Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160
WEDNESDAY 4 JUNE 1998MRS
M HUMPHREYS, OAM, MR
I THWAITES, MR
DSPICER, THE HON MRS
J TAYLOR, MR
M DALTON, MR J
N JOHNSTON and MRS P
I do not think Mr Gunnell said that. I think he was talking about
what was established by the Brothers, the fund referred to which
had supported people coming across.
(Mr Spicer) Exactly.
Part of the settlement of the legal action was the establishment
of a fund which was intended to fund returns home. Nothing to
do with the funding for the Trust. There was a confusion here.
We understand that point.
(Mr Dalton) Could I say why Catholics
get so much mention here? It was because the Catholics had most
of the institutions. In Perth and surrounding areas alone, or
Western Australia, there were four orphanages run by the Christian
Brothers and two by the Sisters of Mercy. That is only in Western
Australia. In the other states they also had institutions. This
is why you find that the Catholic Church particularly is being
given and we are all representatives from the Catholic Church.
Just to clarify, we are not here just bashing Catholics. The Catholics
had a huge input into the immigration system.
162. We understand
that. Before we move on may I just thank Mr Johnston for that
very helpful evidence. It has been most useful that you have been
able to express to us your particular circumstances. If we have
time we may well want to come back with further questions.
Johnston) May I also advise the Committee that I have brought
with me a copy of the Voices magazine, which was our voice during
the years of turmoil that the litigation was going on. The stories
which are in here are going to give you a very broad basis of
what the core of the problem is and may help the Committee in
fact in formulating its recommendations.
Chairman: We will certainly
look at those if you leave them with us. That is very helpful.
How able do you think you are as a Trust to represent the bulk
of the child migrants in Australia?
(Mrs Humphreys) That
is a good question. I am glad you have put that to me, certainly
in the light of what has just been said. We are very representative.
I was in a sense prepared for this question so perhaps I may answer
it based in reality and tell you who we work with and who we are
currently working with. We work with people who went to Fairbridge,
Pinjarra, Western Australia, Fairbridge, Molong in New South Wales,
Fairbridge, Tresca in Tasmania, Fairbridge, Zimbabwe, which was
Rhodesia, Fairbridge, Vancouver, Barnados in Canada, Barnados
Picton, New South Wales, Christian Brothers, Castledare, Christian
Brothers, Clontarf, Christian Brothers, Tardun, Christian Brothers,
Bindoon, Nazareth House, Camberwell, Victoria, Nazareth House,
Geraldton, Western Australia, Mercy Sisters, Goodwood, South Australia,
Mercy Sisters, Neerkol, Queensland, Mercy Sisters, Thurgoona,
New South Wales, Mercy Sisters, North Ryde, New South Wales, Mercy
Sisters, Subiaco, Western Australia, Northcote Farm School, Victoria,
Swan Homes, Western Australia, Murray Dwyer, New South Wales,
Christian Brothers, Sydney, United Protestants' Association, Melrose,
Sydney, United Protestants' Association, Lismore, New South Wales,
Saleasian Brothers, Glenorchy, Tasmania, Clarendon Children's
Homes, Tasmania, Presentation Sisters, WA, Dhurringhile Victoria,
Methodist Children's Homes, Victoria, St John's Homes, Victoria,
Church of England Empire Settlement Scheme, Queensland Pre-war,
Foster Child Migrants in New Zealand. I could go on. It would
be fair to say that we work right across the board of all organisations
which migrated children in all the countries they went to.
That is a very impressive list and I am very pleased to see you
have made contact with so many different groups. That has certainly
answered my question. May I ask approximately how many enquiries
you receive each year from former child migrants themselves?
Humphreys) May I hand over to Ian Thwaites, the Senior Social
Worker who really deals with that aspect of our work? He has prepared
some answers for you.
(Mr Thwaites) The trust is working
in Australia with approximately 500 former child migrants at present
and we receive approximately 120 new referrals each year from
child migrants for whom we then go on to provide a service. We
receive somewhere in the vicinity of 5,000 enquiries within Australia
and of those about 120 become new clients for whom we provide
165. Do you think that number is increasing or decreasing
(Mr Thwaites) It is remaining fairly static at
the moment. There have been periods over the last 10 years where
there has been an increase and that particularly coincides with
periods of publicity around the time that there was initial publicity
when Lost Children of the Empire was released, when Leaving of
Liverpool went out, those times. Last year when this inquiry was
announced, there was a great rush of activity and the other factors
which have considerable bearing are the media interest in some
of the litigation which is going on constantly in Australia against
perpetrators of abuse.
166. We have heard this morning about the
resource difficulties you have had. Do you think you are able
to cope reasonably well with this level of enquiries or do you
think a significant backlog is building up and is that a worry?
Thwaites) An enormous backlog is building up. Increasingly
I and staff I work with are having to sit with former child migrants
and say to them that very sadly we have learned that their mother
has died within the period we have been looking for her.
that is a big issue which we shall have to return to on a number
of occasions. Would you like to be able to expand your brief to
other countries or do you feel that Australia is your natural
(Mr Thwaites) Yes, we believe so and in fact we are
planning to open an office in Canada next year. We need a further
office in Australia. We need to be able to provide further services
in New Zealand which is currently serviced from the Melbourne
168. You would like a separate office in New Zealand.
It must be extraordinarily difficult for you to plan your activities
where you cannot guarantee any funding. What representations have
you made to government here and governments elsewhere? Do you
encourage those governments to talk to each other, to accept some
joint responsibility, to give you some security in the ability
to carry out this work?
(Mrs Humphreys) When we first founded
the Trust, I really did believe that the funding would be there.
It seemed to me so straightforward. It is something we can do.
There are many things which have happened in history which we
cannot actually do anything about. We are very saddened by it
but we cannot do anything about it. This is something we can clearly
do something about and are we not fortunate that at the moment
there is something we can still do something about which is tangible?
Therefore I thought that funding would be available and I thought
it would be available from the British Government and the Australian
Government. I thought quite naively that these were the two governments
who worked to send the children to Australia, why can they not
work together to bring them back home? Why can the British and
Australian Government not sit down together and fund this operation
properly and viably from now? What is stopping them? I do not
know what is stopping them but I should like to know. We have
spent 10 years talking with government representatives, making
applications to the Department of Health, to the Federal Government
in Australia, to fund-giving charitable bodies in this country
who are well known for funding projects, projects like this. What
do they say to the Trust? They say this is a matter for government,
we are not going to pick the tab up for this. This is government.
Would you be prepared to lose a degree of autonomy if you do get
(Mrs Humphreys) Do you think we could
do our work if we lost that autonomy? That is the problem. That
is the dilemma. In a sense we are able to do our work, work with
child migrants and just as importantly their families because
we are independent.
171. You have not had government responses
saying they will not give you any money because you will not do
what we tell you.
(Mrs Humphreys) No.
172. They have not
offered the money in the first place.
(Mrs Humphreys) A
limited amount: £20,000 a year at the moment from the Department
of Health and left for two years without funding, may I add. There
was a point at which the Department of Health left this Trust
for two years without any funding. The problems of the child migrants
did not stop for those two years. The problems of weeping mothers
did not go away during those two years.
173. Would you be happy
to sit down with government agencies and work out a modus vivendi
if that guarantees the work you do being carried out?
174. How long do you think you are going to need to continue
to be operational? I know it is an awfully difficult question.
(Mrs Humphreys) It is a very difficult question and we
have tried to answer that in our submission as best we could.
When the Trust was first founded, we thought it was a two if not
five year project. I would have to say to you now that the Trust
needs to be funded and continue its work for at least the next
One of the recommendations you made to us in your paper was that
"...the Trust should be assisted to compile a computerised
database of all former child migrants and their records".
Is it a goal which could be realised? How much do you think a
computerised database would cost?
(Mrs Humphreys) I think
it could be achieved. I really do think it could be achieved and
I really believe it is essential. In some ways we are part way
there. For example, the Catholic Migrant Centre in Perth, Western
Australia, has already given us their database of some 9,000 children's
names. It could be achieved if the migrating agencies and the
Government want that to occur. If we are to work in the best interests
of child migrants and their families then we could do that.
May I take up this point on the database? This was an issue we
raised with the Department of Health and it is a very fundamental
question in terms of the access to information that you all desire.
One of the concerns in evidence that we have received from other
agencies, it will not surprise you to learn, and you may be aware
of this already, is that there is an antagonistic relationship
between some of the placing agencies and yourselves. So there
are people who criticise the Child Migrants' Trust quite strongly.
We have evidence from the Australian Child Migrants' Foundation,
which talks of the Trust having alienated itself from other groups.
You may be aware of their allegations. I make no judgement on
how they substantiate the allegations but the point I would put
to you on the question of the database is if that database were
within the Child Migrants' Trust, how would we ensure that those
agencies, the placing agencies in particular, organisations such
as the one I have mentioned, who have relevant information, actually
provide that information for a database to an organisation they
clearly do not get on with?
(Mrs Humphreys) May I just say
in relation to the Australian foundation you have just referred
to, that is not a professional organisation, it is not a migrating
organisation either. As I understand it, it is an organisation
which is there to provide air fares for child migrants returning
home. The board is made up of former child migrants. In terms
of the database it would not be relevant because they actually
do not have records of child migrants.
177. The point I was making
was about the agencies in particular. You have understandably,
with the evidence we have heard today, an antagonistic relationship
for the reasons which are perfectly understandable.
Not with them all.
178. How would we ensure that the information
which we know is available in those agencies and has been held
back from people who have been struggling for decades to find
out their own identity, how would we ensure that those agencies
provided that information for a database within the Child Migrants'
Trust if the relationships are bad for reasons which we fully
(Mrs Humphreys) I understand the question. Perhaps
I could ask Mr Spicer to answer.
(Mr Spicer) May I make
one thing clear? The working relationships with professionals
who work to professional standards within other agencies are very
good. A lot of collaborative work is undertaken on the ground
but of course you will appreciate from the material which you
have already had that the message which the Trust was bringing
out into the open and has done for 10 yearsyou rightly
asked why it was not known about beforewas of course known
but in a very closed group. They are not popular messages. It
is not surprising that the sorts of information which former child
migrants now have the confidence and have grown in confidence
over the last 10 years to bring out are not popular messages for
the agencies which were concerned with sending those children.
That is not surprising. I am quite confident however that if the
arrangements which the trust wish to establish had the stamp of
approval from a committee such as yours or from the governments,
it would be very difficult for those agencies not to cooperate
with the centralisation of that information and of course it is
not only information relating to the former child migrants, there
is an enormous amount of information held in different places
about their families. Of course we do this very frequently, but
if we had the funds we could do it more frequently. We would be
able to match up the many enquiries we receive from people in
this country, members of the families, enquiring about their children
and other relatives who may have been involved in the schemes;
we would link those people up much more quickly than we are able
to do. We do it now but we do not do it with the speed that is
so necessary because of the reasons which several people have
emphasised to you.
We were told that the sending agencies themselves recognise the
need for a database of this sort. Is it possible to develop a
shared facility in which everybody has access to the data which
is on that facility?
(Mr Spicer) I do not want to sound
churlish at that offer but the essence of the work which the Trust
has done in the last 10 years and its reputation with former child
migrants is its independence from those agencies which were responsible
for the iniquities which were practised on these children as they
were and their families. There have been occasions on which there
may have been some small amounts of funding available, had we
got into bed with one agency or another. We of course take those
situations seriously and we consult particularly with the former
child migrants. The overwhelming emphasis which we get back is
that if you get into bed with those agencies, if you associate
yourself with those agencies, then our trust and confidence in
the work which you do will be lost. Of course people have touched
on the independence, but it only takes a few minutes to know,
does it not? It is not just an issue of sending people back to
the abusers, it is how difficult it is for an agency to deal with
those issues which we have heard something of. How can you deal
with a former child migrant and explain why he or she was in the
position they were in because their father was a priest, which
is the reason. It is very, very difficult. How can you explain?
Let us leave the Catholic agency alone for the moment. How can
you explain if you work for an agency to a former child migrant
that you have spent 30 years deceiving members of their family
who have enquired about their whereabouts by telling them they
had been adopted? How can you deal with those issues and give
that person the confidence which they require?