Through children's eyes

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Dutch migrants Bill and Baz Bobeldyk arrive at Kelso railway station, March 1951.

Photo courtesy Henny Bobeldyk

Of all the migrants who endured hardship during World War ll and its aftermath, it was the children who were the most confused and the most likely to succumb to malnutrition and illness. War, deprivation and displacement took their toll on children although many were too young to realise what was happening. This led to confusion, even to the point of not knowing to this day where exactly they spent their childhood in the myriad of forced labour camps during the war, and afterwards as they were moved from one displaced persons' camp to another in Germany, Austria and Italy. Yet children offered hope to their parents, and many who settled in Orange performed extremely well at school, forged impressive careers and made a success of their lives.

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Class at Cowra Migrant Camp School, 1951: Alfreda Madziala (now Srnec) second left in middle row.

Photo coutesy Alfreda Srnec

Once in Australia, children had quickly to come to terms with their new country and a new language. Mostly they learnt English quickly but often, especially in the migrant camps, they spoke among themselves a pastiche of up to a dozen languages. Alfreda Srnec recalls the way children communicated at the Cowra migrant camp:

"There were many nationalities in Cowra and we as children learnt every language that was spoken. I was able to speak Polish, German, Russian, Ukrainian. As children we just all spoke each other's language and we knew exactly wh at the others were saying."

- Alfreda Srnec

fairbridge farm

Many child migrants learnt about Australian rural life through their time at Fairbridge Farm School near Molong. The movement was started in Western Australia by Kingsley Fairbridge in 1911 and the Molong farm school was opened in 1937. Usually orphans or the children of poor parents, they were taken from England at a young age with a view to giving them a healthy life and training in farm or domestic work so they would find employment as adults. Children continued to be sent in the 1940s and 50s but this type of child migration gradually decreased. Some children thrived and remember fondly their years at Fairbridge, while many found the strict discipline and separation from their real families hard to bear.

For a comprehensive history of the Fairbridge Farm School order The Forgotten Children - Fairbridge Farm School And Its Betrayal Of Australia's Child Migrants by David Hill.
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