Apology for lost childhoods: Australian PM says sorry to migrant victims

By the time the Australian prime minister uttered the word 'sorry' for the 'great evil' that had been done, the tears were flowing.

Memories of the cruelty flooded back among British survivors of the child migrant scandal that began 70 years ago.

Up to 10,000 British children were torn from their homes, snatched from schools and told that their parents had died or did not want them, and then transported to the other side of the world to boost 'white stock' in Australia.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd comforts a victim after giving a national apology to the forgotten Australians and former child migrants

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd comforts a victim after giving a national apology to the forgotten Australians and former child migrants

'It was a lie,' said former child migrant Harold Haig as he stood among other weeping adults who had begun their lives in the UK but were to be subjected to horrendous sexual and physical abuse at the hands of foster parents and teachers.

'It was not until many years later that we learned the truth,' added Mr Haig. 'By then, our childhood had gone.'

The Child Migrant Programme, which ended 40 years ago, was intended to provide disadvantaged children with a new start - but also to supply the British Empire with sturdy white workers.

However, many children suffered abuse in institutions or were sent to work as farm labourers.

Prime minister Kevin Rudd and opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull recognised the deceit and cruel treatment yesterday when they issued apologies to the 'forgotten generation' - the British youngsters and up to half a million Australian children who suffered in a similar way.

Mr Rudd spoke of the 'evil' of those days, while Mr Turnbull choked on his words with tears running down his face as he said he understood the horrors the children had experienced.

Mac cartoon.jpg

In Parliament's Great Hall in Canberra, where 1,000 former child sufferers had gathered, Mr Rudd 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 their consent, that we are sorry. Sorry for the tragedy, the absolute tragedy, of childhoods lost.'

Rod Braydon, 65, said he was raped at the age of six by a Salvation Army officer on his first night in a boys' home in the city of Melbourne.

'When we reported this as kids, we were flogged to within an inch of our lives, locked up in dungeons and isolation cells,' said Mr Braydon.

Authorities claimed at the time to be acting in the children's best interests, but the migration was intended to stop them from being a burden on the state.

A British parliamentary inquiry in 1998 noted 'a further motive was racist - the importation of "good white stock" was seen as a desirable policy objective in the developing British colonies'.

Dorothy Chernikov, now 72, said it was not until she was 52 that she was finally reunited with the four brothers and four sisters she had been separated from.

She said she was 'over the moon' that the mental ordeal that she and others had suffered had finally been recognised.

'I've been waiting for years for this,' she said.

No comments have so far been submitted. Why not be the first to send us your thoughts, or debate this issue live on our message boards.

We are no longer accepting comments on this article.

Who is this week's top commenter? Find out now