Chapter 6 - The search for identity
After 53 years of
loneliness, these people, like a lighthouse in the desert, shone that light
through my heart and said ‘You have an identity.’ My heart was filled with
happiness for the first time in my life.
The only gripe I really
have is ‘why didn’t they tell me I
wasn’t an orphan and that I had a family all along?’
For many former child migrants
the greatest hardship was loss of identity. Many witnesses told the Committee
that not knowing who they were was the hardest for them to bear, harder than
all the abuses. The sense of dislocation and not belonging, of loss of family
and of emptiness has had a profound impact on their lives and on the lives of
their partners and children.
...former child migrants have spent their entire lives feeling
lost or separated and even abandoned. From my own point of view I have lived my
life with a hole at the centre of my being.
The loss of identity also has
practical implications for former child migrants. It has meant difficulties in
obtaining passports and other documentation. There were many reports of the
humiliation of being unable to obtain a birth certificate before marriage. As
well, important family medical histories are unknown.
The simple questionnaires necessary to borrow money, obtain a
passport or join the local golf club ask for personal details. Date and place
of birth, nationality, mothers maiden name-simple questions that most child
migrants cannot answer. And so there is a tendency to avoid any situation that
requires this kind of information...We have become invisible citizens.
The need to know where they
came from, why they were sent to Australia, and to contact surviving relatives
in the United Kingdom and elsewhere has prompted many to embark on a search for
their identity. Unfortunately, for some, that search has not been successful,
even after decades of effort. One former child migrant who is still to find his
family stated that ‘one of the factors that has haunted me all my life is not
knowing who I am’. For those who
have been able to find family the experience has been truly significant:
The Child Migrants Trust got my birth certificate for me and
that made a difference straight away because for the first time in my life
something became certain...I felt for the first time I was a real person, not
just pretending or guessing.
The child of a former child migrant recalled her father’s
reaction to receiving family birth certificates:
Dad was simply blown away by the very fact that he had a family
and had done so for his entire life. He looked at me and said ‘I have to learn
new words now like Mother, Brother, Sister’. I looked at him strangely and he
said I have never used those words before, and it made me realise the enormity
of the situation and just how much the rest of us take for granted.
The search is also increasingly
urgent as former child migrants are ageing and their parents, if still alive,
are now very old. Unfortunately, some former child migrants have found their
families, only to discover that their parents had passed away just months
before the discovery. One former child migrant told the Committee:
the reunion with my father’s sister in Belfast, while it was
devastatingly beautiful, it may not have happened, and the urgency is that
because it happened to me I want these other boys and girls-now men and
women-to enjoy that reunion that I experienced, which was something I thought
impossible in my 59th year.
The Child Migrants Trust (the
Trust) also noted:
Child migrants who present to the Trust describe an increase in
their desperation to find their families as the years advance, linked to their
own ageing and the dwindling possibilities that their parents may yet be found
The Committee notes that many
former child migrants have been helped by the Child Migrant Trust in the search
for their families. The Trust has built up significant expertise in tracing.
Often tracing is a long and difficult process with Trust officers liaising with
sending and receiving agencies to tracking down old records, sifting through
birth, deaths and marriage registers and finally locating lost family members.
Other agencies also provide tracing services: C-BERS through the Catholic Child
Welfare Council UK, NCH, Barnardos UK and the Salvation Army. However, past
attitudes to family contact, record keeping practices and the falsification of
records has made the tracing of many families enormously difficult.
Attitudes to family contact
There is overwhelming evidence
that negative and obstructive attitudes toward family contact by those caring
for child migrants contributed to the breakdown of contact between the migrant
and their families. These attitudes are still contributing to the many problems
faced today by child migrants attempting to locate families.
Many children were told that
they were ‘orphans’ and that they did not have any living family when this was
not the case. One former child migrant noted ‘we accepted this completely. Many
decades later the true facts would emerge despite the contrived silence by the relevant
authorities’. In fact, some former
child migrants have found that their parents were contributing to their upkeep
after being supposedly killed during the war.
For many child migrants who
believed authorities and thought they were orphans, the adverse impact on their
ability to find their families has been profound. Thinking that there was no
one to be found, they did not commence their search for many years:
Their lies prevented me from searching for my family after I
left the home. I had been told I had no family...I was told there was nobody to
look for. Their deception cost me my identity and any chance at a family life,
I had to invent myself and then live with confusion for decades.
The Department of Immigration
and Multicultural Affairs (DIMA) suggested that the practice of telling those
in institutional care that they were orphans, when in fact one or both parents
were alive, ‘appears to have been common in institutions in both the United
Kingdom and Australia at that time [1940s and 1950s] in relation to children
who were illegitimate’. The motive suggested was that this avoided the stigma
associated with illegitimacy, ‘it was thought better for the child to be seen
as an orphan rather than as illegitimate, while at the same time it protected the
privacy of the unmarried mother’.
The Department also stated that
the importance of maintaining contact with family outside the institution was
poorly recognised and added that during this era, Australian children in
institutions were given little information about their families, including
siblings, and contact was not encouraged. The Department pointed to the Forde
Inquiry which noted that the Queensland
State Children Act 1911 (repealed in 1965) imposed severe restrictions on a
parent attempting to gain access to a child committed to the care of Child
Welfare. Similarly, in Britain there were restrictions on visits by
family and there was evidence that a permit from church authorities was
required to visit a child in institutional care.
There was a general view that
children removed from families should be given a ‘new start’. A former child
migrant provided the Committee with evidence from his own file which contained
the comment that ‘it would be better for the boys to emigrate and have a chance
to grow up without full knowledge of the reasons why their parents are unable
or unwilling to care for them’.
The lack of empathy, sympathy and understanding of this very human need for
knowing the truth of their circumstances is quite startling. Evidence to the
Committee is that when child migrants do find out the truth, although some are
condemning of their family, much more often they are forgiving.
The Catholic Church’s Joint
Liaison Group on Child Migration (Joint Liaison Group) supported the
Informing child migrants of the existence or whereabouts of
parents or siblings was not a normal part of child care practices in earlier
times. The logic of child migration was to give children a new start in life,
and to that extent, the system was predicated on children not knowing and not
needing to know, about their family origins, which were often seen as
‘shameful’ because of illegitimacy, poverty or abandonment. In the 1940s and
1950s, there was little emphasis in social policy on supporting families in
need or keeping families together in such circumstances.
However, one former child
migrant countered this argument, stating that ‘it appears that while
maintaining privacy considerations as the requirement for secrecy, the idea
that we were going to a “new” life appears to have been an excuse for laziness
and in some cases complete negligence [regarding record keeping]. But in the
rush to give us a new life - what was our real life has been lost, in some
Evidence provided by Western
Australian Department for Family and Children’s Services indicated that there
were some efforts to provide information about child migrants to their parents.
One example provided was a letter written in 1943 in response to an inquiry by
a parent in Britain through the Western Australian Agent General in London. The
children were at Tardun and the parent complained that there was no response to
the letters sent to Australia.
However, even when parents were
being informed about the wellbeing of their children, the children were not
always informed of their parents’ inquiries. They did not know of their
parents’ interest and some were appalled to find, many years later, that the
institution had kept this from them and that in some cases parents had contributed
financially to their upkeep while in institutional care.
There was evidence that
correspondence was not passed on to children in institutions. A former child
migrant stated, ‘I never received any mail from my grandparents. Because of
this I felt abandoned by them. I believe that the Brothers actually intended to
sever our ties with our relatives’.
In fact, there was evidence that letters from parents and relatives sent during
the child migration era were filed and never passed to the children. These
letters were subsequently found on the files in the late 1980s and 1990s.
The Committee received evidence
that some child migrants remained in contact with their families in the United
Kingdom. The Fairbridge
Foundation, for example, stated that correspondence with relatives overseas was
encouraged and there is evidence of this on files. The NCH also stated that many
children it sent to Australia had remained in contact with family members.
The Moss Report (1952)
indicated that correspondence between child migrants and family was allowed at
Catholic institutions, if it was established that this was desirable. Children
at Northcote were also expected to write to parents or relatives regularly. The
Report noted that ‘the whole question as to correspondence between children and
their parents requires careful treatment and is a matter on which there must
often be consultation between the organisation in Australia and the
organisation in Britain’.
There were also examples of
families being reunited when parents migrated to Australia. The Catholic
Children’s Society also noted that a small number of children were reunited
with their parents during the operation of the scheme as a result of parents
joining them in Australia; the child not settling in Australia and the
authorities considering it appropriate to send the child back; and parents
requesting that the child be returned.
However, in some cases parents attempting to travel to Australia to be reunited
with their children, or having them returned to Britain, were obstructed by
authorities at various levels. One mother travelled to Australia and stayed for
four years looking for her children. She found one child but not the
other. Tragically, after being found by her lost daughter through the Salvation
Army, she passed away ten days before her daughter was due to fly to Britain.
As a result of these attitudes
and practices, many former child migrants lost contact with family and many
thought that they had no family. The believed that their families had abandoned
them or did not want them or that there was no one to be found. As a
consequence many did not attempt a search for their families until many years
after arriving in Australia.
The aspect that especially
angers the former child migrants is not just that they were deceived as
children but that information on family was deliberately withheld for many
years. It was not just they who missed knowing their mothers, fathers,
brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, aunts and uncles, but also their children
who could have had a grandparent and other family members. The Committee heard
at first hand the anguish that this has caused:
What I would like to do first is to show the committee a
photograph and the only link I have with my mother, who has passed on. She passed
on five months or six months prior to my finding out that she had
been alive all these years...It is not very easy to express the mental anguish
that I went through when I was told that my mother had been alive all these
years. To try and put it into words, to say to you that this is how I felt, is
quite devastating. Then I found out that there was no good reason as to why I
should not have been told that my mother was alive all these years. Why was I
told that she was dead? Why was I told that she had been killed during the war?
All I have left is this photograph and a death certificate to say that she died
of old age. As a son I feel I had a right to have known my mother.
When former child migrants did
attempt to locate records, what little could be found was often withheld,
adding to the anguish of many child migrants.
Record keeping practices
To the distress of many former
child migrants, there is very little information available about their
Despite many attempts, all I have been able to obtain of my
records is just 2 pages and these are not even close to being accurate.
...to this day, the only paper I have regarding my childhood
history is a photocopy of the ships logbook documenting my name, age, religion
and an identification No. which I must add my name and religion had been
changed as I found out later when I found my family. This only reason I knew
where I originally came from was because I remembered, not because anyone in
authority told me.
Information about former child
migrants may be held by a number of organisations: the institution in which
they lived before coming to Australia; the sending agency; the receiving
agency; the Commonwealth Government; and, relevant State Governments. The
Committee has identified a number of factors which impact on the amount of
information available today about an individual: the amount of information
originally available; the record keeping practices of individual organisations;
and survival of physical records over the years.
The Committee was told that
files sent with child migrants should have included a birth certificate,
baptismal certificate, health report and some school reports. However, the
details on files were not always complete. One former child migrant noted that
her file had lacked the name of her mother or father, did not show a place of
birth and the date of birth was incorrect. The former child migrant eventually
found these details when she received a copy of her birth certificate.
The Western Australian
Department for Family and Children’s Services also noted that family background
information was scant and in many cases non-existent. There were gaps in the
information accompanying child migrants and inadequate immigration processes.
For example, correspondence between 1939 and 1940 illustrated the Department’s
repeated efforts to gain birth certificates for a group of children at Tardun.
The certificates were not sent with the children and it took one year to
receive them from Britain.
The Joint Liaison Group noted
that ‘rarely did any useful information regarding schooling or social
background, even institutional history, arrive with the child’. The 1956 Report of a Fact Finding Mission (Ross Report) also reported that
some institutions complained about the unsatisfactory selection of children and
the failure to furnish information about the children.
In some cases, that information
was not even available from Britain. For example, there were cases of children
having been abandoned by their mother, leaving the barest or no information.
The quantity and quality of
information retained to the present time by institutions and government
departments in Australia varies. One former child migrant described the record
keeping on the part of some organisations as ‘almost beyond belief. There would
be more documentation kept on the importation of a case of wine into Australia
than in many cases was kept on the migration of a child’. Another former child migrant found
that ‘the National Children’s Home in the UK has supplied to me the records
they have held since 1943. On the other hand the Methodist Homes have no
The Christian Brothers’
Province Archivist, Mrs Mathers, noted that most Catholic institutions in
Australia held very few records on former child migrants. School reports and
medical information were not retained. Mrs Mathers stated that this was not
unusual and noted that the education department in Western Australia currently
recommends the destruction of student records seven years after a student turns
21. Mrs Mathers added that the Western Australian Child Welfare Department:
...maintained a card system which tracked where the children
were...There should be dates, places and where they were living. There should be
information on those cards as to whether there were any medical conditions or
major medical treatment that occurred. Under the legislation there is actually
quite strictly prescribed the type of records that the guardian, the authority
who was delegated the guardianship, had to keep.
However, the Western Australian
Select Committee noted that prior to 1965, a child migrant’s personal file was
retained for five years after the person turned 21 and then was destroyed.
The South Australian Department
of Human Services stated that the Department’s files on individual child
migrants contain only minimal information: ‘many of those are inspector reports
or notes by workers or receipts-that sort of administrative
documentation-rather than the sort of documentation we keep these days, which
talks about the child’s story’.
The Queensland Department of
Families also stated, in relation to the files of former child migrants at
Neerkol, ‘the information that is available on those files varies significantly
from file to file and that relates to the record keeping practices of the time
not being uniform and archival practices not being uniform’. In New South Wales, the Department
has retained the card index for former child and youth migrants between 1947
and 1961. There are also files relating to pre-war migration.
Birth certificates and
baptismal certificates are of vital importance to the search for family. Mrs
Mathers advised that birth certificates for post-war child migrants should have
been included in their immigration selection documents which were sent by the
Commonwealth Immigration Department to State Welfare Departments. In Western
Australia, Family and Children’s Services have originals or copies of most
birth certificates for post-war child migrants. However, Mrs Mathers indicated
that immigration selection documents for any of the child migrants who went to
Tasmania or for the majority who went to Queensland have yet to be located.
The baptismal certificates of
some Catholic children were also included with their immigration documentation.
The Joint Liaison Group indicated that the Catholic Migrant Centre in Perth has
baptismal information in 40 per cent of its files and Centacare in Adelaide has
baptismal information on 72 per cent of former child migrants who were cared
for in South Australia.
Some organisations are able to
provide former child migrants with more than just written records. For example,
Barnardos has photographs of most children as they were taken into care, at the
time that they were migrated to Australia and, in some cases, on arrival in
Australia. They also have a fairly complete photographic record of children
going back to 1867.
Other factors have also
contributed to the difficulties in locating information. For example, in some
cases records of children in Catholic institutions were the responsibility of
the diocese, not the religious order running the institution, or else the
records passed to the diocese once the children left the institution. Records
were also not well kept or had not survived the passage of time. Records have been lost when
organisations and institutions closed. The Committee was advised that some
records held by Salvation Army (UK) were destroyed by bombing during the war. Although Barnardos (UK) has over
300,000 files, some early records were kept in large ledgers which have been
destroyed either through fire or by being eaten by mice.
Attitudes to the release of information and impact on tracing
All my life I wanted a mother and a father and a family and
never stopped looking.
Entrenched attitudes to the
reunion of children with families and the release of information to former
child migrants over the decades have impacted adversely on tracing efforts by
many former child migrants.
Although some former child
migrants did not lose contact with family, for others there appears to have
been very little effort to assist children to know their families or to reunite
with families either while in an institution or in the years immediately
following their discharge from the institution:
No efforts were ever made, to my knowledge, by the authorities
or staff at Northcote to trace any of mine, or anybody else’s relatives,
whether they be parents, uncles, aunts...In retrospect, I believe they were
locked into a mode of thinking towards the maintenance of keeping families
apart in order to justify their roles and raison
The Western Australian
Department reported that there is ‘scant historical information available to
determine efforts made during the operation of the child migration schemes to
reunite or assist in the reunification of child migrants with any of their
Restricting access to records and
This lack of assistance was
outward evidence of the prevailing view regarding migrated children: that they
needed to start a new life; and that some had to be ‘protected’ from what was
regarded as traumatic information. There was also a view that third parties had
to be protected. This attitude has continued right up until recent years. There
was, and still is, the view that records were the property of the organisation
and therefore were not available to the child migrants or their descendants.
The Committee received many examples of the unwillingness of agencies to
release their records:
‘The files were secreted away, in a manner that
suggested that there was something to hide. Creating the impression that the
files contained some deep and dark secret to which only they had access’.
‘I went to England in 1970 to find my parents,
or find my mother, who I had not seen since 1946. I went to National Children’s
Home, because they were my only contact and they were not interested, they
brushed me off. Yet I had sold my house, sold everything to go over to find out
who I was’.
‘I do recall there being numerous excuses why
his requests were rejected, in particular, that all the records which would
have been stored at Somerset House had been destroyed in the blitz of World War
two. I was to find out later that this is not the case’.
‘I asked the “powers that be” about my family on
many occasions and was always told the same story “there is no one left”...I have since found that had I gone to the
home in which I had been born and knocked on the door, my mother would have
answered it: She had been in the same home for 50 years’.
The Committee was also provided
with an example of a deliberate attempt to destroy records so that no contact
with families could be made. A former child migrant who had lived at
St John’s Anglican Home in Melbourne stated:
I did not even know my real name until I was 32 years of
age...This Birth Certificate I found by coincidence among heaps of personal
papers on the floor of the Chapel at St John’s Home on a chance visit to
Melbourne from Newcastle 14 years after I left there. Mr Willis, the Hostel
Superintendent had told us he was going to destroy all our records so no one
would be able to pry into our lives. Unfortunately this included us.
For some, the necessity to
contact the sending agency to obtain records was a barrier to access. They had
no wish to contact their former carers because of unresolved feelings about
their time in institutions. One
former child migrant stated:
I have never wanted to go near the orphanage again or to come
into contact with the Order of Nuns whose ideas of discipline and rearing were
barbaric and ignorant.
International Association of Former Child Migrants and their Families (the
International Association) also stated:
While these agencies that had the care of these children retain
those records, these former child migrants have to go back to those agencies.
It is a big problem for a child migrant to have to go back to an agency that
perpetrated a lot of the misdeeds on them. It is very difficult, and when you
do go back you want to get out of there as quickly as possible.
Former child migrants also
found that their records were not kept in one place, they had to go from agency
to agency, with varying degrees of success. Often success appears to have
depended on the attitude of the individuals controlling access to records. Many
also found that key records were held in the United Kingdom. Many former child
migrants did not have the means to travel to Britain to continue their search
or to try channels such as private investigators to help in their search for
family. There appears to have been more disappointments than successes for
those searching for family and many former child migrants gave up their
attempts to access records.
Changing attitudes to information
By the mid 1980s, attitudes to
re-establishing family ties began to change. Legislative and policy changes of
Governments around Australia reflected the community’s acknowledgment of the
importance of family. Children who had been adopted received the right to
obtain information about their adoption and Freedom of Information legislation
opened access to personal information.
Some former child migrants were
able to at last access more information.
Unfortunately, a number of organisations continued to maintain the entrenched
view of earlier years for some time:
Some years later I contacted the Catholic Migrant Centre in
Perth. I telephoned them every month for two years. My hopes were raised. They
did nothing...No files, brick walls, platitudes but the situation remains the
same. I’m not talking about Australia or Britain in the 60s - I’m talking about
Perth in the late 80s. And the cover up goes on and on.
In 1987 I was informed by the Perth Catholic Migrant Centre...that
I had a mother...They refused to give the name and address of my mother.
The Committee was also provided
with details of one case where the Uniting Church denied that there were any
records and then, in 1995, attempted to tie the release of records with a
requirement to sign an indemnity freeing the Church from any liability.
The Committee was told that
problems with access were not confined to Australia. Many seeking information
about their births or time in institutional care in the United Kingdom were
greatly disappointed at receiving no assistance:
I have been to Ireland twice. I went last year to Ireland and I
went to the hospital I was born in and I said to the man at the hospital, ‘I
want to see the original records.’ He said, ‘I’m not going to show you
anything.’ How can you win? You have no hope; you cannot win...I went back to
Derry. The nun said, ‘You couldn’t have been here because your name’s not in
the book.’ You know, I am a nobody.
The impact of privacy
legislation was also raised as a restriction on the ability to access
information. It was stated that there is an increasing pre-occupation with
considerations of personal privacy which is being increasingly formalised in
‘data protection’. A further problem identified was that there is a marked
difference in the application of privacy considerations in Britain and
What is seen as appropriate disclosure in one country is seen as
inappropriate and therefore obstructed or even proscribed in the other...These
problems operate most viciously against children (including former child
migrants) who through no choice of their own were born ex-nuptial, and who in
consequence experience much difficulty in obtaining identifying information and
subsequently tracing their birth fathers, whose names by law in the great
majority of cases cannot even appear on their original birth certificates due
to the legal presumptions of an evidentiary nature concerning birth
Many organisations are now
providing greater assistance to former child migrants. The Committee notes that
the NCH is particularly helpful in assisting former child migrants and child
migrants have praised the work of NCH’s Child Migrants Adviser in tracing
families. Migrants have also
sought the assistance of organisations such as the Child Migrants Trust. The
Trust has built up an enviable reputation for its ability to search out family
and re-unite former child relatives with lost relatives and many sought out its
help. Other organisations also recognised that there was a need to provide
services to former child migrants. Barnardos children, for example, had the
right from the mid 1970s to look at their files. A specific officer was
appointed in 1983 to work with former child migrants. Other organisations also
began to assist former child migrants with tracing. The Catholic Child Welfare
Council (UK) and Barnardos (UK) all provide tracing services for former child
migrants. These services are discussed below. Private individuals are also more
aware of what is available and how to access information.
Unfortunately, the practices of
the past have lead many former child migrants to doubt that all information in
the hands of organisations is being provided. Many only received information
following the intervention of another party, such as the Child Migrants Trust,
and in one case provided to the Committee, by threat of legal action:
I was in England in 1976 when my father died, I did not know
where to contact him. I was there again in 1981 when my mother died, and I did
not know where to go for contacts. I went to the orphanage in England in 1970
and said, ‘I’d like to see where I came from,’ and they said, ‘There are no
files here.’ That was not true, they had our files there and they would not
give them. It was not until I threatened them with a legal suit in 1995 that
they gave me my file from the orphanage in England.
...[my files] were sent to me by mail in 1988...firstly I received a
file which was photocopied material some of which was illegible, so I applied
to have my original files sent to me, much procrastinating and reason for this
not being allowed, Barnardo’s Australia saw fit to release my original
file...this file contained so much more information than the first one...I am
still not sure that my file is complete, they can tell me it is but after being
lied to so many times one’s trust in people diminishes.
Many former child migrants are
also angry that after being told initially that there were no records, they
have found years later that this had not been the case:
Over a period of 45 years I failed to penetrate the code of
silence regarding the two McFadden children. I was denied access to my
documentation re my migration. Deceit, denial and cover ups it would appear
were the policy. Lies galore. Numerous requests for my birth certificate after
reaching age 21 were turned down. All efforts to access my files failed...Only in
1991...was I handed a yellowing birth certificate which had deteriorated in some
Govt. records office in WA. WHY?
After many, many requests between the years 1962 and 1982 and
continued denials that any family existed, I was finally handed a small packet
of 4 documents one of which clearly showed the names of four older sisters
and a younger brother...In 1999, I was contacted by the Child Migrants Trust
and handed a file of some 50 documents (copies) some of which have been in the
hands of Catholic Church officials either at Neerkol or Rockhampton years
Former child migrants also feel
that although there is now much greater access to records, information should
have been provided earlier and that it is too late for some to make full use to
find families and to re-establish a relationship with them:
It is my view that access to the individual records at the time
of the releases of inmates out of the care of Barnardos and into the community
would have enabled many to make the effort at that time, had they wished, to
contact their relatives. As it transpired, many were given their files only
recently and in most cases far too late for them to make contact with close
I also learnt that had the British Government released their
National Insurance Data to the Child Migrant Trust earlier, I surely would have
found my mother whilst she was still living. This information was only released
too late for a reunion!!!
Unfortunately, for some former
child migrants even long-term effort in searching for families has resulted in
little success. One former child migrant stated that she had been
looking for her family for over forty years.
Another stated: ‘I have not found my family. I first tried in 1965 and the
Child Migrants Trust have been trying for the last 11 years. I have been to
Ireland twice’. The son of a
former child migrant wrote ‘sadly twenty seven years later I am no closer to
identifying [my father’s] parents than he was at the time of his death. I have
managed to access a meagre few documents which only add to the despair of
receiving no co-operation or assistance in the search’.
Falsification of information
Trying to trace records is impossible, you need a surname. The
passenger list shows me with two surnames and my brother with two other
surnames. Our dates of birth have been changed and we are told all the records
were destroyed in a fire.
Some former child migrants not
only pointed to the lack of information, but also to information that was
inaccurate or indeed false. Evidence was received that revealed that names and
dates of birth of some former child migrants had been deliberately changed. One
former child migrant stated that he found out his real name when he was 16
years old, while another indicated that he did not know his real name until he
was 32 years of age, ‘our names were changed to create confusion and
Names were often changed for
quite arbitrary reasons: ‘”We’ve got a Margaret, you can be a Hazel”, and that
is what you had to answer to because you had hazel eyes or whatever’. The International Association stated
that at Clontarf, Western Australia, during the 1950s, boys inquiring about
their age and their family backgrounds were lined up against the fence and
given birthdays from consecutive days of the month. Many of its members learned
later in life that they were up to three years older than they had been told.
The impact of changes to names
and birth dates can be devastating to the search for relatives and the
accessing of birth certificates. One former child migrant told the Committee
that he had written letters to Somerset House to get a birth certificate but
because of his incorrect birth date ‘the reply was the same all the time, no
you where not born in England’.
The Child Migrant Friendship
Society told the Committee:
That very fact...has made it incredibly difficult for this group
of people to trace family, because they can’t, for a start, get a birth
certificate...[a former child migrant] went over and her name was ‘Edna Mary’;
she came back ‘Mary Elizabeth’. Now, a reporter happened to find her mother,
and they reunited-she didn’t know anything about it. She had had a detective
working on it, but there was no ‘Edna Mary’, because she was in fact registered
as ‘Mary Elizabeth’. And that is not just one isolated case; that’s
everywhere-and false birth dates.
Other examples of falsification
of records were provided to the Committee, One former child migrant provided
the Committee with copies of two pre-immigration medical examination reports.
They show not only an incorrectly spelt surname, but also that as a child of
six he had been allowed to sign on himself. The child migrant also signed a
second report one year later. However, he did not have any memory of signing
the documents and wryly noted his vastly improved handwriting and that at six
and seven he could spell his name while at 14 years he was illiterate.
The Western Australian
Department of Family and Community Services commented that it was not aware of
any misleading information from the British Government or sending agencies
adding very few records came with the children. The Department also responded to a
1989 report by Margaret Humphreys of the Child Migrants Trust to the UK Social
Services Committee which talked of ‘the calculated deception’ undertaken by
Australian and British organisations in withholding and/or giving incorrect
information to child migrants about their antecedents and to families abroad
about their children. The Department indicated that:
The only documentation found on departmental records referring
to the withholding of information is a letter from the Commonwealth Immigration
Department referring to ‘long’ and ‘short’ birth certificates, the latter
giving the child’s name and date of birth only. If the ‘long’ certificate
showed that the child was adopted or had only one parent’s name, the issue of
the certificate was to be deferred and the matter referred to that office.
In response to the question of
falsification, the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs stated:
It comes to the fact that, as I said before, many of these
children were already in institutions. From the point of view of Australian
immigration, a child was identified by what I might call the sending agency.
Whatever that sending agency said the child was called, and whatever details
were provided, were accepted for immigration purposes...They probably travelled
on a document of identity that allowed them to travel from Britain to Australia
without the need for passports to be issued at all. So we are dealing with the
kind of documentation that would turn into a kind of manifest or a list of
passengers on a particular ship, received in Australia by someone who was
expecting that list of people. The hard part of your question is how to get
beneath those flaws in the documented system and reunite people. Again I would
have to say that is an area in which the Child Migrants Trust claims, and
deserves to claim, some successful expertise. Exactly how, I cannot say.
The Department noted that the
Commonwealth had taken steps to ensure that children were correctly identified
and that the age of children could be proven. For example, when Western
Australian officials raised concerns in 1948 about lack of birth certificates
and incorrect information, a request was made through London that birth
certificates be forwarded to migration officers in the States. The Department concluded ‘It appears
that whenever documents provided for the child migrants were discovered to be
inadequate or incorrect, and the matter was brought to the Commonwealth’s
attention, the Secretary for Immigration took the matter up with relevant
authorities in the UK’.
Access to records
They talk about record access and tracing, but we are not aware
of any records available...They talk about records, but we cannot find any. We
have tried all the different sources and we are told that we can go to the
state government, only to be told, ‘All your records have been burnt, there are
none available.’ We visit our home country to pursue records and are told by the
sisters, ‘There are no records here, we don’t have any records.’ It has become
very frustrating for us when people say, ‘Look, there are records there, you
have access to them’, but we can’t find them.
Records held in Britain
The following is an outline of
some of the sources of information available to child migrants in Britain. A
comprehensive guide to sources of records, including current contact details,
is provided in Appendix 5 of this Report.
Both the British Government and
sending agencies now recognise the need for former child migrants to have
access to their records. As a result of the House of Commons Health Committee
Report, the British Government requested that the National Council of Voluntary
Child Care Organisations (NCVCCO) establish and manage the Child Migrant
Central Information Index.
The computerised Index
comprises details of 17,136 child migrants who went to Canada, Australia and
New Zealand. The details were provided by Barnardos, Middlemore Homes, The
Children’s Society, NCH and Catholic Child Welfare Council (CCWC). The
Salvation Army did not contribute to the Index as it informed NCVCCO that it no
longer held child migrant records. Details from the Western Australian Referral
Index are also included. The Committee was advised in London of the
difficulties in compiling the index due to the disbandment of some smaller
agencies and the problems of locating their records if they still existed, and
that much information required for the fields in the index had not been
included in the original hand-written records of many agencies.
The Index is a signposting
service; that is, it indicates what records may be available, who holds those
records and how to access them. It does not hold the actual records. Only
former child migrants, their parents, siblings and nominated representatives of
child migrants are eligible to use the Index.
NCVCCO suggested that the Index
had the following limitations:
eligibility criteria for those who are permitted
to use the Index are restrictive and do not allow descendants to access the
the data is not complete, for example, there is
no information from the Salvation Army or other examples of child, youth or
it does not contain details of child migrants
prior to 1920 although sending agencies have indicated that they do have
records for this period;
it is restricted to government assisted schemes;
the inclusion of information from other
Australian States would improve the Index;
funding was only provided to maintain the Index
for three years, from April 1999 to March 2002.
The Committee was advised
during discussions in London that the narrow focus of the Index with its
limited number of fields of information was the result of the original brief
being too specific. As a consequence of the limitations, especially the
restrictive access criteria, usage of the Index has been limited primarily
because former child migrants already know the information it contains. It was
suggested to the Committee that if the information in and access to the Index
remain in their current form, then the Index will have much greater use for the
next generation. The NCVCCO noted that inquiry trends were illustrating this
with many general inquiries from libraries and second generation Canadians.
The Committee was told that
there is a need to determine if the current format and sole purpose to be used
as a list was the appropriate future direction for the Index or whether its
information fields should be expanded and the Index developed so as to enable
its greater use as a research tool with wider eligibility for access.
Committee members meet with representatives
of the NCVCCO and its Steering Group in London
The British Government indicated in its response to the UK
Health Committee report that all policy files in the UK are already available
publicly or to bona fide agencies assisting in family reunification. The
British Government also indicated that it did not intend to change legislation
regarding privacy and believed that sensitive personal information should be
divulged only with consent.
The Catholic Child Welfare
Council (CCWC) holds records for many, but not all, Catholic child migrants.
CCWC stated that individual agencies or religious orders, which looked after
child migrants, may hold some records. Many of these records contain ‘very
scanty’ information. A database containing both historical information and
details of recent contacts has been compiled. In 1992, CCWC set up a central
service with funding from the Poor Sisters of Nazareth and the Christian
Brothers. Child migrants are provided assistance with accessing their own and
other records; tracing of living relatives; and support and counselling. The
Joint Liaison Group stated that this service has continued to be supported by
church funds up until the present and the tracing service is extensively
accessed by the Child Migrants Trust on behalf of its clients.
Barnardos UK has a vast and
complex system of some 370,00 records dating back to 1867. Barnardos also holds
20,000 additional records of children emigrated by other agencies which are no
longer in existence. Barnardos UK spends 1 million per year on its after care
services. The service provides information on family background and help with
tracing relatives. Since 1985, the After Care section has dealt with some 4,000
requests for personal information and access to files from former child
migrants or their relatives in Canada and Australia.
NCH provides a comprehensive
service for former child migrants who had been in its care. It provides original
documentation from care files, photographs and school reports. As well, tracing
and counselling services both in Australia and in Britain are provided through
its Child Migrants Adviser. NCH has made contact with 82 of the 129 people it
sent to Australia.
The following is an outline of
some of the sources of information available to child migrants in Australia. A
comprehensive guide to sources of records, including contact details, is
provided in Appendix 5 of this Report.
Australian Government records
pertaining to child migrants are held by the National Archives of Australia
(NAA). The Archives holds information about government policy and
administrative practice on child migration, including the activities of
services organisations and churches that sponsored children. The Archives also
holds records that contain personal information about some child migrants and
the families they left behind.
In 1999, the Archives published
a comprehensive research guide to assist former child migrants access relevant
records. The guide, Good British Stock:
Child and Youth Migration to Australia, authored by Dr Barry Coldrey
provides an overview of child migration, outlines sources of information in the
Archives and provides references to other material in State archives and the
organisations sponsoring child migration. Former child migrants are not charged
by the Archives for consulting material held in the Archives in order to
clarify their identity and origins.
The Archives has also provided the
Child Migrants Trust with access to all nominal rolls for ships or flights that
carried child migrants and to the lists of all organisations that looked after
child migrants during this period.
During the inquiry, a number of
matters concerning the records held by the Archives were raised. The first
involved various ‘documents of identity’, including birth and baptismal
certificates, that form part of the immigration documentation for individuals
that may be held by the Archives. Photocopies of these are available to former
child migrants but the originals are retained by the Archives. It was suggested
that the originals should be made available to former child migrants as these
were ‘personal property’.
The Archives advised that the
records have formed an integral part of the administrative record of the
Government and Archives considers it appropriate to treat them as Commonwealth
records. The Archives advised that the transfer of ownership of Commonwealth
records to private individuals involved a number of policy issues which ‘have
the potential to set precedents that may be difficult for the Archives or
individual controlling agencies to sustain across a broad range of cases’.
Firstly, records held could be either national archives which are ‘held in trust
for all Australians’ or temporary value records. The Archives stated that it
would consider authorising the transfer of records of temporary value but in
doing so the Archives would have to consider two further policy matters:
identifying parties with legitimate interests; and, setting precedents for the
transfer of other Commonwealth records. The Archives concluded:
In outlining these issues concerning the transfer of records it
is not the Archives intention to thwart the legitimate desires of former child
migrants to know their history. Nonetheless it is essential to indicate some of
the complexities associated with transferring ownership of records to private
individuals, whether child migrants or other legitimate interest groups. Such a
policy could be pursued under the Archives’ existing legislation but it would
significantly compromise the integrity and purpose of the Commonwealth’s
The Archives considers that its existing access policy can
satisfy both the individual and collective need for information relating to
child migration. This policy includes making photocopies, high quality
photographic images or digital images of records available to any member of the
public who requests them.
The other major area of concern
was access to records held by the Archives. It was noted in evidence that many
records of interest to former child migrants are not held in the State in which
the institution was situated. For example, files held by the Archives in
Canberra relating to Catholic homes in Western Australia contain items such as
inspection reports which are of interest to former child migrants. Records may
only be accessed through the Archives’ reading rooms in the capital city where
the record is located in order to safeguard the record. Photocopies of records
may be purchased for 50 cents per page. It was argued that records may be
inaccessible because of distance and because of cost. It was suggested that
photocopy charges could be reduced or waived for all former residents of institutions,
including child migrants, requesting copies of records or that records relating
to child migration and homes be digitalised.
The Archives stated that to
reduce or waive the photocopy charges ‘may lead to further requests from other
persons documented in records in the Archives collection. This would have
significant resource implications for the Archives’. In regard to digital
copying, the Archives noted that it was trialing a digitisation on demand
service whereby a researcher can request that a digital copy of a specified
record be loaded to the Archives RecordSearch database
allowing that record to be viewed on the Archives website. The Archives
indicated it would:
examine the 34 key files listed in the Personal
History Index guide and those not already available for public access would be
examined to determine whether they are suitable for public release, the
Archives will then make a digital copy of those suitable for release. The
Archives would aim to finalise this task by June 2001; and
when preparing work programs for the coming
financial year, consider whether further records about child migration,
particularly those listed in Good British
Stock: child and youth migration to Australia can be programmed for
The Committee notes that the
Archives has already examined and digitised some of the key files listed in the
Personal History Index guide. These are now available through the Archives
RecordSearch database and provide a valuable source of information. However,
these records relate only to Catholic institutions. The Committee considers
that all records relating to the child migration scheme should be digitised.
State Government Records
State governments have also
responded to the need to provide information under their control to former
child migrants and other children in their institutional care.
In Western Australia, the
Department for Family and Children’s Services, with support from nine receiving
agencies, has developed an index, the WA Former Child Migrant Referral Index,
to identify all former child migrants who came to Western Australia from
Britain and Malta from 1913 to 1968. The Department stated that when it made
its submission to the UK Health Committee inquiry it did not have accurate
figures for the number of children who came to Western Australia as child
migrants. However, Departmental files contained information on post World War
II child migration and church and other agencies also held information. The
Department sought and received the co-operation of the receiving agencies to
establish the Index and protocols for use of the Index by agencies and to whom
it is made available.
The Index lists 2,941 former
child migrants. The Index acts as a signposting service and contains the
following information: name; alias; date of birth; date of arrival; ship;
placement; and location of records. The Department used internal resources to
establish the database at a total cost of $20,000. Since its launch in October
1999, there have been 720 requests for information.
The Department also noted that,
following protracted discussions with representatives of the British
Government, ‘front end’ information providing the name of the sending agency
and the location of records currently held in the UK has been received by the
A special unit in the
Department has been established to assist former child migrants to access
information and trace families, and to provide support and referral to other
services for independent advice, practical assistance and counselling. This
unit makes all its records available to former child migrants, including the
release of original birth certificates.
The South Australian Department
of Human Services waives fees for former child migrants but noted that the
information may be decades old and ‘records were not kept in those days with a
view to helping people to put their stories together’. In evidence, the
Department stated that a departmental officer provided assistance to people
adopted in the United Kingdom who are now living in Australia and that the
skills and knowledge built up were also used to find the families of former
The South Australian Department
also acts as an intermediary between former child migrants and the Catholic
Church. On a case by case basis, it has requested and received files from the
Church. It has not received all the files that the Church holds.
The New South Wales Department
of Community Services, through its Connecting
Kin project, has provided details to assist former residents of homes in
New South Wales to locate both Government and non-government agency records.
The Department is also establishing a database from its records. The New South
Wales Immigrants Index will hold the information now held on 3,860 cards of
child and youth migrants from 1947 to 1961. This Index will contain information
including name, date of arrival, name of ship, sending and receiving agency and
name of parent (usually mother). The Department will also appoint a Designated Official
in the Adoption Services Branch to assist former child and youth migrants. A
Website is planned and the Department hopes to examine further its pre-war
On 20 December 2000, the New
South Wales Government also approved funding of $60,000 for one year to provide
counselling and family-tracing services to former child migrants. These
services will be provided though International Social Service.
The Queensland Government has
produced a guide, Missing Pieces,
which provides information about the records of departmental institutions and
those operated by church and voluntary groups. Missing Pieces provides a description of departmental files and
access and contact details. For each institution, both government and
non-government, a brief historical summary is provided, with access and contact
Following the Forde Inquiry,
the Department of Families, Youth and Community Care established a counselling
and support service for former residents of Queensland Institutions. The
Aftercare Resource Centre (ARC) provides face to face and toll free telephone
counselling. ARC also provides advice regarding access to individual records,
documents and archival papers.
The Victorian Department of
Human Services provides the following support to all Victorian former child
migrants through its Adoption Information Service:
information regarding procedures for records
searching, both in Victoria and in the United Kingdom;
short term counselling on grief and separation
assistance in understanding the information in
retrieved, historical records;
pre and post reunion counselling.
Victoria’s Archival Services
has processed all relevant Victorian Government records into sequential order
by policy file/client name. All client names have been entered into the Archival
Services database to enable quick retrieval and matching to boxed records.
The Adoption Information
Service will help former child migrants apply under the Freedom of Information
Act for access to their departmental files. If these records show that a person
was placed with a specific non-government organisation, Archival Services can
contact that organisation, on behalf of the former child migrant, to assist in
locating any relevant records held by that organisation. This support is
offered on a case by case basis. Freedom of Information fees do not apply.
The Child Migrants Trust
The Child Migrants Trust does
not hold original records but has provided tracing and counselling services in
Australia since 1988. The Trust employs a family researcher in the UK and has
built up considerable expertise in tracing families.
Catholic Church Organisations
The Personal History Index
(PHIND) is a computerised index which gives details of the location of records
held in Australia for former child migrants who arrived and were placed in
Catholic homes between 1938 and 1965. The PHIND was funded and sponsored by
religious orders and Diocesan agencies that received children from the United
Kingdom and Malta. The index is available through 11 licensees in South
Australia, the Australian Capital Territory, Queensland and Western Australia.
The Christian Brothers’
Archives in Perth holds material from the four Christian Brothers institutions
in Western Australia. These mainly consist of admissions files. The Catholic
Migrant Centre in Perth holds over 900 personal files relating to former child
migrants between 1938 and 1965.
The Australian Catholic Social
Welfare Commission has compiled a national directory of records of Catholic
organisations caring for children separated from families. The directory,
entitled A Piece of the Story, lists
all known centres run by organisations of the Catholic Church across Australia
that provided residential care for children outside the family. The directory
provides, for each centre, contact details and information about access and the
type of records available.
The Fairbridge Foundation New
South Wales holds all the files for the farm school at Molong. Some records are
incomplete, for example, some do not contain birth certificates. Protocols for
accessing files have been established. No one other than the Old Fairbridgian
has access while the Old Fairbridgian is alive. Access by relatives is then
available. A relative is defined as a person who is child, spouse or common law
spouse of the Old Fairbridgian.
Records of the Fairbridge Farm
School, Pinjarra, are lodged with the Battye Library in Perth. A member of the
Fairbridge Board administers access to records and pertinent documents are made
available to the child migrants or the immediate family of the child migrant.
Barnardos also holds the files
for each of the child migrants it received. Since the mid 1970s copies of the
files have been made available to child migrants. Information on the files
includes unedited admission histories. Barnardos indicated that the files did
not always contain a birth certificate but in such cases it did everything
possible to obtain copies from the Records Office in London. Barnardos UK
provides tracing services, but it also uses the Child Migrants Trust,
International Social Service, the Red Cross and the Salvation Army. Services
are provided free of charge.
Outstanding access and tracing issues
The tracing is insufficient and inadequate. Even the fine
program which is set up by C-BERS has very little information in it. It is
stuff that we already know. There is nothing new. There is nothing that we can
go to from there. So we really want to go to the next step and find out exactly
whether there are records there, so that these people can find out who they
really are. They are trying to put a picture together, but the facts that they
have been given from the beginning are wrong, so they are just going on a wild
The evidence indicates that
much has been recently achieved in locating and improving access to records.
However, a great deal is still required with witnesses pointing to a number of
areas where improvements are needed including access to further funding,
sharing of information, improvements in record keeping and improving access by
former child migrants.
First and foremost, many
witnesses emphasised the need for further funding:
There are so many child migrants like myself, still looking for
family. The passing of time makes it worse, not better. We are running out of
time. We need more help from the
Australian Government now! Too many
mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters are dying before they can be reunited.
It was noted that undertaking
searches in the United Kingdom is of most significance for family tracing. Most
former child migrants know their arrival information and the sending agency.
What is now required is family information. However, it is expensive and time
consuming to search out this information, but time is of critical importance in
finding family. Former child migrants are ageing and with the British Child
Migrant Support Fund due to cease in 2002 tracing needs to be completed so that
all eligible former child migrants can access the fund for reunion travel.
The Child Migrants Trust
indicated that the cost of an individual search ranged from 1,000 to 1,500. Barnardos UK spends 1 million
per year on after care services, but even so some people have to wait some time
to view their files. Barnardos UK stated that the level of funding of tracing
services in agencies has to be weighed against serving needs in other areas.
Other agencies indicated
similar concerns with funding. The CCWC’s noted that its service is funded by
the Sisters of Nazareth and the Christian Brothers ‘but we cannot necessarily
expect this funding indefinitely’. The Catholic diocesan agencies have no
funding for the tracing work and the UK Department of Health has turned down
funding for family searches ‘on several occasions’. CCWC concluded that some
Government funding should be made available both to sending agencies in the UK
and receiving agencies in Australia to support and assist their work in family
searches and reunions.
The Joint Liaison Group also
called on the Commonwealth Government to make a stronger commitment to funding
tracing services. The Liaison Group noted that ‘so far the only official
Australian involvement has been funding through the Child Migrants Trust. Other
agencies are doing equally good work and offering professional services and it
is contended that the Commonwealth support for these services is both needed
Another problem identified was
the magnitude of the task in the UK and that little is held in Australia that
can be used to trace families. Tracing is often time consuming and difficult.
In the UK, much of the information of interest to child migrants is not
centralised. There is also a need for close liaison with the sending agencies
and with churches. It was suggested that funds should be made available to bona
fide agents to assist family tracing to expedite the work.
A further area of concern was
the physical state of records. Although much work has been done in identifying
the location of records, problems still remain in regard to the physical
records themselves: records are in poor condition; they are not indexed; and
they may be scattered across a number of agencies. Time and money is required
to rectify these problems.
C-BERS also identified other
gaps including that there is no ‘sending agency’ contact group in Malta and
there is no funding that would support professionals to learn from each other.
C-BERS stressed the importance
of the provision of choice of agencies for former child migrants and their
families. Some former child migrants will not approach the Christian Brothers
and others do not wish to use the Trust:
That is something that we, in Western Australia, and working
with the Family and Children’s Services and the other receiving agencies, have
been trying to ensure: that there is ample opportunity for choice for people in
accessing helpful instruments in tracing, like the personal history index or
the child migrant referral index, so that people can take the service that is
most appropriate to their needs.
A matter of deep concern to
many former child migrants was that access to records was still restricted and
that primary records are still held by agencies. It was argued that
there is need for open access to personal records by former child migrants or
their nominated professional representatives. The International Association
indicated that it wanted ‘the government to remove all records and documents
relating to former child migrants, which are currently held by the church and
charitable organisations, and place them with the Child Migrants Trust’. It
noted that church and charitable organisations ‘have the power to control the
release of these records and how the information within these records is
provided and interpreted. They have the power to withhold or hide information
and records if they are detrimental to the image they are now desperately
trying to portray.’
Members of the CMFS also noted
that many former child migrants would never travel back to their country of
birth and argued that all records which are the property of former child
migrants, held anywhere in Britain, should be copied and sent to appropriate
authorities in Australia.
C-BERS raised two further
important points with the Committee, first that there is no mechanism for
sharing information with eastern State Government departments; and secondly,
there is no integrated network of specialised service providers around the
In evidence, the work carried
out in Western Australia was held up as a model of what should be provided by
other States. The Western Australian Department for Family and Children’s
Services has provided a leadership role for non-government agencies and has
developed the Child Migrant Referral Index. The Index not only provides
information on access to the records of the 2,941 former child migrants who
came to Western Australia, but also contains vital information about British
sending agency and location of records currently held in Britain thereby
providing a comprehensive guide.
The Western Australian
Department suggested to the Committee that there was no reason why there should
not be a national index of every child migrant who came to Australia. However,
in evidence it was noted that there was a lack of response from some other
...I meet with my colleagues, heads of
departments in the area that I operate in around Australia on a regular basis.
On a regular basis I have the issue of former child migrants put on the agenda
and on a regular basis nothing happens. So I do not think that there is the
same enthusiasm and commitment in the other states to do something in this
area. I think some of them feel that the issue was not as large in their
states. I think some of them perhaps have taken advice from lawyers that this
could end up costing a fortune so why get involved. I do not know how it can be
For us, it was not difficult and it was not an expensive
exercise. The most difficult thing was making the decision to get the people
together. Once that happened...it did not cost a lot of money. In the other
states, I think basically the way it could best be achieved would be to get a
political commitment to do something in the other jurisdictions.
The South Australian Department
of Human Services supported a national index. The Department suggested that the
Community Services Ministers Advisory Committee would be the appropriate agency
to take up such an idea. Barnardos
also noted the need for a national index.
A national index was also supported by former child migrants as it would help
co-ordinate tracing. One former child migrant noted that while she was
searching for family, her brother, unbeknown to her, was using another agency
to do likewise.
Other initiatives to improve
the exchange of information and expertise have been developed. For example, the
Receiving Agencies Steering Committee has been established in Western
Australia. C-BERS informed the Committee that it had met with the Catholic
Migrant Centre and the Child Migrants Trust to develop guidelines to facilitate
as rapid as possible access to information and information sharing having
regard for client confidentiality. As a result of that meeting, draft protocols
had been developed for the exchange of information. C-BERS and the Trust also
exchange knowledge about the experience before, during and after a reunion trip
so that both services can provide better support for their clients.
In Britain, the Sending
Agencies Group was established in 1997 comprising of representatives of
Barnardos, CCWC, The Children’s Society, NCH, Catholic Children’s Society
(Westminster), Salvation Army, Fairbridge, Middlemore Homes, Fegan’s Child and
Family Welfare. This Group’s objectives include:
to provide a forum for the development and
professional good practice relating to work with former child migrants and
to share information on the keeping of records
and the use of information technology; and
to develop working relationships with other
agencies and organisations, both in the UK and overseas, currently involved in
working with former child migrants and their families.
Committee members met with
representatives of the Sending Agency Group in London. The Group submitted that
whilst its agencies had established contact with a number of organisations and
agencies, ‘we have been very aware that professional work in the field of child
migration has seen minimal sharing of professional practice and research’.
Other examples were provided to
the Committee of agencies co-operating in the development of databases and policy
and practice. There was also contact with other agencies to discuss individual
Access to records by families of child migrants
There was recognition by former
child migrants that the impact of the child migrant experience would not stop
There are as many effects on former child migrants as there are
former child migrants as each is an individual story with its own good and bad;
but what is now evident is that there were effects on each of us that will last
beyond our days...The ripple on the pond is travelling outwards and amplifying as
each person it touches raises questions and issues such as nationality,
identity, genetics and even inheritance rights that may shatter some families
and widen the effects.
The Committee received a number
of submissions from the families of former child migrants which highlighted the
importance of accessing records and the difficulties that many descendants have
experienced. One submitter stated:
...I’m sure I’m not the only first generation child enduring the
continuing problems of ascertaining information on behalf of deceased parents.
Please be mindful that there is a new generation of secondary effected people
coming up and need assistance also.
The restrictions on the
provision of information to only the child migrants themselves, for example the
Child Migrant Central Information Index, creates significant difficulties for
surviving children of deceased child migrants. Children of former child
migrants are unable to access social and medical history information which may
be of significant importance in identifying inherited medical problems.
Restricted access also hampers their search for surviving relatives. But as one
family member stated: ‘We have a side that just has been taken from us. We need
to be given help to piece together our family.’
The families of former child
migrants provided evidence of the difficulties that they have faced:
...the bureaucracy on many occasions stipulated that details would
only be released to the child migrant him or herself. Begrudgingly I have
managed to pierce this armour plating a couple of times, but even then I am
suspicious that I have received edited versions of documents.
I wrote many letters to organisations in the UK that one of them
would lend a hand in my search...But it seems there is a code of silence and as I
am only a daughter in Law I have no rights.
National Archives of Canada
During their visit to the
National Archives of Canada, the Committee members met Marie-Louise Perron,
Chief of the Genealogy and Personnel Records Section, and her staff who
described the initiatives they have taken in relation to the records of
Canadian child migrants - the Home Children.
The Committee was advised that
the National Archives maintained regular contact with agencies and individuals
interested in issues surrounding Home Children, and has participated with the
British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa in the development of
the Home Children Database.
Information likely to be of
interest about Home Children can be found in several types of National Archives
records. Government records include the passenger lists for the period 1865 to
1935 that constitute the official record of immigration to Canada in that
period. The names of child migrants who arrived in Canada can be searched in
some on-line databases in ArchiviaNet.
The Home Children Database
contains fields for data extraction determined by the nature of the records and
the details necessary to identify an individual and locate the actual passenger
list (eg name, age, sending agency, ship, arrival date and port, microfilm
reel). This Database is continually being updated and is the most valuable tool
for identifying the arrival information for Canadian Home Children.
The National Archives also
holds a number of other nominal indexes and lists relating to juvenile
immigration, with which staff can assist researchers trying to identify the
date of arrival and sending agency for a particular home child. Titles of files
relating to a particular Home or Agency can be searched in the Federal
Government records database. Like the passenger lists, these microfilm reels
may be viewed on- site or borrowed through inter-institutional loan.
The National Archives has
received microfilm copies of the records of a few sending agencies, however,
access is restricted by the donors due to the sensitive nature of the
information they contain. In those cases, National Archives staff refer
researchers to the organisation in the United Kingdom. An exception is the
microfilm copies of the Middlemore records, which are open to the public in
cases where the records are more than sixty-five years old.
Since most Canadian child
migrants already know their arrival information and the sending agency, they do
not need to contact the National Archives for a search for those details.
However, inquiries that are received from former child migrants themselves (as
opposed to inquiries received from descendants or relatives of child migrants)
are handled with more extensive research, as such individuals would be quite
elderly. Most inquiries are now from descendants and the National Archives
receives dozens of inquiries per month from the children, grand-children and
other relatives of home children who are working on their genealogy, a search of
relevant indexes is made and clients are advised on how to access unindexed
After the discussions, the
Committee was able to observe the accessing of detailed information and records
from the National Archives databases and was very impressed with the
technological capacity and simplicity with which such access could be achieved.
As noted in the previous section, access to records by families is becoming
increasingly important in Australia so the Committee considers that the
Canadian initiatives are particularly relevant for future action in Australia.
Although some former child
migrants were able to maintain contact with family and some were reunited after
migration to Australia, for a very large number of former child migrants this was
not the case. Agencies either did not know enough information to provide an
accurate identity for the child in their care or, for various reasons, chose to
break the links between family and the child migrant. Despite the 1945 Curtis
Report and changes to the attitudes of child care and the importance of the
role of families in Britain, there was little understanding at the time in
Australia, in receiving agencies and government organisations, for the
need to maintain links with family.
There was also a generally held
view that it was ‘better’ if child migrants had a new start and didn’t find out
about their backgrounds, particularly in the case of illegitimacy. Letters were
kept from children and child migrants were told (with malicious intent) that they
were orphans. Appalling inaccuracies and discrepancies in record keeping are
much evident: names were changed and birth dates were changed. Such practices
go far beyond the imperfect record keeping characteristic of the time. The
Committee considers that these practices amount to gross incompetence and lack
of duty of care.
These views and practices
impacted adversely on child migrants in two fundamental ways: first, because
they were told that they had no family or that their families did not care for
them they did not try to reunite with them until many years later; secondly,
some agencies for many decades clung to the view that child migrants were
better off not knowing their backgrounds and therefore offered little or no
assistance to former child migrants seeking records, again causing many to give
up their search in frustration.
While some organisations
recognised from the mid-1970s the need to assist children who had been in their
care, for example, Barnardos, many agencies did not do so until much later and
until they were forced to in the 1990s. By this time, child migrants were
ageing and their parents, if still living, were of a very advanced age. By this
time also, records had been destroyed or were missing or were damaged;
institutions were closed; and memories had faded.
These factors have added to the
complexity of searching for family. It is a time consuming and expensive
process but there have been successes. Organisations such as the Child Migrant
Trust have developed the expertise to find missing documents and to track down
families. There are many wonderful stories of reunions, but all too frequently
there are stories of sadness and despair of former child migrants having missed
the opportunity of reuniting with parents by a year, or only months.
We cannot overstate the
importance of satisfying this human need. The search for family is at the heart
of the provision of services for former child migrants. Without the knowledge
of family and where they come from, former child migrants have no sense of an
identity or where they belong. Without a birth certificate there are the
practical difficulties of obtaining a passport and citizenship and of proving
identity for other purposes. Without a birth certificate there is little hope
of identifying parents or family.
The Committee considers that
much has been done to assist former child migrants to find family, but time is
running out and much remains to be done. The expertise built up and the
knowledge gained must not be lost. The work already undertaken by NCVCCO in
Britain needs to continue and to be expanded so that greater use can be made of
the Child Migrant Central Information Index.
Recommendation 6: That the Commonwealth Government urge the
British Government to continue financial resources for the National Council of
Voluntary Child Care Organisations (NCVCCO) for the retention and expansion of
the Child Migrant Central Information Index.
The Committee acknowledges that
Victoria has developed a database to help retrieve files and that New South
Wales is establishing an index. However, the Committee considers that it is
imperative to establish databases with accurate and comprehensive information
about all former child migrants who came to this country. The Western
Australian Former Child Migrant Referral Index contains information from
receiving agencies and more importantly, information from sending agencies.
These need to be co-ordinated by the States so that the databases are
compatible and to ensure ease of access on a national basis.
Recommendation 7: That the Commonwealth
Government urge all State Governments to establish a comprehensive signposting
index similar to that established by the Western Australian Government.
Recommendation 8: That the
Commonwealth Government urge all State Governments to co-operate to establish a
national index of child migrants.
The Committee has also noted
that both New South Wales and Queensland Governments and the Catholic Church
have published directories to assist former residents of children’s
institutions to locate and access their records. The Committee considers that
all children who have been in residential care should be provided with such a
Recommendation 9: That the Commonwealth Government urge State
and Territory Governments to publish directories of information to assist all
former residents of children’s institutions to access records similar to the
directories published by the New South Wales and Queensland Governments.
The Committee considers that
there needs to be greater co-ordination between Governments and agencies, and
between agencies and between State Governments. There is a great need for all
organisations holding records relating to former child migrants and all
organisations involved in providing services for former child migrants to share
information on keeping records and the use of information technology and
develop protocols for accessing records and sharing information. The Committee
notes the work undertaken in Western Australia by the Receiving Agencies
Steering Committee and in Britain by the Sending Agencies Group in the
development of services for former child migrants. The Committee considers that
a national group should be established to provide a mechanism for the exchange
of ideas, to develop uniform protocols and to ensure as wide as possible access
to records. Such a group should also provide a forum for the coordination of
services for former child migrants.
Recommendation 10: The Committee recommends that a national
group of all receiving agencies, other relevant bodies and Commonwealth and
State Governments be established to develop uniform protocols for accessing
records and sharing information relevant to former child migrants, their
families and descendants and to coordinate services for former child migrants.
While the establishment of
indexes is of great benefit, it has to be remembered that these databases are
primarily signposting services, they do not contain records, rather they point
to the agency where the records are or should be. It is then up to the agency
to find the records and to release all information available to the former
child migrants, unconditionally and freely.
The National Archives of
Australia has provided a comprehensive guide to the records relating to child
migration that it holds. Many of these records are held in Canberra and former
child migrants have expressed concern about the difficulties of accessing these
documents. The Committee notes that the Archives has improved access by
digitising some of the records which relate to Catholic institutions. The
Committee considers that the program of digitising should be continued and
expanded so that all files relating to former child migrants are available on
the Archives RecordSearch service.
Recommendation 11: That the National Archives of Australia be
provided with sufficient funding to ensure continuation of the program of
digitising its records relating to child migration.
The Committee also considers
that the National Archives should liaise with the National Archives of Canada
in relation to the procedures implemented in Canada to facilitate access to
records for former child migrants and their descendants. During its visit to
Canada the Committee was very impressed with the work being undertaken to
improve access to records held by the National Archives of Canada.
Recommendation 12: That the National Archives of Australia
liaise with the Genealogy and Personnel Records Section of the National
Archives of Canada in relation to the technology, protocols, processes and
procedures the Canadians have implemented to facilitate access to their records
for former child migrants and their descendants.
It appears to the Committee
that there are greater problems in accessing information held in Britain than
in Australia. The records held in Australia do not always contain the necessary
information for a search - they are more likely to only contain information
about the child migrant from the time they arrived in Australia rather than
family history. On the spot searching in Britain is required, as well as the
co-operation of agencies holding records.
Recommendation 13: That the Commonwealth Government provide at
least three year funding to those agencies engaged in dedicated tracing in the
United Kingdom to assist former child migrants to locate their families, based
on applications by agencies undertaking that work.
From the evidence, the
Committee is aware that many agencies are now co-operating with both former
child migrants and their representatives to provide vital information. However,
the Committee is also aware that there are instances where co-operation is not
forthcoming and that there is still a reluctance to divulge all information
held on files. Sometimes this reluctance comes from a responsibility to a third
party and sometimes, unfortunately it is because of a fear that the former
child migrant will commence litigation.
The Committee considers that
organisations have an obligation to make all information available to former
child migrants. The Committee considers that no organisation has the right to
withhold information from former child migrants, or if the child migrant
is deceased their direct relatives or descendants, or any person who was in
their care because of fear of litigation. Such actions are unacceptable and
indeed, morally repugnant.
Recommendation 14: That all organisations holding records
pertaining to former child migrants make these records available to former
child migrants or their authorised representative immediately and
Many witnesses argued that
primary documents such as birth certificates should be returned to former child
migrants. The Committee considers that child migrants are entitled to receive
these documents and that all agencies that hold such documents should return
Recommendation 15: That where any organisation holds primary
documents, including birth certificates, relating to any living former child
migrant without their express permission, former child migrants be entitled to
recover that document from the holding organisation.
The Committee also considers
that greater regard should be given to the needs of the descendants of former
child migrants so that they to can access more information.
Recommendation 16: That all sending and receiving agencies be
required to extend access to their records to descendants of former child
Many witnesses raised questions
concerning citizenship. Some former child migrants believed that when they
arrived in Australia they automatically became Australian citizens. It was
therefore a great shock to find that they were not and that the process of
applying for citizenship was less than easy:
It was a very gruelling process for me because it took six
months for them to clear me. I was accused of being a criminal and I got no apology
whatsoever from the department concerned. I had to pay for the thing myself.
This was back in 1993. The way I feel was that to become an Australian citizen
should be the happiest day of your life-great, become an Australian citizen-but
personally I did not see it that way, the reasons being that I was kicked off
the roll because I was not an Australian citizen. As a child migrant I always
thought that I was automatically an Australian citizen, and I got the shock of
my life. I had just moved houses and the electoral roll people told me, ‘You’re
off the roll.’
The International Association
of Former Child Migrants and their Families expressed the view of many members:
We may have served in the Australian military and fought for
Australia in Korea or Vietnam, or both; but when we wanted to claim social
security benefits, we were told we were
aliens, and if we couldn’t prove how we arrived in Australia we would be
Some witnesses were bitter that
they now had to apply for Australian citizenship.
It wasn’t the money so much, but I did feel very degraded...I did
feel very sick about having to pay for something that I should have been
entitled to in any event.
Others indicated that they did
not wish to take out Australian citizenship with the CMFS noting that there was
‘a bit of animosity out there towards the past’.
The Committee’s attention was
drawn to the problems for overseas travel. One former child migrant commented
that obtaining a passport had proved to be a ‘nightmare’ for her:
The form I filled out could not provide the information required
and was told that a passport couldn’t be issued because I wasn’t an Australian
citizen so was sent to the British consulate at another location. More forms to
fill out but was told there that I did not have the right information but to
contact Canberra...after three weeks and more expense we got a British Passport
but could not re-enter Australia as we were required to get a re-entry visa...I
was tears in about this experience. This is what happens at most Government
Departments when requesting everyday forms, employees just don’t understand
that you don’t have the information required.
Other witnesses also
highlighted the problem of visas:
I cannot understand at the moment why people in their 60s, 70s,
80s and 90s who, for some unknown reason leave Australia and go for a trip or
come back, all of a sudden find out they have to ask for a visa because they
are not an Australian citizen. How can you tell someone who came here as a kid,
a three-year-old, who has been an orphan for 16 years and who has spent the
rest of his life in Australia-and probably even fought for Australia-that he is
not an Australian citizen?
The International Association
also provided the details of such a problem faced by one former child migrant,
who tried to return to Australia from New Zealand. He had served in the
Australian military but was told that he was not an Australian citizen and as
he had no visa could not re-enter Australia.
The then Minister for Immigration responded to the former child migrant that
his children living in Australia would have to sponsor him and ‘he could stay
in Australia for two years, and the Australian Government would then consider
him for citizenship’.
Some former child migrants may
have automatically become Australian citizens. Australian citizenship was
created by the Australian Citizenship Act
1948 on 26 January 1949. Before that date, people living in Australia were
either British subjects or aliens. Former British child migrants who had lived
in Australia for the five years to 25 January 1949 automatically became
Australian citizens on 26 January 1949. It is unlikely that child migrants who
came to Australia after 26 January 1944 were Australian citizens unless at
least one of their natural parents was an Australian citizen and/or the migrant
had formally acquired citizenship.
In its submission, the
Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs stated that ‘the
acquisition of citizenship is often equated with a sense of identity and those
child migrants who have sought Australian citizenship have received the full
support of the Australian Government’. Not only does the Government provide
information on citizenship and permanent resident issues specifically for
former child migrants, from November 1995, no fees were payable for the
granting of citizenship for those British child migrants who came to Australia
between 22 September 1947 and 31 December 1967 under the British Child Migrant
Scheme. There is also no fee for proof of residency in Australia.
The Department noted that it
has produced an information pamphlet in consultation with the Child Migrant
Trust to assist former child migrants applying for citizenship. Former child
migrants are directed to the Trust for assistance in locating evidence of their
sponsorship under the British Child Migration Scheme required with the
application for citizenship. The Trust advised the Committee that ‘this
significant improvement in the position of former child migrants is appreciated
especially by those who argue that neither they nor their parents had any real
choice over their status as immigrants’.
Some witnesses who had applied
for citizenship following the changes to procedures in November 1995 reported
that the process was now more straightforward. However, the Child Migrant
Friendship Society identified the need for more personal care from the
Department for those experiencing difficulties with paperwork.
Some former child migrants
suggested that Australian citizenship should be granted automatically to child
I have been in Australia over 50 years and I have to get a
visa to come back to Australia every time I go away. I have not got an
Australian passport, I am not an Australian citizen, I have done national
service. It is something that should have been given to us, we should not have
to apply for it.
May I recommend...a magnanimous gesture, which would cost the
Australian taxpayer nothing would be to give all former child migrants
automatic Australian citizenship.
Others, while supporting
automatic right to citizenship argued that there should be an opt-out provision
for those who did not wish to become Australian citizens.
The Department of Immigration
and Multicultural Affairs responded to these suggestions and noted that:
Generally speaking, there is a principle with citizenship that
governments have preferred people to apply for it on the understanding that
that is the way an individual indicates that they want it. Generally speaking,
Australian citizenship law has not automatically conferred citizenship on any
individual, particularly if you do not know the individual’s circumstances. Any
operation of law conferral of citizenship could actually adversely affect the
interests of a person who did not want it. As a general principle, it is not
normal for citizenship law to automatically confer citizenship. The approach
that was taken to former child migrants in the 1990s when this was raised was
to change the legislation so that there was no fee applicable. So child
migrants who wanted it had to indicate their intention to take out citizenship
and complete the necessary forms. But, unlike other applicants for citizenship,
there would be no fee.
The Committee considers that
for many child migrants the conferring of citizenship is a significant step in
regaining lost identity. Former child migrants have lived in Australia for many
years and contributed to the community and to society generally. They often
believed that they were automatically Australian citizens. Until 1984 those
born in the UK or Ireland could enrol and vote without becoming Australian
citizens. British migrants were also eligible to serve in Australia’s armed
Former child migrants were very
shocked and upset when they found that they were not Australian citizens. They
were bitter that they had to apply and, before November 1995, had to pay
citizenship fees. Many felt that this was extremely unfair, as they did not
have any choice in their status as immigrants.
In the past, lack of
documentation, such as birth certificates, has caused problems for former child
migrants applying for citizenship, passports and visas. Recognition by the
Commonwealth Government that former child migrants are a group who require
special assistance with citizenship applications has helped former child
migrants. However, the Committee considers that citizenship should be
automatically conferred on all former child migrants who so desire. Those who
do not wish to become Australian citizens should be able to decline the conferring
of citizenship. The Committee also considers that there needs to be special
recognition at the time that former child migrants become citizens and that
their unique position in the Australian community be should recognised through
a special ceremony.
Recommendation 17: The Committee recommends
that the Commonwealth Government:
confer automatic citizenship on all former child
migrants, with provision for those who do not wish to become Australian
citizens to decline automatic citizenship; and
that a special ceremony conferring citizenship
be conducted for former child migrants.