An NYT article has a bit more back story on why British children were sent to Australia.
LONDON — Laurie Humphreys, at least, had the advantage of being a teenager — if anything about being uprooted from family and homeland in 1940s Britain and sent 12,000 miles to brutal and often sexually abusive orphanages in western Australia could be called advantageous.
Mr. Humphreys was 14, old enough to understand at least some of what was happening to him.
Others among the boys and girls known in Australia as the “lost innocents” were as young as 3, children abandoned by single mothers or impoverished families, placed into institutional care in Britain, then transported across the world, often without parental consent, with certificates bearing wrong names and birth dates, and falsely noting that they had no living parents or siblings.
Mr. Humphreys arrived in Fremantle on Sept. 22, 1947, one of 100 boys and 40 girls who were part of the first wave of child migrants to leave Britain for Australia after World War II, resuming a program that was started in the 1920s but that had origins in the early 17th century, when child migrants were shipped across the Atlantic to the Virginia colony. The scheme broadened in the 19th and 20th centuries, with a total of perhaps 150,000 children sent to Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Rhodesia.
At the Bindoon orphanage, 60 miles from Perth, Mr. Humphreys was put to work on one of the farms that propelled Australia’s postwar rise to prosperity, and he was subjected to the harsh regime of the Christian Brothers order that ran the orphanage.
From the late 1940s until 1967, when Australia halted the child migration program, 7,000 to 10,000 British children made the same voyage, buoyed by the promises of happy new lives in Australia that were dashed by an institutionalized system of heartless, Dickensian repression.
“We were told it was the land of milk and honey, that we would ride a horse every day to school,” Mr. Humphreys, 76, said by phone from his home in Perth. “We all put our hands up because we didn’t have a clue where Australia was and we thought it was a bit of an adventure.”
Last Monday at a ceremony in Canberra, Australia’s prime minister, Kevin Rudd, formally apologized for the program, expressing contrition to all who bore “the physical suffering, the emotional starvation and the cold absence of love, of tenderness, of care,” that characterized the experiences of many child migrants. “Sorry for the tragedy, the absolute tragedy, of childhoods lost,” he said.
The opposition leader, Malcolm Turnbull, broke down as he, too, apologized, prompting a wave of applause from audience members, Mr. Humphreys among them. “We acknowledge that already feeling alone, abandoned and left without love, many of you were beaten and abused, physically, sexually, mentally — treated like objects, not people — leaving you feeling of even less worth,” Mr. Turnbull said.
The apologies in Australia set the stage for one by Britain for what the children’s minister, Ed Balls, has called “a stain on our society.” But officials in London said Prime Minister Gordon Brown would delay his apology until early next year, perhaps to allow time to weigh demands for financial compensation made by survivors of the program in Australia. Survivors have suggested as a model the more than a billion dollars in compensation that the Roman Catholic Church in the United States has made in the past two decades to victims of sexual abuse in church-run institutions.
The Rudd government has already said there will be no compensation in Australia. The Canadian government has gone further, saying it has no plans to apologize for its program, which outstripped Australia’s. Studies in Canada have shown that as many as 100,000 British children were sent there from about 1860 to 1939, when the Canadian program was effectively halted.
An association of former child migrants called Home Children Canada, the term by which child migrants were known, estimates that two-thirds of the children sent to Canada were abused. In his 1980 book, “The Little Immigrants,” the journalist Kenneth Bagnell documented examples of sexual and physical mistreatment, as well as widespread flouting of regulations that required farmers to pay children’s wages into trust accounts.
But because there are relatively few of the migrants still living in Canada, the issue has gained less political traction than in Australia. Jason Kenney, Canada’s minister of citizenship and immigration, told the Canadian Press news agency after Mr. Rudd’s apology that there was no need for Canada to apologize. Other Canadian officials have said that most of the children who were transported to Canada were not abused.
The extent of the abuse suffered by the children who went to Australia was extensively chronicled in a 1998 report by the British Parliament’s Select Committee on Health, and in a 2001 report by the Australian Senate. The reports set out the harsh colonial rationales that underpinned Britain’s thinking in sustaining the migration over 350 years, and explored the miseries the program caused, through interviews with victims.
The British report said the impetus for the program came from the mixture of realpolitik and idealism that ran through Britain’s centuries of empire-building. “On the one hand, there was a genuine philanthropic desire to rescue children from the destitution and neglect in Britain and send them to a better life in the colonies,” the report said. “This went hand in hand with a wish to protect children from ‘moral danger’ arising from their home circumstances — for instance, if their mothers were prostitutes.”
The report also cited more hard-headed calculations rooted in the overcrowded poorhouses and orphanages described by Dickens. “Child migration was often seen to be of economic benefit both to Britain (because it relieved the burden on public finances of looking after these children) and to the receiving countries (because child migrants were seen as being potential members of a healthy and well-trained work force),” it said.
The program also had a racial motive, the report said. It quoted John Hennessey, a former child migrant, as describing “how on arrival in Fremantle he and the other children were greeted by a senior clergyman who said: ‘We need white stock. We need this country to be populated by white stock because we are terrified of the Asian hordes.’ ”
Perhaps the grimmest part of the story lies in the incidence of sexual abuse. Mr. Humphreys said that because he was older than many of the children at Bindoon, and better able to defend himself, he escaped what the report described as the “quite exceptional depravity” that was the norm there and at several other Australian institutions. The report cited one boy who had testified to the inquiry that the members of the Christian Brothers had “competed as to who could rape him 100 times first.”
The report acknowledged that many child migrants thrived. One of those who made a successful career in Australia was David Hill, who became the director general of the state-owned Australian Broadcasting Corporation, after his impoverished single mother responded to a British newspaper advertisement promising a better life for children in Australia in 1959. But Mr. Hill, too, suffered after arriving in his new homeland.
In an interview at corporation headquarters in Sydney, he said the voyage from Britain, aboard a luxury liner with five-course meals, had been followed by a spartan life working on farms and as domestic helpers in an isolated settlement in New South Wales. There was limited opportunity for education, and a common experience of beatings and sexual abuse, a theme that ran through both the British and Australian parliamentary reports.
“The scheme was an amazing piece of British empire social engineering,” he said. “Rather than address why British society generated such appalling inequality and poverty, the British empire simply exported large numbers of its poor children. People don’t appreciate how big, and how recent, it all was.”