Page last updated at 17:10 GMT, Monday, 16 November 2009

Australian apology 'long time coming'

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has apologised to the hundreds of thousands of people, some of whom were British migrants, who were abused or neglected in state care as children.

Here, two migrant children sent to Australia, tell the stories of their lost childhoods.


In 1965 myself along with eight other children were sent to Australia through Dr Barnardos homes. We were the last group to be flown out. They sold us the story of constant sunshine and it felt like we are going on a holiday.
Tony Diamond

On arrival we were all split up and sent in different directions. I was separated from my brother and sent to a farm in New South Wales, miles from anywhere and I couldn't understand why.

Our parents agreed, they signed for us to go. They kind of didn't want us there. But that's another story.

When we arrived, the only thing they were interested in was whether we are in good health. No wonder why - we were used as cheap labour.

I was put in a farm in the middle of nowhere, had to get up at 4 every morning, milk the cows and do all sorts of jobs. I was allowed to go to town only once a week with some pocket money.

I ran away form the farm and made it to to Sydney. Then I went to New Zealand, got caught for illegal entry and put into a prison. Eventually, I made my way back to the UK.

Britain can't pretend not to be part of this - the whole thing started here

Whatever happens to you at an early age stays with you for the rest of your life. My wife had to put up with me all these years. She is a good wife.

My way of surviving it - and getting rid of the ghosts - was to write about my experience. My book "Pebble on the beach" was published over 23 years ago. Back then nobody believed that I was telling the truth.

This story wasn't out, everything was swept under the carpet, it didn't exist.

Over the last few years I decided to track down the others from our group and see what happened with them. Most of their stories are very sad to say the least. I've written them up for my website.

Kevin Rudd's apology was very important and it's been long time coming.

Lots of money was made from our work, we were used to populate the country. They only wanted white children, they didn't want anyone else, so they turned to children's homes in Britain.

An apology from Gordon Brown would be very nice, but I doubt it will happen. Britain can't pretend not to be part of this - the whole thing started here.

Children departing for Australia in 1951
Many of the children were sent without their parents' consent

I was sent to Australia in 1951 at the age of 15. I was only too pleased to get away from Britain. No love is lost between me and Britain.

My father kicked my mum out of the house when I was three. He got together with my mum's sister. My mum couldn't take us with her, so me, my two sisters and a brother stayed with our father. He used to beat us all the time.

Eventually all four of us were sent to a children's home. Although we were all in that place, we were separated and we weren't allowed to see each other. Mum wasn't allowed to visit us and we were told never to try to make contact with her. I never saw her after that.

The situation back then in that home is not far off what Charles Dickens describes in his books. Those women working there - they were heartless. Not being able to see mum was the most difficult thing.

'No love'

I was very happy to go, although it meant that I'm leaving my siblings for ever. Going to Australia was my escape from that place. I hated it, it was like a prison.

Sandra Anker, another 'forgotten Australian', says she was deprived of her rights as a British citizen

I spent 12 months in a Barnado's home in Australia. After that they got me work and I was under their jurisdiction for the next seven years. I used to work in farms in New South Wales, looking after sheep and cattle.

They weren't family, put it that way. It was pretty regimented and there was no love at all. So you can hardly talk about happiness. I was there to work and that's it. But I never had any regrets.

I've still got my British passport. I would have liked an Australian passport, but I never got one despite doing my national service for Australia.

I swore I would never go back to Britain. I would have liked to see my mum, but I found out recently that she passed away. I've also recently discovered that she had two more children. I've been in touch with one of them, a sister, who lives in California.

She was over in Britain just recently and she visited my sisters. Mum died before I could even talk to her.

My regret is that our family was broken up and no apology will ever be able to reverse that.

It's immaterial for me whether I get an apology from Gordon Brown or not. I am more interested in the apology that the Australian prime minister has given - not for me, but for the young ones who have suffered. I love Australia, that's where I became free.


I first discovered about my half sister Margaret eight years ago. She was my father's daughter but was mothered by his first wife after their marriage had broken down. My father was a Protestant living in England while his first wife was a Catholic woman from Belfast.

The baby girl was taken to a Catholic home in Northern Ireland although her mother would not have wanted her to go there: I think it was the only way for her to survive as a single mother.

When Margaret was seven, she was shipped over to Australia. Because she was a timid child, she kept out of trouble and didn't suffer much abuse, although she was definitely traumatised. She was told that she was an orphan and was very lonely. She left the home when she was 16 and despite being an intelligent woman, she was poorly educated and did odd kitchen jobs across the country. Eight years ago, she found the courage to contact a trust who helped her get in touch.

Migrant children have bonded because only they know what they've been through

The government paid for her to fly over and visit us in the UK. Seeing her was wonderful - she's an incredibly lovely woman and I don't know how, but she doesn't seem to be bitter. The government might give her some compensation, but because she's been working as an administrator for the Catholic Church, she doesn't want to ask them for compensation.

I'm flying over to visit her over the Christmas holidays and I really can't wait. I think it's absolutely appalling how children were sent to Australia mainly I believe to increase 'white stock'. I've met lots of grown up migrant children in the last years and they all stick together: they've bonded because only they know what they've been through.

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