Select Committee on Health Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100 - 119)

WEDNESDAY 4 JUNE 1998MRS M HUMPHREYS, OAM, MR I THWAITES, MR DSPICER, THE HON MRS J TAYLOR, MR M DALTON, MR J HENNESSEY, MR N JOHNSTON and MRS P IRELAND.

100. You did not ask the Sisters.

(Mr Hennessey) Not directly. I could say there would have been times you would have asked, but they gave an answer that almost satisfied you. The beauty about the nuns as opposed to the Brothers, though you would not have fed some of the nuns they were so cruel, but others were absolutely gorgeous with a woman's affection for you. At least the nuns used to pick you up and give you a cuddle and that meant a lot as you were growing up.

101. Essentially you always thought you were an orphan.

(Mr Hennessey) Yes; yes.

Dr Stoate

102. I should like to thank you for your moving account. You have informed the Committee tremendously in our work and it has been extremely helpful. You said you left this community at 19 and you did not get Australian citizenship until obviously quite recently because you did not have your birth certificate. Could you just briefly outline your life since then? What did you do at 19 and what have you done with your life since?

(Mr Hennessey) When I left Boys' Town Bindoon...and I call it Boys' Town Bindoon because we built it. The boys built it. Brother Keaney never liked the boys to go into the city. What he wanted us to do was to be farm labourers so in the vast countryside of Western Australia on the wheat farms you were miles from nowhere. God only knows what happened to some of those kids because they were shoved into sheering sheds. They were still slaves then but they did not know any better. I said to Brother Keaney that I wanted to be a painter and decorator. There was that rebellion in me even at Bindoon. I wanted to go against the grain. I said I wanted to be a painter and decorator and he tried three or four times to tell me I was wasting my time. Anyway I insisted. I did a five-year apprenticeship as a painter and decorator. The first 12 months in the streets of Perth when I walked down the main street I used to hang my head low. I was frightened to talk to anybody or even to look at anybody. I just felt inferior. There was something there. We were always told by the Christian Brothers in particular that the opposite sex was sinful. They give you evil thoughts. When you are a child of 10 to 19, getting that all day, it has to affect you. Love started to come when people got to know me and I could not believe how people could be so kind. I gradually got over it but I did my five-year apprenticeship and I vowed I would never work for another boss again. Being told from the cradle what to do from morning to night by somebody really gets into your system.

103. Could you tell us how you managed with officialdom? If you had no legal citizenship, because presumably as far as the Australians were concerned you were not a legal citizen, you had no birth certificate, could you briefly tell us what legal difficulties you ran into in your career as a painter and decorator?

(Mr Hennessey) I just cannot understand how I got through, with drivers' licences...I still do not know. The classic has to be that I was Deputy Mayor of the city of Campbelltown. It is a city of 150,000 and half the population is under 21. The people for some unknown reason took to me and I went straight on. I was on that council. Nobody questioned it, but it was illegal because you were supposed to be an Australian citizen. I did not even have that birth certificate. I was not even an Australian citizen and yet I sat on that council for four years as Deputy Mayor. That is the type of thing. I must say the staff there for some unknown reason took to me, but I never told them my story. They said to me, after I left the council, when this came out, John, why did you not tell us the story? I said I wanted them to accept me as I am. I did not want any sympathy.

104. Are you still working now?

(Mr Hennessey) Semi-retired.

105. Do you have any trouble with pension and this sort of thing, getting registered for social security?

(Mr Hennessey) No; no, because of the birth certificate. When I first came over here a few years ago, the thing was an English passport, the Australian Government was not going to let me back into the country because I was not an Australian citizen. We had to take it to the Prime Minister's office. I have always believed you do not start from the bottom you go to the top. We did it. In spite of what we went through I was determined that nobody could say "John, you're a no-hoper. You are a derelict. You deserve everything you got". I wanted to prove to my fellow child migrants that, given the chance, we could be up there with the best.

Chairman

106. Do you want to say anything about your thoughts on what ought to happen now? What could the British Government do to address your personal circumstances? Obviously history has happened. You have gone through these terrible experiences. Where you are at now, what might happen which could improve your current circumstances, which would be of benefit to you and to your colleagues who have gone through similar experiences?

(Mr Hennessey) That is a good question. My personal thought—and you have no idea how we appreciate you people, you have no idea—is I believe there should be a judicial inquiry into the whole thing. I also believe that the Child Migrants' Trust should get a grant immediately because the only reason we could not get over here was we had no money. How the Child Migrants' Trust has worked on meagre money is just a national scandal, I believe. You are talking about your own flesh and blood. You are talking about 10,000 children who came from the mother country. This is the only organisation which is bringing them back. The other organisations were sending us away. If something is not done immediately, some of those lads are going to go to the grave before they meet their families due to financial constraints. On the personal side, the Australian Government recognised Margaret Humphreys' work and gave her one of the highest orders in Australia and I believe that it is high time her own government recommended to Her Majesty the Queen that this government also bestow due honour which she richly deserves. If it were not for her, if it were not for Joan Taylor, if it were not for the Nottingham County Council we child migrants would not be here today. It is just unbelievable. In my 62 years I never ever thought I would be sitting here with such distinguished people in front of me as I have. Many thanks.

107. We have listened very carefully to what you have to say. We are most grateful that you felt able to tell us your story. It may well be that we wish to come back later on with further questions but we do appreciate everything you have been able to say this morning. Could I at this point bring in Mrs Ireland for some background information about your own experiences?

 (Mrs Ireland) What do you want to know?

108. You were not a child migrant yourself.

(Mrs Ireland) No.

109. But you are the sister of child migrants.

 (Mrs Ireland) I have two sisters.

110. Please tell us about the background.(Mrs Ireland) Up until 1989 I thought that I was the elder of two children. I had a mother, a stepfather and a half sister. In September 1989 this woman from Nottinghamshire sent me a card saying she had something of a delicate and personal nature she wished to discuss with me. I called her and she arranged to come to see me. The upshot of that meeting was that I have these two sisters in Australia. I should explain that by this time in 1989 my mother was dead and all her family was dead so there was nobody to question. There is no documentation, there is no family history, there is nobody alive I can go and ask. I am going to turn the question back to you. How would you feel if somebody turned up on your doorstep?

111. What was the background to your sisters being in Australia?

(Mrs Ireland) Again there is no documentation. There was a little inkling when I got Margaret's card, I have to be perfectly honest with you. I do not know who my father was, so I was an illegitimate child, but I stayed with my mother. I thought that this woman was something to do with my father's family, so I thought she was coming to see me about a family matter. I thought there were siblings, but I thought it was my father's family. No, it was not. It was other siblings who were my mother's children. My birth certificate only has my mother's name on it and when I eventually got hold of my sisters' birth certificates it was the same story: no father's name, just my mother's name. There is nothing else. They were in a Catholic children's home in Feltham in Middlesex from 1944 I think; I am not sure of the dates. They were in this Catholic children's home from 1944 to 1949, then they were both shipped out to Australia in 1949 to Adelaide. In fact when my sisters were put in the children's home—and we can only assume...I was born in 1944, so now you all know how old I am. My mother and I were evacuated to Cornwall. My sisters and I look very alike. My middle sister looks very like who I think my father was. I have this one photograph. Trying to piece things together, we think that we are the children of a stable relationship, albeit an unmarried relationship. We think we are full sisters and not half sisters. In 1944 my father was killed, so I am told. My mother told me my father was killed during the war. If this scenario is correct that she was in this stable relationship, she had these three babies and this man is killed, in 1944 there is no welfare state. There is nothing. Who can she turn to? She is a Catholic, she is an Irish Catholic. What does she do? She turns to the people she trusts. She turns to the church. She gives two of her babies to the church to look after, assuming, I would have thought, that they were going to keep them in care themselves at worst, at best have them fostered or adopted. What happened to them was that in 1949 they were shipped out to Australia. What is interesting is that they did not know until they went to Australia that in fact they were sisters. They were kept in separate places in Middlesex. One was in the infants' part of the orphanage and the other was in the junior part of the orphanage. Neither child knew that they had a sibling until they were sent to Australia and it was, "Oh, by the way, Pat, this is your sister". There are two years between them. I cannot tell you any more than that because there is no evidence, no documentation anywhere. They did not know their birth dates. They celebrated their birthdays in September or something, but in fact when they eventually got their birth certificates... My sister got her birth certificate when she was 18 because she wanted to get married and she knew somebody who was a professional, who knew what to do. They wrote to London and had enough information, her name had not been changed, her surname had not been changed, so it was a fairly simple matter for her to get her birth certificate. When she got her birth certificate, she found that in fact both of them had been celebrating their birthdays on the wrong date. I think when they asked when their birthdays were a date was plucked out of the air.

112. You made it clear that your mother had died.

(Mrs Ireland) My mother died in...I cannot remember.

113. It was before your sisters made contact.

(Mrs Ireland) Yes. My elder sister made contact with the Trust in 1987. My mother died in 1988. They found me in 1989. Of course the Trust were not looking for me, they were looking for my mother and it was very difficult. It took three years and in that time my mother died.

114. You have no knowledge presumably of whether your mother consented in any way to your sisters going to Australia.

(Mrs Ireland) No. There is nothing. She left no letter, there was nothing, because of course you go through everything. I went through all her papers with a different eye but there was nothing. She left a very cold trail.

115. Your thoughts on the same areas I asked Mr Hennessey about. What can be done now to address the situation?

(Mrs Ireland) What can be done now? I got motivated in 1989 and started writing letters to every politicians that lives, most of whom did not reply but that is another story. I wrote to the Department of Health. They were not exactly helpful. I will not go into all that. What should happen now? There should be full, comprehensive, long-term funding for the Trust. It has to be an independent agency that helps the former child migrants. The abused do not go back to the abusers. They cannot go to a government agency, they cannot go to the charities, they have to go to somebody independent. The Trust exists to help the child migrants. They do not have any other cause. They are single-minded. Long-term funding for the Child Migrants' Trust. Let us get Nottingham off the hook. Nottinghamshire County Council have been funding this for over 10 years. The taxpayers of Nottingham have been doing what we as a country should have been. Nobody is saying it is this Government's fault, nobody is saying it is the former Government's fault, nobody is trying to say it is your fault. We are just saying this happened. What can we do now to make it right? Funding. It is as simple as that. It is money but the clock is ticking. The clock is ticking.

116. May I thank you? It may well be that we may wish to raise further questions with you in the course of the morning. It would be appropriate perhaps to ask the two other former migrants whether they felt able to say a few words about their own experiences.

(Mr Dalton) Firstly, I should like to thank the Health Select Committee for giving us the opportunity to be here today. I am in some respects here representing my friends and fellow child migrants in Western Australia or Australia in general. This is the first time that child migrants have been given the opportunity to voice their opinions and perhaps have someone actually sit down and listen to what the problems were. For many years we were told nothing about our circumstances. For example, we were taken from our homes in England, mine was in Swansea, Wales, and deported over to Australia without any consent whatsoever from my mother at the time. I have documentation here which was signed by a Sister Jerome claiming to be my guardian. To this day, there is no documentation that she was my guardian. I was born in 1939 and my mother was of Irish descent. She came to England pregnant and unmarried. At the outbreak of war in 1939 she placed me in a place called Finchley in the care of the Sisters. I did not find out until years later. I will tell you what I knew up to the stage when I found my mother. Aged two I was shifted down to Swansea in Wales where I stayed for five years. From there I was never asked whether I wanted to go to Australia; not in any way or form was I asked would I, or could I, or will I? At seven and a half I was shipped out from Southampton and arrived in Western Australia and placed in an institution, Clontarf Boys' Home with the Christian Brothers. As we all know, we did not question what went on there. If we did we had no-one to go to. We could not complain. There was nowhere to go. We did not have a home, we did not have an outside contact we could go to. All our complaints may have gone to the Catholic priest who then consulted with the Brothers who gave us the belt for complaining. We were fully isolated in these institutions. I managed to pass my junior. I left there aged 15. I did an apprenticeship as a carpenter and joiner. Fortunately I got through that. All this time, we were having documents thrown at us like apprenticeship papers asking for our birthdate, our parents, mother's and father's names. We did not know who they were. We were never ever told. Anyway we bluffed our way through. I got called up for National Service in 1969. I spent three months in the army as a so-called Australian citizen. I do not have citizenship as yet. I have been there 51 years. In all these things they pushed us through without the proper documentation. I was aged 23 and my wife and I were to get married. I was told by the priests, we were led to believe, that we were not married unless we were married in the church. My wife was not a Catholic at the time. I had to have proof that I in fact was a Catholic. At that stage I had no baptismal certificate. I did not have my proper birth certificate, I was told the date of my birth by a person from the Catholic immigration department to whom we were accountable. Anything that happened with us was relayed to the Catholic immigration department and that was the only contact we had. The only time they got in contact with us was if we were in trouble, as in one instance with me. I got caught riding a pushbike home from football training one night without lights. I was taken to the childrens' court and I got a 10 shilling fine. I did not find out until years later that they had kept a very close tab on me. On the whole of the rest of the document there was absolutely nothing. This particular case where I was in court for riding that bike, a minor offence as a child, was on my document when I got it. All right, I did get my baptism certificate. We duly got married. For the rest of the time we could not fill out documents because we did not have parents' names or whatever. I married and had three children. My wife nagged me, for want of a better word, "Do you want to find out about your family?". As we had learned to live without family I said I was not really bothered because if there was anyone there they would have come to find me. It went on. Twenty-four years into my marriage, my kids were growing up, and they wanted to know why I did not have parents. Where are your parents, Dad? Where is your Mum? I said I did not know. This is when I really took up, with my wife's help, the search to find family, whether there was anything out there. We had absolutely no information whatsoever. We were shipped over to Australia and all was forgotten. It is only the perseverance of my wife that I am here. We did go through venues other than the Child Migrants' Trust. We went through genealogists. We got some papers. On my baptism certificate fortunately—I found this out later—because my parents, my mother and father, were Irish the baptism certificate had my mother's and father's names on it and an address in Hammersmith or Shepherd's Bush. My birth certificate said I was born in Paddington and my mother lived in Shepherd's Bush. I eventually acquired, through the genealogists, a proper birth certificate and an original baptism certificate with witnesses etcetera. I somehow got a marriage certificate of an Ellen Dalton. They were not sure at that stage that it was my mother. We went through all this paraphernalia. We got a fair bit of documentation but no proof. We piled up this information and when we wrote back to the genealogists again they said if we wanted them to go any further it would cost us A$500 or £250. We had paid in the past for all this information we had obtained. This is about 1990. We said we were getting the same answers as we had had all our lives. Don't know. Don't want to know. We're not going to tell you. In 1990 we gave it a little bit of a break. In 1993 when we first heard about the Child Migrants' Trust through fellow child migrants, I was able to get in contact with Margaret Humphreys through a friend of mine who was coming over here for the very same reason. I asked him whether he would bring my paperwork over and give it to the Child Migrants' Trust. I received a letter within a month of the Child Migrants' Trust receiving my paperwork telling me they had received it. Ten months later I received another letter from the Child Migrants' Trust telling me that they might have found my mother. This information was mind blowing. I must admit Mrs Humphreys came over to Australia on three occasions and interviewed me. On the first occasion I was not ready to believe this. I am 50 years of age and here is a woman from England who comes over and tells me she could have found my mother when no-one else was supposed to be able to find her, and using the same paperwork we had supplied. All these other agencies said no, no, no, not getting anything, no information. I was really abusive to Margaret in the initial stages. I said, "Don't come over here telling me lies. I don't believe it". I was not ready to believe it. On her third visit in 1993 she assured me that indeed they had found my mother and there was a half brother and sister living in Shepherd's Bush or Hammersmith, the very address on my baptism certificate.

117. All alive at the time.

(Mr Dalton) Yes, all alive at the time. Time went by. We managed to scrape enough money together to get over here. It was 1995. My wife and I got on a plane. We were met at the airport by the Child Migrants' Trust social workers. I might point out that from the time they took up my case they were in contact, very helpful, very sympathetic for want of a better word. I was met at the airport by the social worker from the Child Migrants' Trust, escorted to my mother's house and they were in attendance for the whole time when I met my mother for the first time in 1995. During the period of time from when I was informed my mother was alive and I had got over here I received a birthday card from my mother and my brother and sister on my 56th birthday. The first time I had ever had anything. I do not have to tell you how mind blowing that was. It was very emotional at the time I met my mother. She was 86 at the time. We spent three weeks on that first visit over here with my mother and brother and sister. He was living in America at the time and he came over for the occasion. My children were ecstatic that we had found something after all these years because in our opinion it was going to be a dead cause, another dead end, until the Trust took over the situation. I have been back to England on three occasions since my first meeting with my mother. Unfortunately on my last visit in January of 1997 it was to —-

118. Have a break for a minute and perhaps we can bring your colleague in.

(Mr Dalton) Just let me finish.

119. Are you all right to carry on? What you have told us is very helpful. We appreciate it. We understand it is very painful for you but this is invaluable evidence you are giving the Committee which will of course be on the record. We know that you are speaking on behalf of the experiences of many, many others. We appreciate your courage in being here today.

(Mr Dalton) It was in January of 1997 that I came home to bury my mother just before her 88th birthday.


 
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