The Australia Connection

The saga of British child migrants in Australia is particularly poignant.

Fewer children came here than went to Canada - only about 10,000. But Britain continued to send children here until 1967.

Thus Australian child migrants have had less time to come to terms with the fact of having been deported from the land of their birth. And with so many of them young enough to be hopeful of finding their parents in Britain, their quest for open databases, travel money, and counseling help is all the more urgent.

"We are very, very tired of being ignored," says Sybil McLaren-Carr, president of International Association of Former Child Migrants and Their Families, in Adelaide. The British and Australian governments, as well as the churches and agencies involved in child migration, have until now been slow to acknowledge their roles.

The parliamentarians who came to Australia to hear testimony were "not only in a state of shock but horror," says Ms. McLaren-Carr, as they heard the stories of young children, often with parents or other caring relatives, taken from children's homes and shipped Down Under without permission or knowledge of their families. "We were deported as innocent children," says McLaren-Carr. Names were changed, birthdates altered, mothers lied to. Her own research has led her back to her parents' gravesites in Britain.

Many former migrants find it especially hard to accept that the program was carried out for what is now seen as a specious purpose: to populate thinly settled parts of the country, particularly Western Australia, to defend against "the menace of the teeming millions of our neighboring Asiatic races," as the Archbishop of Perth put it at the time.

"The government and parliament of Western Australia have apologized" since the parliamentary committee has issued its report, says Audrey Wise, MP, who served on the committee. "More than apology is needed. Apology is fine if it's part of further action. It's not fine if it's instead of further action."

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