The Lost Children

Feb 3, 2002 / CBS News

It's a mind-boggling story, one that sounds more like a bad movie than reality. But it happened. In the two decades after World War II, 10,000 English children were sent to Australia, reports 60 Minutes II Correspondent Bob Simon. Many were mistreated and abused. All were lied to.

The story begins in Britain after World War II - a nation victorious but battered, broke, and burdened by overflowing children's homes. Many of the kids were put there by families too poor to raise them. What happened next is almost unfathomable in civilized countries or in modern times.

The British government, in collaboration with churches and charities, developed a secret plan to clear out these children's homes; a plan which has only recently been uncovered. The kids were told that they would be adopted by loving families in Australia. And they were shipped off by the thousands. It was as simple as that.

The first ship to sail in 1947 was the SS Asturias. Cargo: 147 boys and girls. John Hennessy, 11 years old at the time, was one of those children. Only a few weeks before it sailed, some priests and bureaucrats showed up at his children's institution in England. They were rounding up kids to go to Australia.

"We thought Australia was down the street or it was around the corner," says Hennessy. "How did we know it was on the other side of the world? Well, anyway, they, they came with the stories, you know, that there's fruits there, plenty of fruits."

Like many children, Mary Molloy didn't quite grasp what was being proposed: "I just thought, you know, we're going away for a while."

All across Britain, at children's homes and institutions, kids were being told the same thing: you're going to a new land, a new life, a new family. Many were illegitimate children. Many were dropped off by single mothers who'd fallen on hard times.

But that's not what the kids were told. Tony Jones, who at the time was in a boys' home in Malvern, England, was told that his parents had died: "They said, 'You're an orphan now.' And I was an orphan."

That's what they told all the kids, that they were orphans. That there was nobody for them in Britain.

Over the next 20 years, 10,000 children, somas young as 3, none older than 15, would depart unaccompanied for their new homes in Australia.

Six weeks and 12,000 miles later, the children arrived at the Fremantle docks in Western Australia. They looked around for the fruit trees, the kangaroos, the adoptive families they were told would be waiting for them. But there was none of that here. There was something quite different.

Not long after they disembarked, they received a lecture from a man in black, the archbishop of Perth.

Hennessy remembers the man's speech: "He said, 'We welcome you to Australia. We need you for white stock.' Because at this stage, the 'white Australia' policy was on. And we didn't know that we were part of the scheme to - to populate Australia with the - the white people. And the archbishop says, 'The reason why we do [is] because we are terrified of the Asian hordes!' Course, we didn't understand that."

These children were a commodity to a continent that was terrified of being overwhelmed by Asia. They had, in essence, been exported by a nation that had a surplus of white people.

Afterwards, the children's fingerprints were taken and they were herded into lines. Says Hennessy: "They grabbed the girls from their brothers. Brothers from their sisters, screaming. And I can still hear the screams today."

These children, who'd been plucked from institutions in Britain, were now trucked to all over Australia. Where? To institutions. No parents were waiting for them - just picks and shovels.

John Hennessy was sent to a place called Bindoon, an institution run by the Christian Brothers, an order of Catholic monks 60 miles from civilization in the sweltering bushland of Western Australia. Bindoon was a home and school for boys. But this was no Boys Town, and education was not the priority.

The priority was construction. Brother Francis Keaney, an imposing, white-haired Irishman who ran the place, was obsessed with building the largest Catholic institution in Western Australia. He used his charges as labor. From sunrise to sunset, the boys built Brother Keaney's shrine, with no shoes, and no questions asked.

Bindoon is a real school now, an agricultural college. But it's still run by the Christian Brothers. And old boys are not welcome, particularly not when they're accompanied by newsmen. When Bob Simon went back with Hennessy, who helped build Bindoon, they were kicked off the premises. The Christian Brothers are not eager to showcase their past as users and abusers of child labor.

"They got us dirt cheap," says Norman Johnston, another boy who helped build Bindoon. "We might as well have been slaves. And, you know, we endured all of that when we didn't have to."

For these children, there was nowhere to run. At the Fairbridge institution, sponsored by the Church of England, Tony Jones tried to escape whenever he could. He once made it as far as the docks where the children had first arrived.

Says ones: "I got down to the beach. I remember looking all over the ocean, and I asked this couple, 'Which way is England?' If there was land all the way across, I would have walked there. I would have walked there."

The food at the institutions seemed to have been cooked up in a Dickens novel. At Bindoon, the boys were so hungry one Sunday, 12-year-old John Hennessy led a raid on the vineyard out back. They enjoyed their grapes, but after mass the next morning, Brother Keaney was in a rage. He'd learned of the raid, and he called out for his leading suspect.

Then the man whipped him. "He stripped me naked," he says. "In front of 50 boys, put me across the chair and nearly flogged me to death. I've-I've-I've got medical advice that that's where I got the stutter from." He had never stuttered before that day, and has ever since.

The children say that floggings and beatings were part of a daily routine. The nightly routine with the Christian Brothers included priestly visits to the children's beds. The brothers were taking away boys who were less than 10 years old.

Hugh McConnell was 9 years old. One night, a bad storm hit Castledare, his children's home run by the Christian Brothers. Terrified that the world was coming to an end, Hugh ran outside and hid under a tree, where a Christian Brother found him. The man invited McConnell into his bed, where the boy fell asleep quickly. Later that night, the priest raped him.

There was no one to go to. Certainly not the Australian government, which was the legal guardian of the children. "The state supposedly were to be looking after us," says Johnston. "In the nine years I was institutionalized in Australia, I have never been spoken to by a child welfare officer. These Christian Brothers had us for what they wanted in those institutions. And they did with us what they would."

The head of the Christian Brothers in Western Australia, Tony Shanahan, admits that there was abuse, but he also suggests that some of the stories may have been exaggerated. A British government inquiry last year was more critical, saying that what happened at institutions run by the Christian Brothers in Western Australia was of "a quite exceptional depravity."

In 1993, the Christian Brothers, responding to a lawsuit, officially apologized to the child migrants and paid reparations totaling $2.5 million dollars to 250 who'd been abused at their institutions. The girls, who'd been sent to different places, suffered very little sexual abuse compared to the boys, but many were beaten, and all were exploited as free labor.

The shipments of both boys and girls stopped suddenly in 1967. The British simply didn't have any more children available for export.

But the 10,000 already in Australia? Only five - not 5,000 - were ever adopted. Few had birth certificates or documents of any kind. It seems their motherland wanted them to disappear without a trace.

Mary Mollogrew up in an institution outside Sydney. When she graduated into the real world and applied for a passport, she was in for a surprise.

"The only way I could get a passport was to become a naturalized Australian," says Molloy. "I thought I was. Now, to me, that was crazy. I've been out here since I was 9. I was brought out here. And yet, I wasn't acknowledged as an Australian. And yet, according to Britain, I didn't live there anymore. So, where was I?"

For decades, Britain was able to forget about the children it threw away. For decades, the children believed what they were told, that they were orphans.

But just a few years ago, these lost children - now lost adults scattered all over Australia - were stunned to learn that none of this was true. They weren't orphans at all.

The governments of Great Britain and Australia, the Catholic Church and the Church of England had not only exploited and abused these 10,000. They had conned the kids for 50 years.



The Lost Children, Part II

After Many Years, Painful, Emotional Reunions

[From: CBS News, February 3, 2002]

Not only had these lost children been shipped 12,000 miles from Britain to the bottom of the world. Not only had they been exploited and abused. They had been deceived.

They weren't orphans. They had families back in Britain, families which had dropped them off at institutions with every intention of getting them back.

When Tony Jones discovered that his mother was still alive in England, he was shocked: "All them years, and they didn't even tell me I had a family?" he says.

Too poor to care for him, Maud Jones had placed Tony in a children's home in England after she divorced his father. She never gave consent for Tony to be shipped to Australia. She was never even asked.

It took Jones months to save enough money to return home to see his mom. Their reunion was set for the middle of January 1993. But she died just two weeks before that.

Jones went back for the funeral. "I saw my mother in the coffin," he says. "It's the most heartbreaking time of my life. And they knew she was alive. They knew. Bastards."

When he was a boy, the Church of England told him his parents were dead. That was a lie. When he grew up, the British and Australian governments told him his records didn't exist. That was another lie. And Tony Jones was far from alone.

That was the conclusion reached by Margaret Humphreys, an English social worker who began lifting the lid on this sordid chapter in Britain's history.

Humphreys stumbled upon the story accidentally when one of her clients insisted that her younger brother had been put on a boat to Australia as a child. Humphreys set up an organization called the Child Migrants Trust to help the children find their birth certificates, their parents and their past.

The trust bought copies of every birth, marriage and death certificate in England dating back to 1890, a total of more than 100 million documents on microfilm.

It was the database for a desperate search. Of the 10,000 child migrants, Humphreys and her staff could find only one who was actually an orphan. Month after month, year after year, they found more and more parents alive in Britain.

"The astonishing thing was that they had no idea that their children had been sent to Australia," says Humphreys. "They had not signed any papers for adoption or migration. And for most of them, they had gone back to collect, to reclaim, their children - to bring them home."

"They went to bring them back home to their families - to be told, and given explanations like, your son or daughter's been placed with a very loving family in England. They're very happy. We're not going to disturb them now. You did your best for them. Goodbye," she says.

As a child, Mary Molloy had also been told her mother was dead. But Humphreys and her team couldn't find a death certificate for her mother, May Fitzgerald. They continued searching, and last December, Humphreys flew to Sydney to give Molloy some startlig news. Her mother was alive.

Molloy was ecstatic. "It's incredible. I mean, everything's based on a lie, right from the beginning. It's just one lousy lie," says Molloy, breaking down as she says it.

Her mother had been lied to by the priests. As a single mother, . Fitzgerald had placed her daughter in a Catholic children's home. A year later, she told the home she wanted Mary back, but was informed that her daughter was being adopted. Fitzgerald fired off a telegram telling the priests to stop the adoption, but was told it was too late.

A few weeks ago, Mary Molloy packed for an improbable journey back in time. For nearly a half century, ever since she had been put on a boat to Australia, she had thought of herself as a war orphan. Now it was time for Molloy to be a child again, and for 80-year-old May Fitzgerald to be a mother again.

Accompanied by her daughter Beverly and family friends, Molloy left Sydney for a 22-hour trip to Dublin to meet her mom.

Can you call it lucky to meet your mother when you're 55 years old? In terms of these child migrants, the answer is yes. In terms of the 10,000, Molloy was one of the lucky few.

Humphreys says that many thousands of these "orphans" have not yet found their parents. And as both parents and children age, time is running out.

Help from the Australian government hasn't been forthcoming. The nation that so desperately wanted white stock has never offered the mildest mea culpa for its treatment of the children.

When Philip Ruddock, the Australian minister of immigration, isasked why the Australian government hasn't apologized, "I don't know what we would be necessarily apologizing for," he says.

"What we sought to do in Australia was to provide an environment in which young people who were brought here and chosen by a government abroad were given opportunities for a new life. And many have had that opportunity," he says.

Ruddock says that he isn't sure that the horrible stories he's heard are really true.

As for Great Britain, the country that deported its kids in the first place, there has been a vast silence ever since the children sailed off.

Humphreys says she finds that people are not interested. "They didn't help, and they didn't want to know," she says. "You see, these children left our shores, and it was almost as if they left our consciousness. They'd gone.""

Who in the British government knew the children were being shipped to Australia? David Hinchliffe, a member of Parliament and the leader of a British government inquiry into the scheme, believes that many high-level officials - including the prime minister, the archbishops, possibly even the queen - probably knew about the scheme.

So if the prime minister knew, and Parliament knew, and if the queen knew, one would've expected something resembling an official apology to the thousands of abandoned children. But in fact, no one in Downing Street, or in thHouse of Commons or for that matter at Buckingham Palace has apologized.

The best the British could come up with after 50 years was to acknowledge in 2000 that the scheme was misguided. It also set up a travel fund for the children to return home for family reunions.

But as of yet, no money has been made available. That's why 60 Minutes II paid Mary Molloy's airfare so she could be united with her mother in Ireland.

Their meeting was deeply emotional. As they met, Fitzgerald was overwhelmed: "Oh God. Oh God. I never forget you. Never. I always knew some day you'd come back. I don't want ever to let you go now….You're just the same as I thought you'd be. I'd know you if I met you in the street. I'd know you were mine."

Around the age of 50 many lose our parents and become orphans. In Molloy's case, that natural order was reversed. And she will stay in her mother's arms happily for a while, until she contemplates what could have been, the enormity of what was taken away.

Lost Children: Update

Yet Anger Still Smolders

[From CBS News, Februrary 3, 2002]

Since 60 Minutes II's "Lost Children" first aired in 1999, much has happened. Many viewers wrote emails and letters to tell the stories of their own experiences as lost children.

Some had reunions with family members not seen in half a century. 60 Minutes II Correspondent Bob Simon reports on these developments.

In 1999, Mary Molloy, profiled in the original broadcast, had an emotional reunion with her mother. She had four weeks to make up for 50 years of loneliness.

"It was just like coming home," says Molloy. "The circle had come full circle. It was great."

But the circle was much larger than Molloy had imagined. She discovered in Dublin that she not only had a mother, but also nine brothers and sisters. They were all there to celebrate Molloy's 56th birthday.

But for Molloy, the reunion was bittersweet. "I got home; three days later, it was Mother's Day," she says. "And I kept thinking of all the Mother's Days I missed out on. And it wasn't fair."

for Mary Molloy and her mother, after half a century of separation, followed by one reunion, there was separation again, with only letters to fill the void…

John Hennessy, who had been abused at Bindoon, a Catholic institution in the Australian bush, felt so empowered by the first broadcast that he decided to run for public office. Hennessy is campaigning to become deputy mayor of Campbelltown, Australia, a suburb of Sydney. He, too, was reunited with his mother, who lives in England.

"When you think that I'm 65, and she's 86, a frail, gentle loving woman, for the first time meeting her only child," Hennessy explained in 1999.

"And to look into her eyes, she got tears, I got tears. We're both trembling. And she said, 'Michael John, where have you been all these years?'" he recalled.

But many years had passed and their first meeting was awkward. They eventually did embrace as mother and son. Hennessy didn't, however, tell her about the mistreatment he suffered at Bindoon.

"I could not, could not in all honesty, tell her the crimes that were committed against me, and other children. She suffered enough, why should she suffer any more?" he asks.

After the "The Lost Children" aired, a man named Mike Amphlett wrote 60 Minutes II a letter. In the letter, Amphlett said that watching the story had made him physically sick; it brought back wrenching memories of his childhood. Amphlett, too, had been a "lost child."

"It was a shock to see the places I walked around in and grew in, and most of all built," Amphlett remembers. "I actually vomited in the kitchen sink. I couldn't watch it. I still haven't watched the tape."

Amphlett had been shipped from England to Australia at the age of 9. Like Hennessey, he was sent to Bindoon. He still remembers the hunger he felt there.

"We were always starving in the orphanage. Always," he says. "I mean starving, literally starving. And I would eat anything - worms, raw otatoes, oranges that fell from the tree and had gone rotten. Anything I could find I would eat."

Amphlett joined Hennessy in the children's construction corps. His job was polishing the terrazzo floor tiles under the great dome at Bindoon, the place of their incarceration. "You'll see my blood on the terrazzo, too, mixed in with the green and the black. There'll be some red there," says Amphlett.

Amphlett also has vivid memories of Brother Francis Keaney, the man who beat Hennessy to a pulp. Amphlett says that Keaney beat him as well.

When he learned that a statue of Keaney had been built at Bindoon, Amphlett wanted to knock it down. "My immediate [reaction] was to get it demolished," says Amphlett.

"In fact, I had thoughts of, and I'm serious, of flying over there and demolishing it, blowing the damn thing to kingdom come, because it's an injustice and a travesty to everything that took place there," he says.

But life hadn't taken its last licks at Amphlett. In Australia, he married an American woman named Paula. They had one child and were expecting another when she learned she had a deadly brain tumor.

She wanted to die at home in Phoenix, Ariz., so Amphlett found himself widowed and stranded in a strange land with two children and no job. He thought about returning to Australia, but found he could not. He was not an Australian native, and he had no passport.

"What I discovered was I had no right to go to Australia," he says. "And that shocked me, because that was my home. That's where I grew up. That was what I was used to - was the only life I'd known."

In April 1999, the British government set up a travel fund, $l.6 million, to be spent on onetime visits for family reunions. But there are so many restrictions that so far, only 300 of the 10,000 migrants have been able to take the trip. But time may run out. The travel fund will expire this summer, and there's no sign that it will be extended.

The Queen is set to visit Australia next month for a meeting with the heads of state of all the Commonwealth countries. A perfect chance for the Queen to discuss the plight of the child migrants. But the Palace has made it clear she is not interested in hearing from Margaret Humphreys or from any of the child migrants. And the Australian government? Nothing. The Australian Senate launched an inquiry into the scheme and the Prime Minister is due to respond later this year. But few expect the government or the churches to do anything. And time is running out.

Mary Molloy put her hands in her own pockets, and spent just about everything she had to go back to Dublin the past two winters to be with her mom and her sisters.

Mike Amphlett will be making some new acquaintances this summer. Sisters and brothers he never knew he had. He discovered them recently on the child migrants Web site and learned they are all living in England. And just two weeks ago, a package arrived from one of his sisters with the first hotograph he'd ever seen of a man he barely knew: his father.

"The most important thing I learned was the he had, in fact, tried to stop my going to Australia and he tried to get me back," Amphlett says. "And that he wanted to do that has been very comforting to me because until now, I had always felt abandoned up till then, but to know that he actually wanted me and tried to get me back was, was very good."

Like so many parents, Charles Amphlett had gone to reclaim his son, only to be told by the Catholic Immigration Society that young Mike had been adopted which, of course, was a lie. And Mike will never get to see his father - Charles Amphlett died in 1982.

He says: "One thing my sister did say, she said, 'You know, Michael, in some ways it's a good thing he's dead. Because if he learned this story, what you've been through, it would've broken his heart.'"

The most remarkable thing about this story is that it almost never got told. I don’t mean on television. If it hadn't been for one tiny accident, a social worker in Nottingham coming across one curious case and tracking it down, this sad bit of history made never have made the books. Neither the British government nor the Australian government nor the Christian Brothers wanted it known. In fact, they were all hoping that the clock would run out and it almost did. The youngest migrants are in their 50s now.

A few more decades and there would be no narrators around. Yes, there's a travel fund now. And there may be legal action before long. But there can never be justice of course. And ultimately the tragedy of these migrants is something very few of us can relate to. Try to imagine not having a single happy childhood memory. Yet that's what these people don't have. And that can never be given back.

Clontarf Boys Town

13 And they brought to him young children, that he might touch them. And the disciples rebuked them that brought them. 14 Whom when Jesus saw, he was much displeased and saith to them: Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. 15 Amen I say to you, whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall not enter into it. 16 And embracing them and laying his hands upon them, he blessed them. (Mark 10: 13-16)

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