Select Committee on Health Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140 - 159)


140. Could you speak up a little bit?

(Mr Johnston) It is hard for me to talk loudly. If I do talk loudly, I become too emotional. This is my way of keeping a check on myself. Might I go back to a comment you made at the beginning when you raised the issue that there were some successful people who went through this scheme.

141. Perhaps I should qualify that. What I meant was that you have somebody here who was a Deputy Mayor. Success was not in terms of perhaps overcoming what people have gone through, it was in terms of doing well in terms of professional life, in politics, in a range of areas, where I know people have in that sense done very well. I will qualify that point because I understand the way that I meant it may be misinterpreted.

(Mr Johnston) I took exactly what you said as being the circumstance. I wanted to say to the Committee that I deem myself to be one of those successful people but I would forego the total success I have had for another 10 minutes with my mother. I did not find my mother until 1984, some 40 years after I was deported from this very land, Scotland in fact. We had a lovely time for the short time we were able to be together. I have a family of my own at home, three children who, like Matt's, coerced me into being just a little bit more positive, "Dad, try your luck. You have not been helped any other way, try it yourself. See what you can come up with". I did; mainly for them funnily enough. I never believed for one minute that the church had bum-drummed me, for want of a better word, on my circumstance. I came across in 1983. I was so overawed with the blatant easiness I had of finding my records. I went to the births, deaths and marriages in Edinburgh and within three minutes of being in there, I was actually looking at my birth certificate. I find it inexplicable why these documents did not accompany us on our migration or deportation.

142. Could you tell us a little about the circumstances in which you went to Australia? What you know about, where you were, how it happened?

(Mr Johnston) Yes, I was going to lead into this. May I make one further comment which I felt needed to be said by me and probably needs to be said by many other migrants. This is a citizenship certificate which makes me an Australian citizen. It also to a degree now makes me a foreigner sitting here in front of you in my own home land. I had no choice in the matter of whether I got this. It was either me continue with my career, thereby being forced to take this out, or curtail my career and be discharged. I had 23 years in the military. To be able to sign on I had to become an Australian citizen or that was the end of my career, which of course meant the end of my DFIDB, as it is known, which is our retirement pay. I would have lost all that. All of this could have been avoided. I was handed in at Nazareth House by a canon of the Catholic Church. My mother managed to give me a small brief in 1983-84 about what happened to me and her circumstance. It was not very pleasant. It was very difficult for her to tell me. It was fairly difficult for me to listen to what she had to say as well and taking in the awesomeness of the moment. My mother's husband is not my father. She was placed under a great deal of duress by the local Catholic institutions that my mother's husband was away at war and he was going to come back any day and he was going to go off his head, etcetera. So mum surrendered me to this canon of the church who then placed me in Nazareth House in Aberdeen. I had some very late recollections of being in Nazareth House in Aberdeen, particularly one of the lay teachers, a female carer, who took a particular liking to small boys, of which I was one. The memory I have is of her always laughing. I remember the last Christmas I was there, on the end of my bed they had actually taken the time to put this very large—very large to me—wooden train and the little coal area at the back of the train was full of chocolate frogs. The trains' wheels did not go round; it was all one piece of wood. That occupied me for weeks and weeks and weeks. I still have very fond memories of that. I have very fond memories of my last days in that institution, when I was taken into an old men's home which adjoined the institution. It seemed to be the norm in those days. I was dressed all in white. I was seven years' old. We had to go to each bed and shake hands with the aged people who were in there. As we went past each of them gave two shillings, four shillings, 10 shillings, whatever, fruit, chocolate; I was quite amazed. I had never seen the likes of that before. It finished. When I came out, the Reverend Mother, who had organised this, counted up a guinea and told me I was a very rich boy. I thought that was lovely. I also probably had enough chocolate and lollies for the next month. I clearly remember one day some three days before this event, before I was taken into the old people's home, a group of three people: one was a priest, another was in a suit and I was not sure who the other one was. We were all assembled in the hall. I can remember the question being asked: who wants to go to Australia? We got such a glowing picture of what Australia meant, most of what has been declared to the meeting this morning. I had no response to that because I did not even know where Australia was. I think it was probably the first time I had ever heard the word. I was told shortly after these three men left that I was one who was going. I thought, "Well, where is it?". I was told it was just down the road and around the corner. I thought, "Wow, that's great. How come such a place exists and here I am in this real old place? I can always come back here if I don't like it". It was the convenience of it. The day came that I had to leave with the group of boys. I do not remember that day. I do not remember anything. I have no recollection of the next four days of my travels. I was told mid-transition, mid-Atlantic, mid-wherever it was we went, before we got to Colombo anyway, that I cried for four days because this "just down the road and around the corner" seemed to be way beyond even my comprehension then; four days later we were still travelling. I remember parts of the journey from Colombo on as being quite good. We had a lot of fun on board ship, although with the restrictions that a group of children would have. We arrived at Freemantle. It was the first time I had seen the Christian Brothers. There in the public eye they seemed to me to be just more people. We were lined up in different groups. JohnHennessey raised the crying and there was some of that with us too because with our group brothers and sisters were separated, brothers and brothers were separated. If one were older he might have had to go to Bindoon while the other one went to Castledare or Clontarf. Once through that we were then taken on our journeys to different institutions. For my lot, I went to Castledare initially. It was not in fact until we entered Castledare and we got off the bus that took us there that we began to see the roughness. To me it was a very rough handling. I was not familiar with it. There was the yelling, grouching, waving of hands, "Do as you're told. Get in line", etcetera. We were still in our finery. I might regard it as finery because I can still remember what I wore. I wore a small tweed suit with shorts, but it was a matching ensemble, shoes, socks and I had my own little case which had the white clothing I mentioned earlier in there along with the chocolates and the guinea was still there. That very afternoon we were marched into the laundry of Castledare and we were derobed of everything we had on, completely stripped, singlets, underwear, socks, and given this baggy clothing. A pair of shorts and a shirt. Like John, we never saw those items again. One has to suspect the possibility that they may have been used for the next group to come over. One cannot confirm that. We did not see an item of what any of us had from that day on which is very unusual. I say that with hindsight.

143. Clearly we need to be looking at the contemporary issues we are able to address. Before we move on to those points, can you clarify what you know about your mother's knowledge of what happened to you and what she assumed had happened to you? Clearly this is a very important area which we have touched on previously.

(Mr Johnston) One of the first things I wanted to know for my family's sake was why this was allowed to happen. Why did this happen to me? Why, mum, did you let this happen? I mentioned to you earlier her beliefs and she felt under a lot of pressure, mainly from the church, but also the fear of her husband returning from war. She had no idea that I had been sent to Australia. In fact it was because of my Vietnam service and I had the orphanage down on my military records as my next of kin.

144. The orphanage where you came from in Scotland.

(Mr Johnston) Yes; in Scotland. While I was recuperating in bed in hospital in Malaysia in 1965, I received a cablegram from my mother. I was too ill to read it. The postal clerk actually sat by my bed and read the cablegram to me. I was so shocked I had to tell the postal orderly that he had got the wrong person. He panicked and bolted out. I did not find out until I met my mother that she did in fact send that cablegram.

145. Presumably she was contacted by the orphanage with this information.

(Mr Johnston) I suspect through the Scottish police probably and someone within the orphanage and I believe it was that lady I alluded to earlier, Miss Helen Rabit was her name.

146. Had she assumed you had been adopted?

(Mr Johnston) No, there was no mention of me being adopted. There was a simple mention of her lack of knowledge of what happened to me. She did not know I had been sent to Australia.

147. She had made no consent whatsoever for this arrangement.

(Mr Johnston) No.

Mr Gunnell: It was in 1955 that you received this cable, was it?


148. It was in the 1960s. Vietnam. You said it was in 1965 when you received this information.

(Mr Johnston) Yes, 1965.

149. Following on from that presumably, when you were discharged from hospital or left the forces, you made contact with her.

(Mr Johnston) No, I received a letter from my sister, which was an even bigger shock. She was in Canada.

150. You did not know you had a sister.

(Mr Johnston) No. She advised me that she had no knowledge of my existence either at that time. This was a half sister. I was also informed that I have a younger half brother whom I have never met yet either. I have had no correspondence with my younger brother. I have had some bitter correspondence between myself and my half sister in Canada, but that is another issue quite aside from what we are discussing today.

151. May I ask you, as I have asked other witnesses, for your thoughts, in view of your own circumstances, on what ought to happen now in terms of policy developments. What might happen that would assist you and your colleagues and people who have gone through the situation you have gone through?

(Mr Johnston) I appreciate the opportunity to address that aspect of it but would say that between what has been said now and the remedy there is a million lifetimes that we cannot get out because no-one really wants to hear what happened to us during the times within Australia. Some terrible things happened; absolutely horrendous things. I believe there is a need for the child migrant population of Australia, indeed the world, to have acknowledgement from the British Government that this did happen, a recognition that mistakes had been made. I think this will go a long way towards the healing process of these itinerant people. There are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of child migrants in Australia who are, if not destitute, so introverted, they are so scared, so fearful, they have no self esteem, they have no self respect. This was all removed from them during their upbringing in Australia. It was physically and brutally removed. I am a natural left-hander in everything I do. I kick football with my left leg, I play cricket left-handed, I bat left-handed. It was all right for me to do all that because it was an advantage to the orphanage when we played the other schools. But if I picked up a pen left-handed I was very, very quickly brought to task and told that I must learn to write right-handed. I write very efficiently right-handed. I eat with my utensils in what is considered to be the normal way. It would seem there is some belief that it is only the devil's children who use the left hand. I am going back to the generation then. Of course we perceive it quite differently today. It was not uncommon to have a cane come from nowhere right across the hand as you were writing if you held a pen or pencil in the left hand. However, you can kick left-footed, no problem with that. If you were a fast bowler, throw them down quicker. That was quite acceptable. The recognition by the British Government, the recognition by the Australian Government that there is a major problem right on their doorstep. Actually it is in-house in Australia. These people who are missing these documents which are so vital to their livelihood, so vital to their life, have to get them. We have to have all our documents found and centralised. May I quote one example? Sixteen years of institutional life and I went to collect my documents from the Catholic welfare in central Perth. After waiting some 15 minutes, I received three documents: two of them were letters I wrote to the Catholic welfare organisation begging them to take me off the farm they had put me on. The other one was a piece of paper about so square which had some baptismal details on it. Sixteen years of institutional life, that was NormanJohnston in a nutshell. That was it. Everything else that I have now, including my own birth certificate—I am pleased to say—I got, but I got with such ease one has to question why it was not available. I know why. As children in institutions, if we had these, we had the right to say we were somebody and we wanted to go back to where we belonged. We were told, "No, England does not want you. You have been sent here. You're not wanted back there. Your parents have abandoned you". Thus, by denying us these that completed the picture, the scenario was there and they had open slather, for want of a better word, to do with us what they would and the outside world just did not want to know about it. Thus our very great appreciation to be able to speak to this Committee in the hope that the recommendations suggested by Mr JohnHennessey be adopted or recommended to the British Government for a judicial inquiry. What you see here is a scratch in the surface of what is out there. It is a scratch. I could take all your time today and I would get through maybe the first six months of my life in an institution and none of it would be good.

152. We are most grateful for your very helpful evidence.

(Mr Johnston) I have one more comment, if I may. The funding for the Child Migrants' Trust is just so vital. It is the only honest, open, confidential, independent link the child migrant has between Australia and home. Home to us is still here. We want it to remain here. We want to be able to come back. We want to be able to visit mum, visit the brothers—not the Christian Brothers—our own family, brothers and sisters. We want to have the capacity to do that. The bulk of the child migrants—in conflict with what you said earlier, Chairman, but I know your intentions—in Australia is essentially one per cent above derelict. That is his standard. He has no money, he was never given the chance to succeed. His education was the most basic that can be provided. I say this and I will stand up to any challenge because I now know in hindsight what we were given as opposed to what was available to us. What you people, what Britain recommended we should get, we did not get. We have read the legislation relating to how the laws were passed for us to migrate—I do not like the use of that word; we are being unfair to the genuine migrant—and we know what happened. We know it required Royal Assent, we know everybody believed in England that we were going to be cared for in a way that we would have been cared for here had we had the opportunity to stay where we were. Thank you, Chairman.

Chairman: Thank you very much.

Dr Stoate

153. Again a very moving account and thank you for that, you have helped us tremendously. I just want to clarify one point. Really you are relating again, the same as previous witnesses, that there was almost a conspiracy of silence, in other words people were deliberately withholding information. Is it fair to say that?

(Mr Johnston) Two things are certain in life: one is death and the other one is that that was inflicted on us.

154. That is what I wanted to get to. What I want to know is where you think this really was. Do you think it was the sending agencies which were actively involved in this or do you think that in some way the Government was either condoning it or deliberately turning a blind eye, or do you think it was more a question that the Government had washed their hands of it, put it under the carpet and was not playing an active part?

(Mr Johnston) There was collusion with all agencies, government, Catholic and the various institutions and the various governments, British, Australian and the Catholic Church. It was a coordinated thing. One hand had to know what the other hand was doing. Who paid for the ships that took us over? Who paid the fares? Who signed the papers to release us from England? Who received us in Australia? We had Australian Government officials on the dock receiving us and telling us what a great land we had come to. Everybody knew what was going on. What was held back from them was the intention of these agencies as to how we were going to be used and how they were going to do it. That is what the people of England were denied.

155. You do not believe that the Government was really aware of the agencies' motivations although they were of course part of the process.

(Mr Johnston) That is correct. I say that because I am still very, very uptight, having gone through this and it could so easily have been avoided. Where were the British representatives who sent us across there and stated in their legislation that they had to follow this up, they had to make sure that we would receive the same treatment as we would get if we had remained here? Nobody like that in Bindoon. I had six years in Clontarf and two and a half years at Castledare; I never spoke to a welfare officer or a government person in all that time. Then two and a half years on a farm where I was forced to—that is another story in itself which you do not want to hear about. I was two and a half years on a farm before I actually saw a welfare officer from Australia and the day he saw me was the day he told me to put my resignation in and report back to the child welfare section in Perth. Such was the abuse and care that we received.

Dr Brand

156. You were clearly denied an identity independent from the institution. They controlled your destiny while you were there. I find it extraordinary that you were discharged from the institutions in a stateless condition. Clearly we can say all sorts of rude things about the institutions and no doubt we will, but it seems extraordinary that this legal process with lots of civil servants involved in setting it up, did not recognise that the period of care had to have a transition into citizenship. Do we have any evidence of anybody being helped to acquire a national status?

(Mr Hennessey) With the Bindoon boys, because all the evidence seems to show that Bindoon was the most notorious of the institutions, when our day came we were given a suit and the Brothers had a truck—not a bus, not a car but an open truck. They used to shop once a week and get all the groceries from Perth. You can imagine the bread by the end of the week. When it was time to leave you said goodbye to your mates. We cried because they were our friends. We were put in the truck and left to ourselves, whether it was to farms or wherever.

(Mr Johnston) It is true. I can give you a further idea, stemming on from what John has had to say. The day I left Clontarf, three days beforehand I was sitting in the junior classroom. It was March 1959, StPatrick's Day. I was removed from the class because I turned 16. Funding stopped for the institutions at 16 years of age. No matter what, you were just pushed out. Many of them, I believe, had such tentative work to go to they were on the unemployment or government welfare within weeks or months of leaving the institutions. The day of my departure from Clontarf to go to a place in Waroona, 70miles south of Perth in the country area, a dairy farm, a utility pulled in this particular morning with the father of my boss to be. I was about to get in the cab of the truck and the Irishman that drove the truck said, "No, chuck it in the back". It was raining I might add. I threw my bag in the back and went to get in the front of the ute. He said, "No, don't you dare get in there. My dog's in there. You sit in the back". I sat in the back of the ute for the 70 mile trip down to Waroona. The parting words still ring so terribly with me and they came from the superior at Clontarf at that time. His parting words to me as I sat in the back of the utility were, "I suppose the next time I'll see you will be in Freemantle jail". That was it. I had no money. I had a case that had two changes of clothes. I did not get a suit. Bindoon obviously were better served than we were. I got a sports jacket and a pair of slacks and two working outfits and a pair of boots and that was my lot, as was the standard for all the children who left Clontarf to go to the various homes. No identity. I was given a week's holiday after what seemed like an eternity and I had nowhere to go. I rang Clontarf and asked whether I could go there for the week because I had to get off the farm, it was driving me insane. The superior answered and said, "No. You're not coming back here". I said I could pay. I had to have somewhere to go. I finished up offering £10 if they would put me up for a week. I am earning £2.05 a week and I had to pay £10 to go back to Clontarf to spend one week to get off that farm. Such was my desperation to get off that farm, I seriously considered chopping off a finger. I had gone to the extremes of Detolling the chopping block, Detolling the bandages I was going to use, the axe blade and I had even had a couple of swings. That was my desperation to get out of there. I am just so happy I did not do it but it could so easily have been done.

Mr Gunnell

157. We have had what is enormously helpful evidence from all four witnesses but in each case, as it happens, the Catholic organisations have been involved. Two questions arising from that. Do you think that it is a coincidence that we have this particularly dramatic evidence from people who in a sense went to the Christian Brothers or were involved with the Sisters of Mercy before they went? The second thing is that the Child Migrants' Trust tells us in its evidence that there was litigation against the Christian Brothers by 250 former residents as a result of which they established the trust which has paid perhaps for some of the work which has been done since then. Were any of you part of that litigation?

(Mr Dalton) You should be putting those questions to the Trust. They are the only ones who know the answer, particularly to the second part. We do not know what the funding of the Trust is.

(Mr Johnston) This is the litigation in Sydney which took place. Yes, there were members here who were party to that, but their intention was not to gain or make profit from it. The intention was to have the numbers there because that was the only avenue we had going at the time. We had to show that there were many people affected by this. Even so, once again the Catholic Church had to pay something in the order of A$11million for its defence. That is incredible. When you consider the head of the Christian Brothers' organisation in Western Australia had already publicly apologised for what had happened.


158. Did you say that the church paid A$11million on defence?

(Mr Johnston) And settlement. There was a A$3.5million settlement and legal costs were astronomical. They employed the most highfalutin people. The thing which defeated that case of course was the statute of limitations in Western Australia.

Mr Gunnell

159. It is clear from the evidence we have that people did not take action for personal gain but took action as an organisation in order to secure a fund for —

(Mr Johnston) No, that is a separate action.
(Mr Hennessey) May David Spicer speak on our behalf because David is a barrister.(Mr Spicer) I am a member of the Bar but I am not an advocate today, I am speaking in a very different capacity. There is a confusion here. The Trust has received no monies as a result of any legal action.

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