Australian state apologises for child abuse

September 19, 2009 / the age.com.au

Australian authorities delivered a formal apology Saturday to the many thousands of people who were abused in state-run orphanages and children's homes in decades past.

New South Wales Premier Nathan Rees unveiled a memorial in Sydney to children who suffered in care from the 1930s to the 1970s at an official ceremony attended by more than 500 former state wards.

"To many sufferers and especially those who have joined us today I say on behalf of the government I am sorry for any hurt and distress you suffered in the care of the state," Rees said.

"This should never have happened."

Thousands of poor children from Britain were shipped to Australian farms and institutions in a bid to populate the colony, and faced a lifetime of loneliness, hardship and sometimes abuse.

Some children were as young as four when they left home, and many never saw their families again, said former child migrant David Hill.

"For a lot of these children it was a terrible experience," Hill told state radio.

"Little kids of six years of age, boys and girls who had their heads held down toilets as punishment for bed wetting, girls who remember being first sexually abused at five years of age, little children who are being whipped with riding crops, little kids whose entire childhoods were spent living in fear."

Hill said, contrary to popular belief, most of the children weren't orphans but from dysfunctional and destitute families who believed sending them to Australia would offer them a better life.

"Most of these kids were short changed on a decent education, emotionally deprived, socially isolated and sent out into the world. There was nobody out there for them."

An estimated 500,000 people grew up in orphanages, children's and foster homes across Australia, almost half of them in New South Wales.

The centre-left Labor government is expected to deliver a national apology in November.

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