Prologue

Prologue

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 day-to-day care.

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.

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