"The Forgotten Children"


by David Hill

Memoir/history of one of Australia's best-kept but darkest secrets -- the migrant school Fairbridge Farm -- written by one of our most respected public figures.

Description of book

In 1959 David Hill's mother - a poor single parent living in England - reluctantly decided to send her sons to Fairbridge Farm School in New South Wales where, she was led to believe, they would have a good education and a better life.
David was lucky - his mother was able to follow him out to Australia - but for most children, the reality was shockingly different. From 1938 to 1974 thousands of parents were persuaded to sign over legal guardianship of their children to Fairbridge to solve the problem of child poverty in Britain while populating the colony. Now many of those children have decided to speak out. Physical and sexual abuse was not uncommon. Loneliness was rife. Food was often inedible. The standard of education was appalling.
Here, for the first time, is the story of the lives of the Fairbridge children, from the bizarre luxury of the voyage out to Australia to the harsh reality of the first days there; from the crushing daily
routine to stolen moments of freedom and the struggle that defined life after leaving the school. This remarkable book is both a tribute to the children who were betrayed by an ideal that went terribly awry and a compelling account of an extraordinary episode in Australian-British History.


'This book is a heartbreaker you can't put down, a calmly narrated and impeccably researched tale of children from poor British families transported to Australia not in the eighteenth but in the twentieth century; of their bewildered and graphic adventures under the emotional and physical parsimony of the Fairbridge Farm School ... The reader yearns to reach out to the children who, say, are given guns to shoot rabbits and use them to suicide instead. For Hill to be able to detail the story in such clinical detail is itself a triumph of spirit and craft and humane forgiveness.' TOM KENEALLY

'This is the story of upper-crust do-gooders who did bad: dreaming of Empire, they sent the children of the poor to a world without love. David Hill amasses evidence of the brutality and slavery to which they turned eyes blinded by their own righteousness. A compelling and moving account of how institutional cruelty was covered up by secrecy and wishful thinking.' GEOFFREY ROBERTSON QC


Australian neighbors in adoption loss


Victims break silence on institutional child abuse

Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Broadcast: 01/05/2007

Reporter: Deborah Cornwall

For more than 30 years from the late 1930s, 10,000 children from poverty-stricken British families were brought to Australian boarding institutions in the name of charity. One of the scheme's shining beacons was Fairbridge Farm, 300 kilometres west of Sydney. But a new book, written by a former public administrator touted as one of the farm's success stories, reveals a devastating picture of a school where children as young as four were molested and forced to work long hours.

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KERRY O'BRIEN: For more than 30 years from the late 30s, 10,000 children from poverty-stricken British families were brought to Australia in the name of charity. On arrival, the children were sent to boarding institutions all around the country to begin a new life and one of the shining beacons of the scheme was Fairbridge Farm at Molong, 300 kilometres west of Sydney. The vision behind Fairbridge was that the boys would be become farmers, the girls farmers' wives. But a new book now starkly outlines a sordid and disturbing story.

The author is the former high profile public administrator David Hill, who until now been touted as one of the farm's greatest success stories. His research reveals a devastating picture of a school where children as young as four were molested and forced to work long hours. Despite two parliamentary inquiries in the past decade here and in Britain, only now are the victims finally breaking their silence en masse. Deborah Cornwall reports.

DEBORAH CORNWALL: It's more than three decades since Fairbridge Farm finally closed its corridors. This derelict estate in country NSW, once home to more than 1,000 British children, shipped out on the promise of a new life and a place in the sun.

DAVID HILL, AUTHOR: There was this idea that they could take the wretches from the slums of England and make them tall-limbed, toiling in the sun.

DEBORAH CORNWALL: It's only now, well into middle age, some of the Fairbridge children are finally beginning to give up their terrible secrets.

LENNIE MAGEE, FORMER FAIRBRIDGE WARD: I cried till I felt I was going to break inside. I'd curl up in a foetal position. I can remember curling up in the corner and just wanting to die as a child.

IAN BAYLIFF, FORMER FAIRBRIDGE WARD: The woman I'll never forget for the rest of my life, and has to be the most sadistic person I have ever come across. Not just to me, but to quite a number of the kids.

VIVIAN BINGHAM, FORMER FAIRDBRIGE WARD: Kingsley Fairbridge had a good dream, his dream was great, to have places like this for children. But believe me, he would have rolled over in his grave if he had of seen what was happening to us.

ARCHIVAL FOOTAGE: Soon on their way to the Fairbridge Farm at Molong, one of a series of farm schools founded by the late Kingsley Fairbridge, a Rhodes scholar who conceived the idea whilst at Oxford 40 years ago.

DEBORAH CORNWALL: Exporting Britain's child waifs out to the colonies and schemes like Fairbridge was big business by the mid 20th century, with children as young as four sent off across the globe to work the land for the betterment of the empire.

ARCHIVAL FOOTAGE: With shipping a little easier, Australia is getting more and more welcome migrants who are greeted by familiar sights and sounds.

DEBORAH CORNWALL: Not all of the children were orphans.

DAVID HILL: We were a very poor family. My mum was a single parent and she was attracted by the promise that Fairbridge would pay for us to come to Australia, accommodate us and send us to give us an education she couldn't.

DEBORAH CORNWALL: Fairbridge believed it was rescuing the children from bad and irresponsible parents.

DAVID HILL: Parents were persuaded to sign away their rights as parents, a lot of them sacrificing their children in the belief that Fairbridge's promise would give their children a much better life than they could.

DEBORAH CORNWALL: Fairbridge Farm was sponsored on the grace and favour of British royalty, the aristocracy treating the children to high tea and housing them on a luxury estate before they were launched on a journey of a lifetime.

MARY O'BRIEN, FORMER FAIRBRIDGE WARD: I loved it. It was a child's dream. It was, even as an adult I would love it.

DAVID HILL: And of course it was all in stark contrast to the thud of reality when we got to Fairbridge and we got put on a train in Sydney and taken over the mountains, and it was cold and bleak and we arrived in pre-dawn darkness.

DEBORAH CORNWALL: Few children have forgotten the day they arrived at the farm school. Its Dickensian dormitories, freezing showers, fly blown food and relentless chores. Some to this day remember happy times on the farm but for many there was far worse to come.

DAVID HILL (driving towards Fairbridge farm): There she is, Smiley.

IAN BAYLIFF: Back to Fairbridge again.

DAVID HILL: Yes, it looks very much the same.

DEBORAH CORNWALL: But it wasn't until last year, when David Hill teamed up with his old classmate Ian "Smiley" Bayliff to research his book, the full horror of what really happened at Fairbridge began to emerge.

DAVID HILL: I really had no idea the magnitude of this until I listened to the kids' stories.

IAN BAYLLIFF (at Fairbridge Farm): Dear me, look at that. How different.

DAVID HILL: And still, how the same.


DAVID HILL: I was the lucky one because I got to Fairbridge later, stayed there for a shorter period and most importantly I had a mum. Smiley was typical of the Fairbridge kid. He got there at eight, he spend about nine years there, and most of the terrible things that Fairbridge is ... most of the terrible failures of Fairbridge, Smiley encountered.

IAN BAYLIFF: When I first came here, I would have been, I would probably be about that high.

DEBORAH CORNWALL: Ian Bailiff was terrorised at Fairbridge and grew up believing his parents had abandoned him. It was only 10 years ago when he tracked down his mother in England he discovered she had tried for years to get her children back, but Fairbridge had blocked his parents at every turn, insisting the children were happier without them.

IAN BAYLIFF: We weren't happy here. I was here in this cottage, in this particular building we're standing in now. Why would I be happy? They used to flog the living daylights out of us.

DEBORAH CORNWALL: Lennie Magee remembers as a small boy trying to make the best of it at Fairbridge, but his cottage mother was just as frightening.

LENNIE MAGEE: She should never have been on the farm school. She was an elderly lady, she was an alcoholic, and she used to beat the children and we were very mistreated. I had no mother, no father, no one to complain to and we were being brutalised by this awful woman.

DEBORAH CORNWALL: For Mary O'Brien, it was her after-school carer who took her into his family home to work as a domestic at 14.

MARY O'BRIEN: How do you explain when you go to bed at night and you're trying to cocoon yourself, and you're thinking, "Is he going to come in tonight? Is he going to come in tonight?"

DEBORAH CORNWALL: Mary O'Brien is also one of many who have spoken for the first time about the sexual abuse at Fairbridge. For her it's been a shock to discover so many suffered the same treatment, but says the most heart-breaking story is that of Vivian Bingham.

MARY O'BRIEN: She arrived at Fairbridge a few months after I did. She was the most delightful little four-and-a-half year-old that you can imagine. There's not many things that I will become emotional about, unfortunately. She was beautiful.

VIVIAN BINGHAM: He molested me when I was five years old. And I do remember sitting on the steps, and at night time when I went to bed, rocking backwards and forwards in my bed. I think it was because I was… I just didn't know what was going on and I was scared, so I rocked backwards and forwards to try and calm myself, I suppose.

DAVID HILL: I think the Vivian story is, typifies the worst of what you can do to children.

VIVIAN BINGHAM: We used to call her the "Wicked Witch of the West". I was only tiny so I used to wet the bed. That was just natural for a child and she put my head down the toilet and flushed the chain.

DAVID HILL: Before she left England, yes, we have all of the reports about what a bright and happy child she is. Within months of arriving at Fairbridge, the reports are saying that she's a problem child, that she's sullen, she's incommunicative. Small wonder.

DEBORAH CORNWALL: For David Hill, watching his son Damien grow up as he wrote the book was especially painful. Even beyond the appalling abuse, he says, it was the complete lack of care or affection for the Fairbridge children that has distressed him the most.

DAVID HILL: Damien turned five while I was writing the book and increasingly became a reference point as I realised there were many kids younger than him when they were put on boats, sent out to Australia and never had a parent, never saw a parent again.

LENNIE MAGEE: I was, I was never encouraged. We were always demeaned. We were constantly told we were there because we were guttersnipes, we were slum children. We would never ever make anything of ourselves.

DEBORAH CORNWALL: Curiously, Fairbridge had made much of the educational opportunities they offered their young charges, even ensuring they passed IQ tests before they were selected. Yet once at Fairbridge, many of the children's grades dropped dramatically with more than 40 per cent of them deemed, in the language of the day, mentally retarded or slow learners.

DAVID HILL: Typical Fairbridge kid, when they left Fairbridge, they had no educational qualifications, close to half of them couldn't read or write, and still can't.

IQ tests of the Fairbridge kids before they were sent to Molong school and…

DEBORAH CORNWALL: Ian Bayliff, who has an IQ well above average, didn't learn to read until well into his 30s.

IAN BAYLIFF: You know, I sort of bundled along through life. It never sort of… I didn't go telling too many people. I was a bit embarrassing, admittedly.

DEBORAH CORNWALL: David Hill says his search through the Fairbridge archives confirms many of the worst abuses at the farm were well-known at the time, yet no one acted. He says as early as 1956 the British authorities had condemned Fairbridge as unfit for children, but when threatened with the intervention of the Fairbridge president, former Australian Governor-General, the Duke of Gloucester, British authorities overturned the ban within days.

DAVID HILL: Fairbridge was able to get the British Government to back down because of its huge political muscle among the upper echelons of British society, including royalty.

DEBORAH CORNWALL: In the past decade, there have been two parliamentary inquiries into the child migrant scheme, both here and in England. Former children's institutions admitted to the inquiries what they'd done to children was wrong, even barbaric. But the Fairbridge Foundation, which was established after the farm closed in 1976, told the Senate "the Foundation is unaware of any unsafe, improper or unlawful treatment occurring at the Fairbridge Farm school."

DEBORAH CORNWALL: (to John Kennedy, Chairman of Fairbridge Foundation): Do you think that Fairbridge misled the Senate in making that assertion?

JOHN KENNEDY, CHAIRMAN OF FAIRBRIDGE FOUNDATION: No, I don't think they misled the Senate. I don't think we deliberately misled the Senate. We, I mean, I regret now, as I say, that I confirmed that. I don't actually know whether I confirmed it but certainly, I regret we made that statement in our written submission.

DEBORAH CORNWALL: The foundation chairman, John Kennedy, concedes the new claims in the book are distressing, yet he maintains the foundation has yet to see any hard evidence of widespread abuse of children at Fairbridge.

JOHN KENNEDY: If they are true, they worry me greatly, disturb me greatly, of course they do. I am not aware that they are true.

IAN BAYLIFF: I was there, I know what happened. I don't have to read documents; I don't have to… nothing like that. I know what happened because I was there, and I saw it and I felt it and it hurt. And that is a fact.

VIVIAN BINGHAM: They don't want to know. They should know. But they don't want to know. They just want to turn a blind eye to it. But they can't now because a lot of us are talking, so they can't shut us up now. I'm not four and a half years old anymore.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Deborah Cornwall with that report on dark side of British child migration from the late 30s to the early 70s and that report also produced by Deb Masters.

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