Cornwall

Apology to child migrants by Children's Services

Children waiting outside the SS Asturias
Image caption It is thought that about 3,500 children were sent to Australia

An apology has been given to child migrants who were sent to Australia by Cornwall's Children's Services in the 1950s and '60s.

Lead councillor for the department, Neil Burden, made the statement to apologise "for the hurt caused".

It is thought that about 3,500 children were sent to Australia after the Second World War for a more prosperous future.

Many of those child migrants have since told of their sexual, physical and emotional abuse in the country.

Jan Barby was sent in the 1950s to a farm near Orange, west of Sydney, when she was seven-years-old with her two brothers.

She has since told of the sexual and physical abuse she suffered while working on the farm.

"It's devastating. It [the farm] will gradually fall down and everyone will forget," Ms Barby said.

"I would like people to know that it wasn't a holiday farm like they all seem to think. It should never happen again.

"It's [the apology] not personally going to change my life, because they can't give back what they've taken from my life can they."

Mr Burden was prompted to write the apology after learning that Ms Barby was returning to Cornwall to visit Camborne.

In the apology Mr Burden said: "Many children were living in very difficult conditions in the 1950s and 60s and being sent to an orphanage was often their only alternative to a life of poverty.

"I am in no doubt that that those in charge were doing what they thought was in the best interests of these children - Australia was seen as a land of hope, space and opportunity - a great place of adventure.

"I know that many of these are still haunted by what happened to them and I would, I am sure, be joined by many people in Cornwall in offering sincere apologies for the hurt caused."

Eddie Butler, who was sent to Perth from a Catholic orphanage in Bodmin, said: "It's nice to think that we're being thought about.

"I was sent out without my mother's permission, and I never saw my mother again. It's too late now, there's nothing they can do.

"I was brought out when I was 10 years of age. Taken to a hell hole in Western Australia abused in all manners and then 16 years of age put onto the streets of Perth."

Mr Butler said he hoped to use a fund set up by the British government so he and his wife could visit Cornwall.

In 2009 the Australian government apologised for the abuse suffered by the child migrants and this year Gordon Brown made an apology on behalf of the successive UK governments.

A fund of $6m was organised by the Child Migrant's Trust for child migrants to use to visit Cornwall or trace their family.

Rex Wade, was the last child migrant, along with his brother, to be sent to a children's home in Tasmania in 1970.

Image caption From one care home to another - but they were thousands of miles apart

He has since returned to Cornwall and lives in St Columb near Newquay.

He said: "It's very noble of him to admit that they have made errors.

"It has come a little too late, but what else can be done now. It affects me everyday, because I don't think it's been closed fully yet.

"It's just knowing that somewhere there's more family and half the time I don't know where to look."

There are no exact numbers of children sent out to Australia, but the Child Migrants Trust estimates about 3,500 made that journey after World War II.

Professor of modern British history at Lancaster University, Stephen Constantine said: "I think it's [the apology] a very important part of enabling child migrants to understand their own position and to get recognition for the hurt they suffered.

"I think the story will not be forgotten. This is now very firmly in the records."

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