By Lynn Willoughby
Empty Cradles: Oranges and Sunshine ~ Margaret Humpheys
This book begins in the 1980s when a social worker in England, Margaret Humphreys, gets interested in what happens when adopted children try to trace their biological parents. This is a non-fiction account of the dreadful, covered-up history of child migrants. For three decades (1940s-1967) 150,000 English and Irish children were sent to Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Rhodesia “…to populate the colonies and provide (slave) labour to farms. Many were as young as 3 or 4.
As Margaret Humphreys discovers, the children were told they were orphans, when in fact many were left in orphanages or with the church with parents having every intention of returning for them. Names were changed, birth dates were not recorded. The children were virtually throw-aways, abandoned by their country, often with no records to show they had ever been born!
This book deals with Margaret’s labours to reunite families. She makes many trips to Australia, so mostly we read about conditions for the children in that country, but assume they were the same everywhere. Those conditions were sickening. The neglect and abuse suffered by the children in facilities run by so called “Christian” charities devastated the lives of the children for decades or for life. Small, barefoot boys carried rocks to build the place they would call home at Bindoon. (There are photos!) The lime used for the cement burned their hands and feet, the sun burned their backs sometimes into one solid, fluid-filled blister. They were often starved, had no or insufficient blankets and lived in filthy conditions.
I could go on about their stories, but there is no need. Read this book, and if what you read is horrifying, what is even worse to me is that NO ONE would take responsibility. Australia wanted white immigrants, but felt overseeing how they arrived, where they went and the way they lived was not the government’s responsibility. Britain was happy not to have the expense of feeding and housing poor and abandoned children. Even as Margaret works with the child migrants and documentary films are made, letters written and family reunions photographed and celebrated between “orphans” and their families, documents and sworn statements of sexual and physical abuse are notarized, still no government, Christian of philanthropic donors felt responsible!!!
The unspeakable pain, feelings of abandonment and worthlessness suffered by these children will haunt me forever. Margaret Humphreys is an heroic and remarkable woman – both for her persistance, compassion and relentless ethic that these atrocities be made public. The writing of this book and a resulting film have brought this story to light.
Australia apologized for its involvement in the scheme of child migrants. In February 2010, United Kingdom Prime Minister Gordon Brown made a formal apology to the children and the families of those who suffered. On October 16, 2009 Canadian Immigration Minister, Jason Kenney, stated that Canada would NOT apologize to child migrants.