Child migrants 'used for perverted desires' in orphanage

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Former child migrant Michael O’Donoghue describes the abuse he was subjected to in an Australian orphanage

A former child migrant has described the Australian orphanage he was sent to as "a concentration camp".

A statement by John Francis Hanley was read to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA).

Mr Hanley was migrated to Australia aged six and placed in the Castledare Orphanage near Perth, run by Roman Catholic order the Christian Brothers.

The children were "beaten, abused and used for the Brothers' perverted desires," the inquiry heard.

Mr Hanley, who was born in 1947, described being sexually abused by two Christian Brothers, both in his bed and in their rooms.

Another man - who he said "was part of the Christian Brothers paedophile ring" - collected boys from the home and abused them elsewhere, the inquiry heard.

Mr Hanley was one of thousands of children moved from the UK to Australia after World War Two.

He said the Christian Brothers withheld his real name, which prevented him tracing his real family later in life.

"I believe it was part of the cover-up to ensure my mother could never find me," he said.

Many years later, when he accessed a Catholic Church document containing his mother's name, he said he discovered that "I'd had a mother all along and I'd been lied to all my life".

He had been deprived "of my family, my identity, my culture and even my own name".

"What kind of country would do that to its own little children," he asked the panel.

Image source, Child Migrants Trust
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The inquiry heard from a former child migrant who was sent to Castledare orphanage in Australia

Former child migrant Michael O'Donoghue gave evidence in person to the inquiry.

He was sent to Australia in 1953 and said that Christian Brothers at the Clontarf home had made children kill stray cats.

Some cats had been burned alive and even roasted over camp fires, he told the panel.

Mr O'Donoghue described being raped by two members of the order - Brother Murphy and Brother Angus - but said he had been too scared to report what was happening for fear of being beaten.

Describing the sexual abuse, he said he still blamed himself "in a sense" even though he knew he should not.

"It was disgusting then and I still think it's disgusting," he said.

Image source, State Library of South Australia
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One witness spoke about abuse she said took place at Goodwood Orphanage near Adelaide

Another former child migrant described to the inquiry the abuse she suffered at Goodwood Orphanage near Adelaide.

The anonymous witness - who was sent to Australia in 1949 - said "she was beaten into submission" by the time she left the home.

She gave evidence that during her time at the orphanage, the institution was visited by the then Archbishop of Adelaide Matthew Beovitch.

A group of the British girls "got together" and decided to tell him about the beatings.


The inquiry heard that when he asked whether they were happy, they said "mother superior beats us all the time with her strap".

The archbishop demanded the strap, asked the nun to promise she would not hit the girls and then asked: "Are you happy now children?"

But after telling the archbishop, the girls were "thrashed" with a wooden chair leg by the mother superior. The witness said she was unable to sit down for a week after the incident.

The witness also described being sexually abused by a man in the cabin of the ship that was transporting her to Australia.

The captain of the vessel took the girl through its decks looking for the man, who she identified.

The inquiry was shown a letter from the Orient Steam Navigation Company regarding the sexual assault on the child migrant ship.

The letter described the incident as "unpleasantness" and said that no physical harm was done.

"What a shocking lie. That's a terrible lie," said the witness.

A key area of the inquiry will be what the institutions involved in child migration knew about the mistreatment of the children they were responsible for the care of.

This week, the inquiry has heard harrowing evidence of sexual and physical abuse, none of which was reported to the police.

The inquiry will be given further evidence about what action was taken.