Since the early 1980’s we have been one of the strongest critics of the policy of child migration and have publicly acknowledged the hurt that was caused to many child migrants. However, between 1921 and 1965, we did undertake child migration. Now we understand how incredibly important it is for children to have contact with their birth families so that they know where they have come from.
Barnardos' official Immigration Scheme began in 1920. A representative of Dr. Barnardos Homes in England - Miss Mabel Cameron - was sent to Australia to raise funds and support for the institution and the Immigration Scheme which, by this date, was sending great numbers of children to Canada.
Whilst in Sydney she called upon the 'Millions Club' - a group of businessmen whose common aim was to fill Australia with a million farms worked by a million British migrant settlers. The Club's President, Sir Arthur Rickard, urged Miss Cameron and the board of Dr Barnardos in London to 'send the boys here ... you'll find we'll treat you right royally'. After an exchange of cables and negotiations between Sir Arthur and the board the first party of 47 boys left the United Kingdom for Australia in 1921.
The first reception hostel in New South Wales was a former Red Cross hospital at Botany Bay, however, this was not suitable and eventually a home was purchased in Ashfield. This two-storey residence, which housed up to 60 boys, was used as a place of temporary residence upon their arrival in Australia and as a convalescent home. The purchase of the Ashfield property coincided with the arrival of the first party of girls in 1924, who were allowed to come to Australia on the condition they worked as domestic staff for at least two years.
A number of local support groups were formed for the children for example in Singleton, Scone and Wagga Wagga. With the opening of the Barnardos' farm training school at Mowbray Park in Picton in 1929, children were able to come to Australia and attend a school built on the property. Later they attended a larger central school in the nearby township. When they reached 16 years they became farm trainees for six months after which they were sent to farm positions.
By 1938, 2340 children had arrived in Australia. The film The Boy from Barnardos was being shown in 100 theatres. During World War II, many Barnardos boys and girls joined the Australian Armed Forces and Barnardos head office assisted them by keeping and banking their pay allotment monies on their behalf.
No children arrived during the war years, but after the war Barnardos continued to send children on a diminishing scale. During this time Barnardos opened a new group of homes for brothers and sisters at Normanhurst on Sydney's north shore. Three cottages cared for children aged 10 upwards who attended local schools and later went on to positions in shops or offices or were apprenticed in the area.
In 1948 the UK press criticised child migration and Mr P T Kirkpatrick, generaI superintendent of Barnardos homes came from England to examine the condition of the children. He reported that "standards of care were very high".
In his book ''The Forgotten Children''* David Hill notes that a UK government fact-finding mission in 1956 resulted in a listing of those child migration facilities in category C that met the required standards. All Barnardos homes were placed in category C. Category A contained a list of those facilities that were blacklisted. These included the Christian Brothers orphanages in Western Australia known as Bindoon and Castledare.
The Child Migration Scheme was a product of a historical period when there was a lack of understanding of the long-term impact on children and young people sent so far away from their country and family of origin. Our Old Boys and Girls have greatly assisted our understanding of the importance of issues of identity, keeping siblings together, access to records, the stigma and feeling of shame experienced by children reared in institutions and other matters which have enriched our current services.
* The Forgotten Children by David Hill, pp267-278