Child Migrants


By Julie McNeill



We teach our children to say ‘sorry’ when we hurt someone. What hypocrites we will be to them if we can’t lead by example. This month has seen the tabling of the Senate Report into children in institutional care, suitably titled Forgotten Australians. It is the third in the trilogy, the first being the 1997 Bringing them home report on the fate of the Aboriginal stolen generation and the second, the 2001 report of the Child Migration; Lost Innocents.

My mother was a Child Migrant, transported to N.S.W. in 1950 under the unmerciful guardianship of the Catholic Church. She was one of more than 500,000 Australians who experience care in an orphanage. She was physically and emotionally tortured and when she tried to run away they tied her to a tree over a red ants nest, or strapped calipers to her legs which deformed her toes. The girls sought revenge by pouring sand in the shoes of the vicious Superior.

When they went to confession, they would ask for forgiveness for stealing some food.

As we instinctively and academically know, if you hurt and break the spirit of a child you end up with a hurt and broken adult. As Senator McLucas(Queensland) said, ‘The argument that this was how it was done back then holds little sway. Denial is shorthand for the abdication of responsibility."

As I state in the most recent report, on the Perspective from children, the consequences of a childhood lacking in love and stable ‘non-toxic’ role-models has a generational effect.

‘We are all dealing with our own mental health problems triggered by our experiences with a mother who was emotionally distant, abusive, alcoholic and full of rage against church and the state. One sister tried to commit suicide at 17 , and got into illegal drug abuse to escape the emotional pain and the stress of surviving on her own…My other sister shows signs of repeating the same patterns as mum in the mixed messages of her parenting, and her gambling addiction…’

As New Age guru Louise L. Hay says, We are all victims of victims.

At sixteen I was forced to leave home, because my mother had become an alcoholic, probably due to a predisposition to it but was triggered by her tortuous childhood. Although I loved and admired her in many ways, especially for being a survivor of that brutality, I knew if I wanted to survive emotionally, stay at school, pursue a healthy ‘normal’ lifestyle I had to do it on my own. This was traumatic for me and my sisters.

Rising above victimhood is a long exhaustive process and one needs recognition and assistance which all these reports recommend. Saying Sorry is a vital step in the healing process. We owe it, whether we were there or not, because it is not just about the past, it is about the present and how it informs the future. The recent Queensland inquiries into ward of the state shows how vigilant we as a community must be to protect and care for all of its children.

(originally published in Brisbane Valley community news)


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