This report describes a very sorry chapter in Australia’s
history. It is a story which has to be told and in so doing, exposes the role
of both the British and Australian Governments in bringing child migrants to
this country. The British and Australian Governments entered into agreements
for the migration of children to Australia.
The Australian Government was the legislated guardian of the children but then
transferred responsibility for their care to State Governments. In turn, the
State Governments transferred responsibility to receiving agencies.
The responsibility was transferred, but in many cases the
duty of care and protection was not. While some child migrants have made
positive comments about their time in institutional care, many others can only
recall childhoods of loneliness, great hardship and privations. While under the
custodianship of receiving agencies, there was a complete disregard for the
needs, the safety and wellbeing of many child migrants.
State Governments were unable or unwilling to ensure the
protection of the children and the Committee received evidence of shocking
physical and sexual abuse and assault perpetrated by those charged with their
Australian authorities ignored changes in childcare
arrangements developing in the United Kingdom
and many child migrants were placed in barrack-style institutions, isolated
from the general community. Connection with family was severed or actively
discouraged by carers. Without those connections, children lost their personal
identity, culture and country.
The report notes the two dominant concerns of child migrant
witnesses were their loss of identity and their need to have the opportunity to
tell their story, be heard and believed.
This report recognises that while some former child migrants
have prospered in this country, have successful relationships with partners and
children and never lost contact with family, many others are not in this
position. The report illustrates the consequences of emotional deprivation and
abuse in childhood, and the struggle such children face as adults to cope and
contribute and to live fruitful and constructive lives.
The cost both human and economic, of treating our children
as described in the report is great. Equally grave, the damage done is passed
on to subsequent generations.
The child migrants have told their story. This report stands
as a tribute to them all: for those who had the courage to speak to the
Committee; for those who have contributed to the Australian community over many
years; and for those who have not survived. But perhaps the most significant
monument to former child migrants is that by telling their stories for this
report, child migrants have ensured that this will never happen again.