Australia's apology to transported children

Thousands sent from UK to Australia for better life were abused and enslaved

Between the 1920s and the 1960s, Britain sent an estimated 10,000 children to Australia to help populate its former colony with "good white stock". The children were promised new lives in an exotic land of plenty; instead, they suffered hunger, privation and abuse in government and religious institutions.

For decades, the former child migrants have been seeking official recognition of what they endured, and asking for restitution. Yesterday the Australian government took a first step, announcing that the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, would formally apologise to them, in a gesture similar to his acknowledgement last year of the wrongs inflicted on the Aboriginal "Stolen Generations".

For victims such as John Hennessy, who was plucked out of a Bristol orphanage and shipped to Australia in 1947, the apology has been a long time coming. Aged 10, Mr Hennessy was sent to an institution run by the Catholic Christian Brothers at Bundoon, north of Perth. He and the other boys were used as slave labour on a building project. They received scant education and little to eat.

One afternoon the boys stole some grapes from the vineyard. Punishment was swift. Mr Hennessy, the ringleader, was stripped naked by one of the brothers and publicly flogged. Ever since that day, he has had a stutter.

Recalling his childhood in an interview years later, he said: "I would never, ever, like my childhood days to come back again. It was so cruel, it was so un-Christian, it was brutality at its worst."

Many of the children exported to the other side of the world believed they were orphans or unwanted by their families. Mostly this was not true: they had been taken from their mothers as illegitimate babies, or placed in orphanages by single parents or families too poor to bring them up. Often they were put on ships to Australia without their parents being informed.

The apology, which will also be extended to Australian-born victims of institutional abuse, follows a series of parliamentary inquiries in Britain and Australia over the past decade. A report by the Australian Senate in 2004 detailed "a litany of emotional, physical and sexual abuse". It also found that children had been routinely deprived of food, education and healthcare.

In February last year, in one of his first deeds after being elected, Mr Rudd apologised in parliament to Aboriginal children removed from their families as part of a state-sanctioned assimilation policy in force for much of the 20th century. That act, which was widely praised, revived interest in the white children who were mistreated, too, far from their parents' protection.

One of those children was David Hill, who, with his two brothers, was sent to a notorious institution, Fairbridge Farm School, west of Sydney. Mr Hill went on to become managing director of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and two years ago published a book, The Forgotten Children, relating the inmates' harrowing experiences. Among other things, he described how boys worked 15-hour days and had to slaughter farm animals to supply the kitchens. While staff ate a full cooked breakfast prepared by the children, the latter had to make do with cold porridge infested with weevils. None of the boys, not even the youngest at four, were ever shown any affection.

The apology, to be delivered before the end of this year, was announced by the Families and Indigenous Affairs Minister, Jenny Macklin, who said that many former child migrants and other children in institutions "have suffered from a system that did not adequately provide for, or protect, children in its care".

The announcement was welcomed by Caroline Carroll, chairwoman of the Alliance for Forgotten Australians, a support group. Ms Carroll spent 14 years in five different government institutions. "We were told every day that we were the scum of the earth, that we came from the gutter, and that's where we'd end up," she said.

"We were of no importance, there was no individuality, often we were called by a number, not even a name. It's a shameful part of Australia's history."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people
News
A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
News
politicsIs David Cameron trying to prove he's down with the kids?
News
Dominique Alderweireld, also known as Dodo de Saumure, is the owner of a string of brothels in Belgium
newsPhilip Sweeney gets the inside track on France's trial of the year
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Cumberbatch was speaking on US television when he made the comment (Getty)
people
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge, Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus of Blink-182 pictured in 2011.
musicBassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker say Tom Delonge is 'disrespectful and ungrateful'
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'
tvBroadchurch series 2, episode 4, review - contains spoilers
Sport
cyclingDisgraced cycling star says people will soon forgive his actions
News
Britain's Prince Philip attends a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace in London
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran will play three sell-out gigs at Wembley Stadium in July
music
News
i100
News
Lena Dunham posing for an official portrait at Sundance 2015
people
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Representative

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To promote and sell the Company...

Recruitment Genius: Project Engineer

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Project Manager - Civil Engineering

£35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Business: This company is going thro...

Tradewind Recruitment: KS1 & KS2 Teachers Required

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Tradewind Recruitment are currently working...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea