Inside Children’s Homes forum panel discussion
Frank Golding, Bonney Djuric, Derek Moriarty, Caroline Carroll and Adele Chynoweth, 14 February 2012
ADELE CHYNOWETH: Welcome back everybody.
JAY ARTHUR: As Adele said, welcome back and shortly we will begin our forum. Adele will introduce our four distinguished panellists who will be talking firstly about their own experience, which will then lead into a discussion. Welcome everybody.
ADELE CHYNOWETH: Thank you, Jay. We have a very special group of speakers who have had experiences in children’s homes or institutions. I would like to introduce you to Frank Golding, who has been an activist for care leaver rights since the 1990s and an active member of CLAN, the Care Leavers of Australia Network, since its inception. He has written a book An Orphan’s Escape: Memories of a lost childhood. Frank has a whole range of accomplishments but if I may pass you over to Frank because I think he’s the best to talk about his experiences.
FRANK GOLDING: I come and sit before you as a convicted person - in fact a repeat offender no less. I come from a family of convicted persons actually. Two of my mother’s sisters were also criminals, and before them their grandfather too was convicted of a crime. The thing we all have common is that we were all children at the time of our convictions. Joanna gave you a bit of an introduction to the system this morning. That is a feature that is very much imprinted in my mind and a lot of my fellows’ minds that we were charged with crimes before the courts before we were made wards of the state.
On the first occasion, when I was two and a half, I was committed as a ward of the state of Victoria and my offence was that under the Children’s Welfare Act my father had fallen four weeks in arrears of his maintenance payments. Under that act, that automatically led you to become a ward of the state. These days we call it mandatory detention, don’t we? After a little while, my brother and I were released on ‘probation’ and that is the term in my personal record file. Again, the use of penal language is very common in the children’s welfare system.
On the second occasion I faced a court I was four and a half, and that offence under the Children’s Welfare Act was that ‘I was without sufficient means’. That means that I was poor, I was a vagrant and whatever meaning you want to attach to a four and a half year old having not sufficient means.
Before that, back in 1865, my mother’s grandfather appeared before the Ballarat magistrates at age 11 charged with the offence of being a neglected child. He was found playing on the streets. This was before the Education Act made attendance at school compulsory. So they locked him up for four years on a prison ship moored off Williamstown. He absconded twice. It wasn’t a great place to be with 300 other boys on a training ship. So he got a further year at Sunbury and Bayswater reformatories in Victoria.
My mother seems to have escaped the fate of her three sisters. Two of them were made wards of the state. Jean was adopted and Minnie was placed in the care of the Ballarat orphanage where I grew up - I didn’t know this at the time. Later when she was pregnant she was placed in the convent. The baby was taken away and adopted out, as was the practice in those days, and we have never seen the baby or my auntie ever since.
A third sister, Joyce, was also placed in the Ballarat orphanage where she died at the age of 12. She was buried in a common graveyard without the parents being notified, no press release and the undertaker was the father of the orphanage superintendent. It was all very neat and tidy. A couple of years ago we managed to erect a proper nameplate, a plaque for the 26 children, including my auntie, who were buried in the common grave. Up until then they had no names, it was just simply ‘Ballarat orphan asylum’. The atmosphere clearly was very negative, very much controlled and very much an extension of the criminal system.
As for my conviction of having insufficient means, there are really two parts of every former ward’s stories: the experience they had as children in the institutions; but also the back story which they often didn’t get, as in my case, until I was in my mid-fifties through finding the records which told the story. It’s still a convoluted process these days to actually try to find the back story which explains why you were put in care.
My parents actually got their act together and had sufficient means but it was a further five or six years after they made petitions to get us out that we were finally able to go home. But it was not because of the kindness or sensitivity of the authorities, it was a sheer fluke. I somehow or other find myself winning a scholarship to go to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. A ward of the state was not allowed to go out of the state let alone go out of the country, but there had been such a fuss because the Herald Sun newspaper in Victoria had sponsored this program that there was no way other than to let me go. But to let me go meant that I had to be released from my wardship.
When I came home the orphanage people and my parents were both at the wharf to greet me and I was given the choice - some choice. The orphanage had written to the welfare department shortly before this all happened, and I only found this out in the last ten years or so, saying ‘Father and mother now living in Ballarat and are always in touch with him - too much, rather a nuisance’ - double underlined in the original in somebody’s handwriting. The parents are in contact with the children, that’s too much and a nuisance - nuisance for whom. You would have thought that the interests of the child were front and centre in these matters but clearly, as Joanna has pointed out, that is not the case, and in my own case it was clear that the interests of the child would come second to another interest.
This was a note I found from the child welfare department about my education. I was coming up for year 10 and I was turning 15. My two brothers had already turned 15 and they were sent out to work, one on a farm and the one to a trade, neither of which was their choice - and that was clearly my fate too. The welfare department wrote:
In other words, we must make sure that these terrible parents don’t get any benefit out of the boys’ education, certainly not at the expense of the state. The irony is that I was marked to go, as my brothers were, to leave school at that year. But when I got back to my parents at the age of 15, the message was very loud and clear: you will go to school; you will continue to be at school; you will go as far as you possibly can - and they made sure I did. I went to teachers college. It was very helpful to have education department scholarships in those days, to university after that and became a teacher and then subsequently a school principal and so on. I had a remarkably successful career in my terms. But if I hadn’t gone back to my parents, I would have followed my two brothers’ career into unskilled labour.
The welfare system was clearly intent on punishing unworthy parents, not letting them get any sort of advantage from the system. That really leads me up to the forum today. That is by way of background to my incarceration as a state ward.
My parents would not talk to me about this story at all. It was clear that they were not proud of what had happened and they didn’t want to discuss the matter. So it became a closed book until I was in my mid-50s when I was told there were ward records and I could get the file which would tell the story. I was absolutely amazed at what was there, but perhaps even more amazed at what they didn’t want me to have: the number of whiteouts, censorship because it mentioned people like my mother.
She only wrote to the welfare department once in all that time. My father did the writing. My mother wrote once. I wasn’t allowed to have the whole letter because it mentioned someone else, and that someone else was my brother. When I got the letter after years of petitioning for it, it was such a letdown. It just told me something we had already known about, and in fact I had written about in the book The Orphan’s Escape. If only they had read the book, they would see that I knew the events covered in the letter. It was absolutely unbelievable the effort to which people have gone to refuse you access to the full story. It’s only through perseverance and doggedness that I have actually got that full story - not in its entirety but I have most of the story.
The fact that they will white out things where it mentioned somebody else’s name seems to me to be absurd, because you grew up with those people. In most cases the whiteouts were about my parents. I needed to understand what my parents were up to for me to understand my story. I will hand over now.
ADELE CHYNOWETH: Thank you, Frank. [applause] Frank’s very powerful narrative is emphasising the importance of perhaps how bureaucratic abuse may be continued with the struggle to find one’s own personal narrative. Here we are discovering a sociological narrative, while those who were in homes and institutions are struggling to piece together their own personal narrative. That is part of the current history, the present.
I would now like to introduce Caroline Carroll, who is the Records and Reunions Coordinator at Open Place, the Victorian service for Forgotten Australians. Caroline herself is a Forgotten Australian, and now she works to support other Forgotten Australians. She is the chair of the Alliance for Forgotten Australians. Again, Caroline has many personal and professional achievements. It is with pleasure that I introduce you to Caroline Carroll.
CAROLINE CARROLL: I grew up in institutional care. I was 14 months old when I was placed, taken and put into an orphanage. I was one of eight children. Until last year I had met one of my siblings. Last year I met another two. Trying to build a life or a relationship with siblings that you have nothing in common with is very difficult.
I had six different institutions and five different foster placements in my 15 years while I was in care. I don’t ever remember asking why this was happening to me, why I lived like this. I don’t think I knew that there was any other way to live. Just before I turned 15, I was old enough at 15 to be kicked out and look after myself, this man walked down the path where we were gardening. When he asked for me, I nearly fell over. I had never had a visitor the whole time I had been in care, and it turned out he was my brother. Two weeks later my parents came to meet me. Again I had never met them, hadn’t asked about them, didn’t know anything about them. I was told to kiss them hello and go and sit in the garden. I have often said that I don’t know who was more relieved, them or me, when the hour was up and they could leave.
I have had no ongoing relationship with my parents or with that brother. I am struggling to reunite with the sister and brother that I have just met. My brother is in his 70s, my sister is in her 60s and I am heading that way too - am not telling you how old I am. It’s difficult.
What I would really like to talk about is where the apology stands in a true process of reconciliation. For me, acknowledgement and apology are a vital beginning for any healing process. They are not enough by themselves but they are an essential start. This really happened to you. We are sorry for our part in it. After an apology, what? There is a view that we should now move on. We have all said sorry, now get over it. But until people see that you are following up with actual reparation, money, free health care, or something that will start to fix our lives, they can’t quite believe you mean it.
Like most victims of cruelty, we find it hard to forgive. We are a pretty isolated bunch of people, despite our common experiences. Childhood trauma leads to confusion and to self-blame. At the apology a lot of us came out of the punishment cupboard under the institutional stairs, but many more remain isolated unwilling to accept the apology while their own lives haven’t improved at all as a result of it. The vital next step towards reconciliation is reparation. There have been some moves to put the wrongs right. Some states have paid redress. Mine hasn’t. Some states make personal grants for health crises and appliances. Others supply only counselling. Services are very uneven, although the Find and Connect Project will bring more national access. But why are these things not seen as our right?
Another point - while the government made an honest apology, it has been marred by the continuing ignorance of the broader Australian population of the fact that the majority of us even existed. ‘Oh yes,’ they say when I tell them where I work, ‘that’s those kids who came from England or that’s the stolen generation.’ We go on having to explain, ‘Yes, there were child migrants and there were Aboriginal people, but there were also over 400,000 children who don’t fit either of those categories and remain largely unseen’.
This wonderful exhibition is an important tool for explaining the whole truth, and I still have hopes that will it travel and be seen widely. I also hope records and photos are being kept for a souvenir booklet or catalogue before it is packed up on 27 February. These are our lives and these are our stories - and they must continue to be told. Thank you. [applause]
ADELE CHYNOWETH: Thank you, Caroline, and needless to say a very important awareness for us on the current challenges for Forgotten Australians which do not end when children leave the home.
With pleasure I introduce you to our next speaker, and she is the reason that I am wearing purple today. If you don’t like the couture, you can blame her. I am also wearing the badge that she kindly gave me at the tenth anniversary of the Care Leavers of Australia Network, which is the badge for the Female Factory Precinct Action Group with the purple hand saying ‘hands off our heritage’. I wear it with pride. I can let her explain the importance of purple and the importance of the Female Factory Precinct Action Group as well as her other experiences and achievements. I introduce you to Bonnie Djuric.
BONNIE DJURIC: Thank you, Adele. I want to start with the beginning of my journey until today. It started in 2000 when in that year I had two sisters die within six months of each other. One of my sisters was a single parent of three children, and in that situation she really anticipated her death. She had been in care herself as a child and had a lot of unresolved issues. She had problems with drug addiction, drinking and that sort of thing. I would get these 3 o’clock in the morning phone calls when she was having a binge saying, ‘Bonnie, if anything happens to me, will you take my children? Will you look after my children?’ So anyway the day came and I did, I took the three children, twins and a boy, all under 10 years of age. It was like a second family for me because my children were quite a bit older.
What happened from that point was something I had never expected. All of a sudden I entered a new territory. I had become a foster mother, and this triggered memories of my mother’s experience because my mother was a foster child. She had been in care from the age of three to around 13. She would not talk about her childhood only to say things like, ‘Auntie Hilda, she was such a cold woman, and I never got on with her,’ and things like that. What eventuated was that I became the substitute foster mother that my mother worked out all her issues with. You can imagine how difficult the situation was.
It really forced me to start looking at what was really going on. There is a family dynamic going on, there is a legacy and Frank has touched on the intergenerational legacy that we have. I started first to explore these ideas through my art practice. I was studying at the time. Then the next step was actually going back to Parramatta Girls Home and confronting that place and actually looking at the building and the site, which I did frequently. It was almost like a morbid fascination with this place.
As time past I started to understand a little bit about the history. There were clues that I started with. One of the things I remembered - as you can imagine within an institution, children will talk and stories will be told and we would often hear stories of headless nuns or the sound of babies crying at night-time. Of course, Parramatta Girls Home was a state-run institution so there were no nuns and there were certainly no babies there at that time. But this myth, if you like, had some truth in it when I found out that the actual building was built in 1841 as Australia’s first government-owned orphanage for Catholic children of convict parentage.
The next step that led me to was the boundary wall, because the home is completely confined within a very high perimeter wall. Next door was what I had always thought of as Parramatta Psychiatric Centre. As the story or the journey unfolded, I came to realise that that was Australia’s first female convict female factory - essentially the first women’s refuge in Australia. At that point I started to realise how the female factory has such a significant history. Around 9,000 women passed through that place, and a large percentage of the first generations of Australians were born there. Yet that place is neglected. No-one knows its history, it’s obscured, it’s hidden.
So I thought if that history, which is so significant to us as Australians, is ignored, what on earth is going to happen to this home which is even more marginalised? It has its own legacy of shame. That’s when I began campaigning for the preservation and the designation of both the female factory, which is the mother, and the Parramatta Girls Home or the orphanage, which is the child, as a precinct that represents a family history, a history of separation - first the convict women being separated from their families in England, and then, when they are taken into the factory, their children are removed from them. So this was the place where the first forced removal of children occurred in Australia, then the orphanage and later on turning into an industrial school or girls home. It has this tremendous history that touches so many generations right to today. Until very recently what was the Parramatta Girls Home has been operating as a women’s prison. We are basically looking at around 200 years of incarceration of women and children at one site. It’s really quite tremendous.
The purple hand signifies both black or Aboriginal women and white women. It is the unity because when you were in an institution there really wasn’t any differentiation between you and an Aboriginal girl. You were all equally treated just as badly if you like. So it was a great leveller in a way. Of course the site itself has traditional connections to the Burramattagal people, and according to some traditional stories it was once a sacred women’s site. It has so many layers of history.
The journey has gone on from there and I have started to ask what the apology meant. I have come up with this: really an apology is about redemption and recovery, it is not really about remembering. That is why this museum is important because it’s a place where the stories can be told and that history can be put on display. Of course, there are downsides to a museum. They do keep records of the numbers of people who visit the exhibitions, but they don’t know about how much time is spent with the exhibits or the display, and they don’t know what people witness when they come to the museum, how it changes their lives and how it affects them. That would be very interesting to know, too.
I appreciate there have been some financial constraints in putting on this exhibition. I really do appreciate and commend the Museum for doing such an excellent job of putting together the exhibition. But I also wonder what will happen once the exhibition closes. I understand there is some interest in an travelling exhibition which will be great, but at the end of the day all of that is either returned to the people or boxed up. And what happens then? Is it forgotten again? That is something that really concerns me because we need to keep this story alive.
These days we have a great deal of interest in sites of memory, and this is a worldwide movement, which has been particularly driven by the events of September 11. What people know about sites or places of memory is that they can change people’s perception of time. They are places where the past and the present intermingle, and really you can’t get that in a museum. It is only an experience that you can experience in that place, in that location.
One of the things I have seen over the years at on-site reunions and so forth is this sort of connection that people who were once in those institutions have with these sites. There is a real dynamic that goes on. It’s quite intangible. It’s like a personal struggle. I guess if you want to use a metaphor, it is like someone coming out of an isolation ward, opening the door and coming into freedom in a way. It’s a very powerful moment. It takes a lot of courage for people to revisit the sites, but in most cases it does help people resolve some of their experiences.
My great passion, as I have touched upon, is campaigning for the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct, which, as I said, encompasses the convict female factory, the girls home and the orphanage, as a memorial site to care leavers which can then be visited and experienced. You can go in. I think Joanna or somebody raised the issue of you can’t know what it was like in a dormitory, you can’t know these things. So if some areas set up which could show that experience, I think that would be a wonderful thing in reaching out to people, particularly children, as part of this education package to really understand what went on. I will leave it with you now to imagine if like Port Arthur - I imagine all of you would know Port Arthur - what would happen if developers came along, the site was sold off, everything was boxed up and then put in the museum - think about what would be lost. That’s a question I will leave you to ponder. Thank you.
ADELE CHYNOWETH: Thank you, Bonnie, for such an insightful commentary on the importance of heritage with not just challenges and opportunities posed for our own National Museum in terms of permanency of this history but also the importance of sites. Some really important questions. I am really grateful for that. Thank you so much.
It is with great pleasure that I introduce Derek Moriarty or Sharkie, as he prefers to be called, who is the current President of the Old Fairbridgians Association, Molong. Sharkie is best placed to talk more about the Fairbridge scheme, his work as President of the Old Fairbridgians Association and his experience as a child migrant. Thank you, Sharkie. Welcome.
DEREK MORIARTY: Thank you Adele. I will make a couple of apologies before I start. If I look nervous and sound nervous, you’re right, I am; if I swear, pull me up; and if I get emotional, join me. Having said that, Adele has already touched on my name ‘Sharkie’. My folks when I was born called me Derek and my friends in 1971 when I was playing football with a local team in the Wollongong area nicknamed me Sharkie. I now introduce myself wherever I go as Sharkie for a number of different reasons.
I was born in Chelsea, London on 23 June 1943, the second of three illegitimate children from a relationship between my father and my mother, who had met in a displaced persons camp in England during the war. My mother left my father when I was three years old and my brother was one. The other child was a sister Pauline, two years older than me. She took Pauline with her and left my brother and I with my father. That’s one version.
I have another version which says that she took the three of us with her and went back to the little village called Stokenchurch, which is about half way between London and Oxford, where all her family had grown up. Those that are still alive and their children and their children all still live in the same village or very close to it. She took us back there, and the other part of the story is that she met and married a gentleman some five months after she left my father. I might add in here that my father was already married. He had a wife back in Tralee in Ireland and had two daughters with her who were teenagers at the time.
My mother married this guy and they apparently went up to Scotland on a honeymoon or a week or so. While they were away, the other story is that my father came to the village and took my brother and I and said, ‘I am having my boys,’ and took us back to London. We will never know which is the correct story, and I guess it’s not really important anyway.
Apparently he wasn’t able to care for us, so he had a friend who had a 16-year-old daughter who had quite a serious illness but had an illegitimate child and another girl was living with her, also 16 years of age with an illegitimate child, and my brother and I were left in their care. Apparently they used to go out and leave the four of us children in the house on our own. Somehow or other child welfare got word of this, and we were removed from those premises. Apparently it was an absolute slum, pigsty and all sorts of other things I have heard it called. We were placed in separate orphanages in England. I was placed in one at Hunstanton, which is on the east coast, a seaside resort similar to Manly only a lot smaller. My brother went to another seaside resort some 30-odd miles away in a little place called Lowestoft, he being so much younger and the orphanage I went to didn’t take children that young.
Some two years later he was brought to where I was. I can remember very clearly the day a nurse in a blue uniform and a white cap, like nurses wore in those days, walking up the pathway with this little toddler carrying a yellow duck, and that was my brother Paul. Basically that was the first time I had met him. I was seven at the time, and he was five. The orphanage we were in then had about 15 children in it. It was a lovely big house, a huge house. My wife Sandra and I have visited it twice. As recently as last August we were back there. It has since closed down and been sold to private ownership, and they are converting it into flats unfortunately. My reason for going there was to try to find records and information about who placed me there, why, how and then who eventually turned around and came in one day and said, ‘You and your brother are going to Australia.’ At that stage I was seven years of age. It was early in the year. We weren’t asked whether we were going or anything else. Nobody told us who had made the decision. We were just told we were going.
A couple of months later they took us down to London, bought us some clothes and then took us to a little place called Knockholt in Kent, another huge mansion of a house which had actually been given to the Fairbridge Society as a gift. They used it as a holding house for the parties of children going out to Australia. My brother and I were there for six weeks and children came - there might be two one week and three the next week - until we had a party together of 16 children. We boarded a ship in Southampton on 29 August 1951 and arrived in Sydney on 30 September 1951. We stopped over at Fremantle on the way across, and eight of the party went to Fairbridge in Western Australia. The rest of us went to the Fairbridge Farm School at Molong. We travelled up from the wharf in Sydney. After we had disembarked we jumped in a back of a truck, which had a canvas cover over it and a wooden bench along each side. It took us about nine hours, I think from memory, to get from there up to the farm school at Molong which is out in the central west of New South Wales.
I was there for eight years and my brother was there for nearly 11. The reasons for that was the normal leaving age was 17 but I had lots of problems and issues while I was there and decided that I wanted out. I might point out also that the first two years I was there I had a cottage mother - we were in cottages with 15 or 16 children in them like a lot of orphanages – who was a gem. I can’t find the words to describe her but to my way of thinking she is probably what all cottage mothers and all carers in orphanages and in children’s homes probably should have been like. However, she left and was replaced by - I can’t describe her any more than a wicked witch. We called her Fanny Johnson. She was a chain smoker. She used to walk around the cottage with a cigarette hanging out the side of her mouth with ash falling all over the place and her nose running like a tap. We used to have bets about how long the ash would be before it fell off. She was a very heavy drinker who drank brandy like it was going out of style. They didn’t get a lot of money, these staff, but I think every penny she got went on cigarettes and brandy. She was a sadist, as were many of the other cottage mothers there at Fairbridge. It’s been well documented. I don’t have to go over the history of Fairbridge because a number of books have been written about the place. Probably the most notable is David Hill’s book The Forgotten Children: Fairbridge Farm School and its betrayal of Australia’s Child Migrants. If you have read it, you would have seen my name in there a couple of times in different instances. I didn’t have any hesitation when David approached me about an interview and said he was writing a book. I said straight away, ‘David, I will give you my story providing you don’t change it, edit it or whatever,’ it’s exactly how it was for me. I actually told David things I had never told anybody in my life, including my wife and children.
There have been other documentaries on the television and several articles in the newspapers about Fairbridge. Moving on from there I decided I had had enough of the place. I won a scholarship to go to high school when I was 11 years old. I was a year ahead of my age in school. I was very bright apparently. I think they said my IQ was 129 when I left England. I won the scholarship to go to Orange High School. In all the years that Fairbridge existed, there has probably only been 12 or 13 children who went to Orange High School. David Hill was one of them but he was kicked out because he told me the other day on the phone that he came 46 out of 46 in the class. So they thought it was best he leave.
I gained my intermediate certificate - only just - I got the barest possible pass there and because I was only 14 the law said I had to go to school until 15, so they made me go on. At the end of fourth year I think I came something like 102 out of 120, so they decided it was best I leave too. I went to work on the farm – the dairy, the bakery, all the different jobs we had to do there - and I had had enough. I ran away with three other kids and we hitchhiked to Brisbane. We got caught by the coppers up there, and they sent us back after a couple of weeks. I had three weeks in the notorious Westbrook home in Queensland. If you thought Fairbridge was a hell hole, then you should never go to Westbrook. From there we went back to Fairbridge and got a public thrashing, which was highly illegal but happened on a regular basis there.
And then some four or five months later, two of us ran away again. This time we hitchhiked down to Sydney and then were heading down the coast to Victoria. We got caught by the police again. We had a very friendly, understanding magistrate in the Children’s Court in Nowra. When he asked us ‘Why did we run away?’ and we started to tell him, he said, ‘I want you to put this in writing. I will remand you for two weeks, and during in that time I want you to write in your own words why you ran away.’ So they sent us up to Albion Street boys shelter, which I think is in Surrey Hills in Sydney, for two weeks. I wrote 15 pages and was just starting to warm up but they wouldn’t give me any more paper.
When I went back to the children’s court a couple of weeks later and the magistrate started reading it, he asked me to stand up and wanted to know if there was anything wrong with me and I said ‘Yes, I don’t like Fairbridge. I want out.’ And he said, ‘No, I mean with your brain.’ Anyway to cut the story short, he said, ‘If Fairbridge can find you a suitable job and accommodation I will release you and, if not, you will go to Mt Penang. Most of you have probably heard of Mt Penang - it was a delinquents home, it wasn’t an orphanage.
The worst part about this whole story of us going to Fairbridge as far as I am concerned - I could talk for hours on it but I won’t - is that we were classified as orphans, which we never were. During the time that I was there I continually asked for information about my family, why we were in Australia, who sent us here etc, and the question was continuously ‘We have no information, we have no details.’ As my friend Frank touched on earlier, when we were finally able to access our files, 20-odd years ago I think I got mine, I got a file from Australia and a file from England. The information in there was unbelievable.
I finally managed to locate my mother and her side of the family in 1985. She and my stepfather came to Australia, built a house at Gosford and lived there for two years, it was a mansion, sold it and went back to England and back to the same village. As far as my father goes, I never met my father and knew nothing about his side of the family until January last year. By sheer fluke, probably 1:500 million chance, something was seen by somebody on the website and it’s a long story too but I managed to locate a cousin in Tralee. We got in contact straight away and had lots of emails back and forwards. Sandra and I were able to visit them last year due to the assistance of the Family Restoration Fund which was set up by the British government and administered by the Child Migrants Trust. I stayed there two weeks, Sandra was there for three or four days and then she went to visit some of her family in Liverpool. I had the most wonderful two weeks probably of my life. Just the sheer joy of finding family on my father’s side and going through the history of Tralee, because he was born and raised in Tralee and married a girl from Tralee, although they were married in London.
Apart from all the things that happened at Fairbridge and the issues I still have with a lot of that stuff, some of my biggest issues now are the fact that I was given away basically by my parents - and people will argue against that. My mother says she had no idea where we had gone or anything else. But then when she came over here she told me she sent us letters, parcels and everything else. So if you can send letters and parcels to somebody and you don’t know where they are, it’s pretty clever, I guess. Anyway she passed away about three years ago. While I was ecstatic when I first met her, just as when the Prime Minister and Malcolm Turnbull apologised I was ecstatic then too, that’s worn off. But that’s another issue. We can probably go into that with questions and answers later.
My mother and I had this five-minute relationship, I call it. It was probably a little bit longer than that, but at the end of the day the more I found out, the more inclined I was to say, ‘You walked away from me all those years ago and now while two wrongs don’t make a right, that’s how I feel. I feel like walking away.’ Sandra will verify this. Sandra wanted me to go down and visit my mother when we were in England in 2004 and she basically had to drag me there. It was only a 10-minute walk. I had lost that emotional whatever it was that we had for a very short period of time.
I don’t want to take up any more of your time because I think we are running late already. Like I say I could talk for hours and hours. I think I have been pretty good; I haven’t been too emotional. I am very happy to be here. I was delighted when I was invited to come down and speak. My dear friend Joanna recommended me apparently and I said yes before I even thought about it. Then when I thought about it after I had put the phone down, I thought ‘What have I got myself into here, I am not a public speaker. I am a bloke that calls it as it is.’ I have got into lots for trouble for that from the day I first went into the orphanage and I still get into trouble for it today. But that’s me. I look tough on the outside but I am pretty soft underneath.
As far as my achievements in life, I married and my first wife and I separated after 17 years. We had three children between us. She lives in the house that we used to live in together. Sandra and I got married a couple of years after that, and my first wife remarried also. We get on better now than we ever did in the 17 years we were married, which is not uncommon, I believe. We have three beautiful children between us, 12 grandchildren and a couple of great grandchildren. Life goes on.
Just in finishing up, I became a truck driver, and I know lots of people don’t like truck drivers for lots of different reasons but every one of you are wearing the clothes that were carried by a truck driver and you are sitting on a seat that was carried by a truck driver. So somewhere along the line you have to start saying ‘Thanks for you guys’. Everywhere I go I try to get a plug in for them, even though I am retired now. I served as a delegate in the yard. I worked for one of the biggest and best companies in the Australia at the time in transport, Rambles, for 31 years and loved every minute of it. I am retired happily now.
I try to get involved with CLAN as much as I can and with the Old Fairbridgians Association of which Adele mentioned I am a president. We have a reunion every two years up in Orange and our next one comes up on 10 and 11 March this year. We have a dinner on the Saturday night, and a lot of us go out and visit the old farm school on the Saturday afternoon. Then on the Sunday we have an annual general meeting, but we only elect our office bearers every second annual AGM which is not this year, it will be the following year.
In cooperation with the Molong Beautification Committee we have planted a corridor of trees almost extending from the farm school into Molong, which is a distance of three miles, and these trees are on both sides of the Mitchell Highway. Each tree is sponsored by an individual child or staff member that went to Fairbridge. They have a plaque at the bottom of each tree pointing out who paid for the tree etc. Our organisation is quite strong. We have 260-odd known addresses of actual children that went through Fairbridge, plus about 40-odd associate members. Some of those were staff or children of former Fairbridge kids. And we still call ourselves the Fairbridge kids. That’s about it, I think.
ADELE CHYNOWETH: Thank you so much, Sharkie. [applause] Interesting there how children were punished for running away from abuse and also that wonderful corridor of trees, which I have seen, is very moving and powerful. Thank you so much, Sharkie. We are glad that you are here and there is nothing wrong with being emotional. It’s an emotional history. If I could hand it over to you for any questions.
QUESTION: Thank you all so much. Thank you to Joanna before and to the panel. Much of what has been discussed today relates to practices of separating children from their parents and siblings, a practice which actually continues today. We are seeing the rates of children in out-of-home care doubling every ten years, so we can’t actually say any more that we don’t know that that is happening. Your own stories resonate with many of the stories from parents involved in, for example, the Family Inclusion Network, which is the national network of parents who basically have children in care today. If you google ‘family inclusion network and Townsville’, they have put together a fabulous YouTube video clip that goes for about seven minutes. Children are removed today because of mental health issues, homelessness, drug and alcohol issues of their parents.
My question is: If we are to learn anything from your experiences particularly in relation to the role of parents and families when children are in out-of-home care, what would those lessons be? What advice would you give to government at both the Commonwealth level and the state child protection authorities and I guess to a community as well? We heard Joanna talk about how people don’t really like hearing with these stories. My concern is that the trauma of past removal actually lives on, it’s not something that’s finished, and once the exhibition has ended here it will go into a box and we will never think about again because, as I said, the rate of removal is doubling every ten years and we can’t say we don’t know about it. Thank you.
ADELE CHYNOWETH: So your question then - just to sum up?
QUESTION: My question is if we are to learn anything from your own experiences particularly in relation to the role of parents and families when children are in care, what would those lessons be? Frank talked about when you went back through your records seeing things in there about the terrible parents mustn’t benefit. I am particularly interested in that angle. I think Joanna mentioned earlier, too, how we will never hear the parents’ stories.
FRANK GOLDING: When I wrote my book I wrote it on two levels: my experience as a child growing up; and then at the second level is what was happening while I was growing up that I didn’t know about until I was quite old. I finished up saying that I could forgive the vicious punishments, though my brother’s sexual abuse is something that one really can’t forgive, nevertheless I could forgive the bad food and forgive a lot of things. But the thing I could never really get out of my mind was growing up all those years isolated from my parents who I knew were alive and out there somewhere without ever being told why I was in the orphanage. When I had children of my own, they would say, ‘But Nanna and Grandpa are okay, why did you not grow up with them?’ I couldn’t tell them. I would make up all sorts of funny stories and they would ask for the funny stories as a distraction.
The thing I would say that is most important to me, and this may be different for various of us, is that you must engage the child in an understanding of what is going on in their life - why are they there, what is the plan for the future. For me it was just a matter of effluxion of time: when I am 15 I will do what my other two brothers did, I will get a job and be pushed out. That is no way to grow up. You have to grow up with an engagement with the people who are looking after you and an understanding of what is going on. The lesson that I think is most important is: engage the child in an understanding of the situation, help them write the record so it won’t become a big shock to them when they are 55 years old, because they would have been involved in writing the record of their time in the out-of-care situation all through and they have some grip of it.
I was terribly impressed with a young woman who gave a talk in Melbourne recently - I think she is in her early 20s and who has a child of her own who is separated from her. She is making every effort to document everything that happens so that, when that little girl and she finally get back together, they will have a common bond, they will have some association with each other, which will be the basis of a considered relationship. When I went back to my parents at age 15 and found they wouldn’t talk to me about anything, it wasn’t the most wonderful relationship. I regret that I didn’t know then what I found out when I was 50 something that they were actually wanting to get us back. I didn’t know that. I would have had a different relationship. So the fact that the child is involved and engaged in understanding and perhaps contributing to the record about why they are in care would be the fundamental thing for me, but for others it would be quite different, I am sure.
ADELE CHYNOWETH: Anyone else on the panel who would like to add anything?
CAROLINE CARROLL: I think we need to put more money into keeping families together. If we can prevent a child being separated from its family, we should do everything we can to do that first and foremost. I know there will always be families in which that’s not possible. But I agree with Frank that the child should be involved. I did a presentation along with Frank for current people looking after kids. One of the things we talked about was records and some of the shocks that we discovered when we found our records.
I found a letter from my mother and I only found it very recently because I can’t read my records, they are so awful about me as a little kid and how it’s all my fault, what a manipulative terrible child I was at three and four. But I read this letter the other day, and it was my mother asking where was I, she wanted me back and her line was, ‘You don’t know how this feels for someone else to have your child and you don’t know where that child is and how that child is. I am a nervous wreck.’ Up until I had read that letter, which was only a couple of weeks ago, I always believed she didn’t want me. That’s what I was told all my life that she didn’t want me. ‘She didn’t love you, you’re no good,’ is what I was told. I think you have to teach the people writing the records as well. When we talked at this forum, people said, ‘We write down all the things that are bad about the kids - they had a bad day, they smashed up a room, they did this. I never thought to write the good things.’
QUESTION: The record about the parents is also very negative often.
CAROLINE CARROLL: Definitely. Where I work, we are working with one family who are fifth generation Forgotten Australians, care leavers or whatever you like to call us. Their kids have just been taken from them, and that is the fifth generation. Where does it stop? How do we stop it?
ADELE CHYNOWETH: Thank you. Thank you Caroline. Are there any other questions?
QUESTION: (inaudible) the fact that we are focusing on what the federal government has done. The federal government is the one that apologised. I can understand the federal government apologising to child migrants like us because the federal government was responsible for sending us to Australia and in many cases some very cynical ways of getting us to Australia. We were taken from children’s homes in the UK, many children were told the parents had died. Once the child was on the way to Australia, they then told the parents that the child had died. It was a way of severing the relationship between the child and the parent. I could understand an apology if it focused on that, and it hasn’t, I could understand that is the apology. When it comes to what we call Forgotten Australians, and I don’t, I call them ‘abandoned Australians’ because that is what they were, what have the state governments been doing because every child in every children’s home and/or institution was a ward of the state that they lived in? I have heard very little about what the states are doing and I would be very interested in anyone’s opinions of that.
ADELE CHYNOWETH: Caroline, do you want to comment?
CAROLINE CARROLL: Well for a start, every child in an institution was not necessarily a ward of the state. Some parents were paid and jailed because they couldn’t keep up the payments; some kids slipped through the cracks. I know when I met my brother, we tried to get records for him so we could compare to see if it filled in a story. He was never made a ward of the state. Who knows why. So no, they weren’t all wards of the state.
ADELE CHYNOWETH: Joanna [Penglase] just said approximately 50 per cent were not wards of the state.
CAROLINE CARROLL: I don’t quite understand what your question is. Is it: why did the federal government apologise to Forgotten Australians?
QUESTION: Why haven’t the state governments -
CAROLINE CARROLL: They have. Every state government has now made an apology. They all made a public apology.
ADELE CHYNOWETH: And memorials.
CAROLINE CARROLL: None of us say that it’s enough. It’s never enough, and we know that. But they are starting. This is part of them getting to know the issues and the ongoing needs. The Commonwealth have led the way with our apology and with the services that they have now implemented.
ADELE CHYNOWETH: It seems that we have only scratched the surface today. I know that with this history and this living history, there is so much more that needs to be spoken about. We have touched on today about apologies, services, records, support groups, redress and the importance of heritage - so something for all of us to pick up and go on with. There are books including: Orphans of the Living by Joanna Penglase; An Orphan’s Escape by Frank Golding; two books by Bonnie Djuric, Abandon all Hope: a history of Parramatta Girls Industrial School, the importance of place there, and also 14 years of Hell: Hay Girls Institution 1961 to 1974; and Sharkie also mentioned David Hill’s book The Forgotten Children: Fairbridge Farm School [in Molong] and its betrayal of Australia’s Child Migrants.
Next Monday [20 February 2012] from 2pm to 4pm, our colleagues at the National Library of Australia are holding a public forum exploring sexual violence and institutionalisation in the ACT that is organised by various women’s groups in the ACT exploring sexual violence and institutionalisation in the ACT.
It is with great regret that I end it here because I am sure there is so much we need to talk about, and let us do so. But for now would you join me in thanking Joanna Penglase, Frank Golding, Caroline Carroll, Bonnie Djuric and Sharkie Moriarty. [applause]
JAY ARTHUR: I would like to thank you all for coming for what you must all agree has been a very special event. Thank you. [applause]
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Date published: 27 April 2012