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Page last updated at 13:35 GMT, Friday, 29 January 2010
Child migrants' harrowing memories

Fairbridge Farm, Molong
The Dining Hall at Fairbridge Farm, Molong

BBC Radio Cornwall has learnt that the County Council sent unwanted children to Australia long after the practice had been discredited.

From the 1920s Britain transported children as young as four to countries like Australia and Canada.

Many of the children were abandoned or orphaned, but some still had a family.

Child migration is widely believed to have stopped in 1967, but BBC Radio Cornwall has found two brothers who were sent down under in 1970.

In a statement Cornwall Council says it "recognises that this may have been a difficult experience for some individuals and has offered counselling and support to anyone who has been affected." The full statement is written at the bottom of this feature.

In late February 2010 Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologised for the UK's role in sending more than 130,000 children to former colonies where many suffered abuse.

He expressed regret for the "misguided" Child Migrant Programme, telling the Commons he was "truly sorry".

He also announced a £6m fund to reunite families that were torn apart.

Click here to watch Gordon Brown's apology.

Rex Wade from St Columb Major near Newquay has paperwork to show he was sent out with his brother in 1970 when he was just 11.

Rex's paperwork proves he was sent to Australia in 1970.
Rex's paperwork proves he was sent to Australia in 1970.

The original idea behind child migration was simple - in the early 20th century politicians wanted to ensure that British colonies like Australia, Canada, Rhodesia and South Africa had "good white stock" to keep the Empire going.

What better way they thought then sending unwanted and orphaned children to grow up and be educated in the colonies?

But tales of brutality in Australia at the time are now rife. In 2009 the Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, publicly apologised to the thousands of people who suffered as a result.

He said: "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.

"We look back with shame that so many of you were left cold, hungry and alone, and with nowhere to hide and no body to turn to."

Rex Wade and his younger brother went to Tresca - a Fairbridge Society home in Tasmania.

Rex Wade
He'd throw things at you like a stone or a shovel
Child migrant, Rex Wade

Fairbridge Society homes and farm schools were seen as a way of offering a new life to children like Rex and his brother whose mother couldn't cope after the death of their father.

On the farms hundreds of children were split into "cottages", much like dormitories. There was a "cottage mother" in each residential unit and a Principal in charge of the whole site.

The children were put to work on the farm, doing everything from making bread and milking cows, to collecting firewood to heat the water and doing the laundry.

Some attended lessons at local schools, but many were sent to work full time on the farm as soon as they reached 14 and were therefore deprived of a full education.

Rex Wade recalls the regular beatings they suffered at the hands of the couple who ran the home in Tasmania: "If the grass wasn't cut in a certain way you'd be punished for it and he'd throw things at you like a stone or a shovel until it was done right."

Former child migrants from Cornwall
Billy King, Brian North, David Eva and Paul Ellis.

All of the former child migrants BBC Radio Cornwall interviewed said they were beaten. These allegations of abuse do not relate to the charity Fairbridge which works with disadvantaged children in the UK.

Brian North was born in Redruth and was sent to Fairbridge Farm in Molong in New South Wales. Now at the age of 64 he still remembers what he was told about his new life in Australia:

"We were told we'd get a good education, that basically it was the land of milk and honey, we'd get good pay, good money, get a good education, we'd get treated like a family but it wasn't like that.

"We never ever got that, we never got hugs or kisses or anything."

Paul Ellis was born in Camborne, he was sent to Australia with his sister, Jan and another brother, in 1954. He was told he would ride horses to school: "It was sort of made out to be like a fantasy land, you thought, yeah we'll go, this sounds great. Big difference when you got there of course."

Cheap labour

Jan Barby
Jan Barby at Fairbridge Farm, Molong, Jan 2010.

He says he received regular beatings: "The bad part was that we were cheap labour, we got belted enough times, anyone that worked there could clout you. The cottage mother would hit you and report you to the principal and he'd cane you as well."

Paul's mother died at just 27. He and his sister, Jan, were sent to Australia when it became clear that their father couldn't cope on his own.

Jan says she was sexually abused at Fairbridge Farm at Molong: "To think that these people have done this to me and nothing's ever happened to them makes me angry."

She says that when she told the "cottage mother" she was beaten, and was then also punished by the principal "for telling lies."

BBC Radio Cornwall interviews

BBC Radio Cornwall's Denis Nightingale went to Australia in January 2010 to meet some of the Cornish child migrants still living there.

Hear Denis Nightingale's reports in full

Cornwall County Council was one of the organisations sending "unwanted children" to Australia in the '50s and '60s.

Many experts believe the practice stopped in 1967 but Cornwall County Council continued to send children down under until at least 1970.

County Council statement

In a statement Cornwall Council says: "This is a sad and highly emotive chapter in the country's history. The policy of trying to give children a better quality of life in one of the Commonwealth countries was one which was set nationally.

"This policy was in operation more than 50 years ago. Modern day practices, which are set out in legislation and overseen by the courts, would not use this as an option for children in the care of local authorities.

"The Council recognises that this may have been a difficult experience for some individuals and has offered counselling and support to anyone who has been affected. As this is a national issue, the Council will be liaising with both the UK Government and with other local authorities to consider any further action which needs to be taken."

Gallery of photographs

Some of Denis Nightingale's photographs from his trip to Australia can be seen by clicking here

Cornwall's forgotten Children
29 Jan 10 |  History
In Pictures: Forgotten Children
29 Jan 10 |  History
Rudd's apology to the 'Forgotten'
16 Nov 09 |  Asia-Pacific
'Forgotten' react to Rudd apology
16 Nov 09 |  Asia-Pacific
Australian migrant 'hell hole'
16 Nov 09 |  Today



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