National Apologies

Many of the former child migrants at Fairbridge Farm, Molong, now aged in their 60s and 70s, are talking for the first time about their experiences. A number of them speak of loneliness, poor food and limited education, while others talk more fondly about their time at Fairbridge. Disturbingly, more than half of 39 oral histories recorded by David Hill and the Fairbridge Heritage Association Inc for the book The Forgotten Children, mention child abuse. These children were part of a larger group who were sent to organisations and locations across Australia and other nations within the British Empire and from whom similar stories have now been documented.

On 23 June 2005, the NSW Government issued an apology to the child migrants and their families who had suffered as a result of their time spent in institutions. On 19 September 2009, hundreds of Australians gathered in Sydney’s Botanic Gardens to receive an apology by NSW Premier, Nathan Rees.  Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd made a formal apology in the Federal Parliament to the ‘Forgotten Australians’ on 16 November 2009. The audience in Parliament House included former Fairbridgian’s. Kevin Rudd acknowledged the 500,000 people, including more than 7,000 former British child migrants, who were part of the apology. He noted the reported instances of neglect and abuse that occurred during time spent in government institutions, church organisations, orphanages, homes or foster care. He said:

“…We come together today to offer our nation’s apology. To say to you, the Forgotten Australians, and those who were sent to our shores as children without your consent, that we are sorry. Sorry – that as children you were taken from your families and placed in institutions where so often you were abused. Sorry – for the physical suffering, the emotional starvation and the cold absence of love, of tenderness, of care. Sorry – for the tragedy, the absolute tragedy, of childhoods lost; childhoods spent instead in austere and authoritarian places, where names were replaced by numbers; spontaneous play by regimented routine; the joy of learning by the repetitive drudgery of menial work… today let us now go forward together, go forward with confidence; go forward with confidence into the future – as equal, as valued and as precious members of this one great family that we call Australia.”

On 24 February 2010, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown offered a formal apology to child migrants in the House of CommonsHe said:

“In too many cases vulnerable children suffered unrelenting hardship and their families left behind were devastated…We are sorry they were allowed to be sent away when at their most vulnerable…We are sorry that instead of caring for them, this country turned its back…We are sorry that the voices of these children were not always heard, their cries for help not always heeded…… We cannot change history but I believe that by confronting the failings of the past we can show we are determined to do all we can to heal the wounds.”

Read a selection of 10 oral histories recorded by the Fairbridge Heritage Association Inc »