'Sisters I never knew': Child migrants

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UNTIL Pauline Ireland met Margaret Humphreys of the Child Migrant's Trust in 1989, she believed she had only one sister. In fact she had two others; both had been sent to Australia without their mother's consent. At the time, the girls were five and seven years old.

'They were in separate homes in England. One day a staff member came up to the older one, showed her a picture of a parrot, asked what kind of bird is this. She answered 'a parrot' and the woman said: 'Well done, you can go to Australia'. She did not even know where Australia was; she thought it would be a holiday,' Mrs Ireland said. Forty years later the sisters are still in Australia and she has seen them only once.

'When the eldest traced me to Cambridge, through the trust, our mother had only died in 1987 yet my sister had always been told they had no family. All her life she looked for a mother, for her origins. Instead she found a sister.' When the children arrived in Australia they were sent to the Catholic-run Goodwood Orphanage, in Western Australia. In the book, the Lost Children of the Empire, by Philip Bean and Joy Melville, the home is singled out for its brutality.

'I read about five women from Goodwood who were traumatised by one incident. A small, sad girl said she had had enough, packed up her tiny belongings and announced she was going home to England. The nuns grabbed her at the main gate, beat her, and in front of everyone in the dining-room chopped off her hair then shaved her head. That was my youngest sister.'

Like many migrants, she says, 'they feel abandoned by families and by their country. But because of the neglect they suffered and the failure to acknowledge them by our Government, they feel abandoned for the second time.'

(Photograph omitted)