited and abused. They had been deceived.

They weren't orphans. They had families back in Britain, families which had dropped them off at institutions with every intention of getting them back.

When Tony Jones discovered that his mother was still alive in England, he was shocked: "All them years, and they didn't even tell me I had a family?" he says.

Too poor to care for him, Maud Jones had placed Tony in a children's home in England after she divorced his father. She never gave consent for Tony to be shipped to Australia. She was never even asked.

It took Jones months to save enough money to return home to see his mom. Their reunion was set for the middle of January 1993. But she died just two weeks before that.

Jones went back for the funeral. "I saw my mother in the coffin," he says. "It's the most heartbreaking time of my life. And they knew she was alive. They knew. Bastards."

When he was a boy, the Church of England told him his parents were dead. That was a lie. When he grew up, the British and Australian governments told him his records didn't exist. That was another lie. And Tony Jones was far from alone.

That was the conclusion reached by Margaret Humphreys, an English social worker who began lifting the lid on this sordid chapter in Britain's history.

Humphreys stumbled upon the story accidentally when one of her clients insisted that her younger brother had been put on a boat to Australia as a child. Humphreys set up an organization called the Child Migrants Trust to help the children find their birth certificates, their parents and their past.

The trust bought copies of every birth, marriage and death certificate in England dating back to 1890, a total of more than 100 million documents on microfilm.

It was the database for a desperate search. Of the 10,000 child migrants, Humphreys and her staff could find only one who was actually an orphan. Month after month, year after year, they found more and more parents alive in Britain.

"The astonishing thing was that they had no idea that their children had been sent to Australia," says Humphreys. "They had not signed any papers for adoption or migration. And for most of them, they had gone back to collect, to reclaim, their children - to bring them home."

"They went to bring them back home to their families - to be told, and given explanations like, your son or daughter's been placed with a very loving family in England. They're very happy. We're not going to disturb them now. You did your best for them. Goodbye," she says.

As a child, Mary Molloy had also been told her mother was dead. But Humphreys and her team couldn't find a death certificate for her mother, May Fitzgerald. They continued searching, and last December, Humphreys flew to Sydney to give Molloy some startling news. Her mother was alive.

Molloy was ecstatic. "It's incredible. I mean, everything's based on a lie, right from the beginning. It's just one lousy lie," says Molloy, breaking down as she says it.

Her mother had been lied to by the priests. As a single mother, . Fitzgerald had placed her daughter in a Catholic children's home. A year later, she told the home she wanted Mary back, but was informed that her daughter was being adopted. Fitzgerald fired off a telegram telling the priests to stop the adoption, but was told it was too late.

A few weeks ago, Mary Molloy packed for an improbable journey back in time. For nearly a half century, ever since she had been put on a boat to Australia, she had thought of herself as a war orphan. Now it was time for Molloy to be a child again, and for 80-year-old May Fitzgerald to be a mother again.

Accompanied by her daughter Beverly and family friends, Molloy left Sydney for a 22-hour trip to Dublin to meet her mom.

Can you call it lucky to meet your mother when you're 55 years old? In terms of these child migrants, the answer is yes. In terms of the 10,000, Molloy was one of the lucky few.

Humphreys says that many thousands of these "orphans" have not yet found their parents. And as both parents and children age, time is running out.

Help from the Australian government hasn't been forthcoming. The nation that so desperately wanted white stock has never offered the mildest mea culpa for its treatment of the children.

When Philip Ruddock, the Australian minister of immigration, is asked why the Australian government hasn't apologized, "I don't know what we would be necessarily apologizing for," he says.

"What we sought to do in Australia was to provide an environment in which young people who were brought here and chosen by a government abroad were given opportunities for a new life. And many have had that opportunity," he says.

Ruddock says that he isn't sure that the horrible stories he's heard are really true.

As for Great Britain, the country that deported its kids in the first place, there has been a vast silence ever since the children sailed off.

Humphreys says she finds that people are not interested. "They didn't help, and they didn't want to know," she says. "You see, these children left our shores, and it was almost as if they left our consciousness. They'd gone.""

Who in the British government knew the children were being shipped to Australia? David Hinchcliffe, a member of Parliament and the leader of a British government inquiry into the scheme, believes that many high-level officials - including the prime minister, the archbishops, possibly even the queen - probably knew about the scheme.

So if the prime minister knew, and Parliament knew, and if the queen knew, one would've expected something resembling an official apology to the thousands of abandoned children. But in fact, no one in Downing Street, or in thHouse of Commons or for that matter at Buckingham Palace has apologized.

The best the British could come up with after 50 years was to acknowledge in 2000 that the scheme was misguided. It also set up a travel fund for the children to return home for family reunions.

But as of yet, no money has been made available. That's why 60 Minutes II paid Mary Molloy's airfare so she could be united with her mother in Ireland.

Their meeting was deeply emotional. As they met, Fitzgerald was overwhelmed: "Oh God. Oh God. I never forget you. Never. I always knew some day you'd come back. I don't want ever to let you go now….You're just the same as I thought you'd be. I'd know you if I met you in the street. I'd know you were mine."

Around the age of 50 many lose our parents and become orphans. In Molloy's case, that natural order was reversed. And she will stay in her mother's arms happily for a while, until she contemplates what could have been, the enormity of what was taken away.

Bye for now,
Go mbeannai Dia duit,


Elizabethd said...

It is one of the saddest stories. One of the social workers was a lady who lived in our small Cornish village. She went out to those days quite a journey, to check up on the farm that many Cornish children were to be sent to. she found a happy thriving place and had no further doubts.

Suffolkmum said...

Heartbreaking. The bit about brothers and sisters being separated really got to me - I couldn't help but think of my two ....

Frances said...

Cait, I am astonished to read this. It amazes me that the story could have been kept so quiet for so long.


Ivy said...

What shocks me the most is that is was all done with the consent of christian churches. At present we have huge discussions about children being abused in catholic schools and other institutions here in Germany

White stocks for Australia... I mean this country just had defeated a country with a race issue, how could they go out and send white children to populate one of their colonies? why did they let all their soldiers die when the government obviously approved of racial discrimination?

CAMILLA said...

So heartbreaking to read this, and just so shocking to learn of such a torment of abuse physically and mentally to those young children who were shipped off to Australia.

How on earth this could have been kept so quiet is beyond me.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Such a horrific chapter. It's difficult to make a comment adequate to the story.

Marcheline said...

Unlike Ivy, I am not surprised at the colluders in this travesty. The abuse of children still goes on today in the "church". What was it, last week - the Pope called an unprecedented meeting of Ireland's bishops to talk about that exact thing.

There are so many awful parts to this story. The shipping off of children to a strange place without their parents. The separation of siblings. The abuse of children. The governments involved even considering, no less carrying out, this horrible scheme.

At each level of this story was a chance for someone to stand up and say "STOP THIS." And no one, at any level, did.

I don't really think there is a way to make up for what was done. No reunion is going to bring back the years. And what about the kids who had parents when they left, but whose parents died while they were in Australia?

There is no going back and fixing this.

lampworkbeader said...

At the start of the Autumn term many years ago, my friend Patsy D failed to come back to school. The other children from the home near our village told me she'd gone off to Australia. They were really jealous. None of us ever heard from her again. I've often wondered about her. I've even looked on Friends Reunited, but with no luck. So Patsy D if you're out there, I still remember swinging in the damson tress.
love N

mollygolver said...

As I read through your blog, Cait, there were tears in my eyes. Like you, I could so easily have been one of the 'shipped off'. My mother died in 1948 at the age of 31 - I was just 4 years old at the time - I could so easily have been placed in'care'. These 'Christian Brothers' as they like to call themselves are the furthest away from 'Christian' than I can ever imagine.

Pondside said...

This is a hard one, Cait, because there were 'Home Children' brought to Canada too. I heard that the British and Australian governments have apologised. What we forget is the ethos of the the time. Today we are accustomed to a state that cares for us and our children (we often chafe at the thought of the nanny state)and we forget that there was a time when children weren't universally hoped for and cherished. Children were hungry, abandoned, neglected, in their families of origin. As many bad stories as I've read, I've heard good stories. Most of the children that came to Canada came at a time of huge international upheaval - so many immigrants were arriving from all over the world and all came with nothing - no familiar language, no familiar culture. The parents and grandparents of many of my friends and aquaintances were Home Children or Dr Bernardo's Children - they did as so many others did and prospered and established families and good lives in the new country. Yes, it is a horror that some children were separated from families that couldn't care for them, that better records weren't kept but it's important to remember that not all of the stories were like bad dreams.

Pam said...

Cait, as an Australian I have much to say about this.Bear with me. The film "The Leaving of Liverpool" which was shown in the UK around 2004 highlighted this issue .Phillip Rudock is not a popular man here, neither was his political leader of the Liberal Party John Howard, who refused to apologise to "The Stolen Generation" of aboriginal people removed from their families as children also to be institutionalized and used as station labour and household help.Our present prime minister has offered a heartfelt apology to both the stolen generation and lost generation, those who suffered at the hand of government and religious beauracracies and endured heartless practices which were never acknowledged. It is not the first time Britain has emptied her overcrowded institutions on Australian soil as you know.The resilience of those who made this their country regardless is proudly reflected in the Australian "thumb your nose" larrikanism that has been both admired and ridiculed as part of our personna, but is reflected in our humour."Who's laughing now" we say to the Brits " You may have emptied your prisons as punishment, but hey,we got the blue skies, the cute animals, and the world's best beaches". Undertones of rebellion still persist.The insistence by the aboriginal people on their own flag, the fight by the republican movement to distance ourselves from England (the Queen is actually willing to take her cues from us as a country when we are ready)and the desire by many for us to have our own flag,without the Union Jack ( there are just as many wish it to remain as the flag we fought both world wars under).The church has much to answer for,politicians have always had their own interests at heart. Around the time you described, the attitude prevailed that you "minded your own business" and "turning a blind eye" was the best approach. One did not interfere in the neighbour's business and hitting children was common practice both at home and in schools."You must have deserved it", was a common response. I was at the very end of the era when young women were expected to give their babies "out of wedlock" up for adoption, and parents disowned their children for marriages to a Catholic/Protestant.In so many aspects, I don't think the good old days were that good at all, and am thrilled that for some there is at last reunion and healing.

Decadent Housewife said...

Head shaking.

Cottage Garden said...

Cait, the response to your post is incredible. I really don't know what to say without it seeming crass or worthless. If children were separated from their parents and siblings without their consent it is utterly shameful, but for the sensibilities of the time? - well, those days are thankfully over, in the western world at least...

Jeanne x

ds said...

No words are adequate to describe the shock caused by this abomination. Thank you for sharing this, Cait; without you, this born-well-after-the-war American would not have known about those children.

Tattie Weasle said...

Although I have been aware of this story reading it here - it has hit home so hard. Those poor children.

Chris Stovell said...

These stories are absolutely heartbreaking.