Select Committee on Health Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by Fairbridge



HistoryIn 1909 Kingsley Fairbridge set up the Child Emigration Society with the intent of providing disadvantaged children from inner cities in the UK with education and training, specifically in farming, in the colonies and primarily in Australia. He wanted the children to have the freedom of the land not available to them in this country. He set up his first farm school in 1912 in Pinjarra. Western Australia which he and his wife, Ruby, ran; the first children arrived in 1913.From the shipping manifest records held by Fairbridge, the figures for child migrants between 1913-1960s are as follows:
Pinjarra Farm School, Western Australia 2,515
Molong Farm School, NSW 929 (includes children and parents)
Adelaide, Victoria 120
Tasmania 193
Total 3,362
Canada, Vancouver 374

These figures include parents who either accompanied or followed their children to Australia after the introduction of the Parent Migration Scheme in the late 1950s. However the total figure of children and parents involved in the Fairbridge scheme is probably closer to 6,000. This is the figure quoted by Professor Sherington of the University of Sydney in his paper on Kingsley Fairbridge and the funding of child emigration (1993). There are 3,700 case files at the University of Liverpool, but they do not represent individuals as the case files include siblings as well as parents who emigrated. Indeed it was not unusual for family groups to have seven and more children.Children were referred from a number of agencies. They include the NSPCC; Lambeth Board of Governors; Middlemore Migration Home, Birmingham; Church of England Waifs and Strays Society; Sisters of the Church, London NW6; Public Assistance Authorities, Cardiff and London; Dr Barnardo's; Northcote Trust; Board of Guardians, Norfolk. These migration schemes were enthusiastically endorsed by HM Government.The Children Act 1948 virtually placed the responsibility of looking after deprived children with local authorities. They did not always agree that emigration was in the best interests of their wards.In the late 1950s Fairbridge introduced a new policy of family migration. However, child migration did not end at this stage but was phased out over the next few years. Unaccompanied children continued to be sent to Australia up until the mid 1960s.Records are available at the University of Liverpool on the funding, costs and expenditure involved in administering the scheme. A clear account of some aspects of funding is provided in the introductory chapter of "Good British Stock: Child Migration from Britain to Australia after World War II", a thesis written by Laura Williams as part of her BA Hons degree (University of Tasmania). Funds were also raised by private subscriptions organised by local committees throughout the UK as well as state subsidies.Where possible and practicable, Fairbridge did try to keep children in touch with their parents. However, in many cases the children had spent much of their lives in institutions before emigrating to Australia and links with their parents had been lost. In many other cases it may be assumed that, in the circumstances prevailing, the parents did not wish to keep in touch with their children for a variety of reasons.With regard to requests for re-unification, whether from parents or child migrants, these were rare. However, when they did occur careful thought was given to the background and reasons for the request. The decision whether to assist or not was taken having regard to the perceived best interests of the child at the time. In recent years efforts made by members of Fairbridge's staff in London have centred on providing information from records where available.With regard to counselling and other services, decisions as to the suitability of a child for inclusion in the Fairbridge scheme were taken in the light of the standards and perceptions relating to child care then prevailing having regard to the physical and moral well being of the child at the time. Latterly Fairbridge has not had the resources or structure to provide counselling or other services to former child migrants. Fairbridge substantially revised its objectives in 1982 with the consent of the Charity Commission and has thereafter worked with young persons at risk in inner cities throughout the UK. The issue of counselling was not raised at the time of Fairbridge's re-structuring but only much later in the 1980s by which time Fairbridge's resources had been re-deployed.Fairbridge is now reliant upon other agencies skilled in such practices and is working closely with other "sending agencies" to facilitate counselling where it is requested. It is realised that this is not always regarded as necessary by child migrants, although, after having discovered parts of their background the trauma often becomes more evident.There have been cases where Fairbridge has received complaints from Old Fairbridgians and has tried where possible to address these complaints by supplying or seeking to facilitate access to information relevant to the complainant.Records for those people who emigrated under the child migration schemes through Fairbridge are kept in the Archives Department of the University of Liverpool. The records form part of the historical archives relating to Commonwealth emigration. Access to the records is governed by an agreement reached between Fairbridge and the University. It is based on the agreement made between Dr Barnardo's and the University in 1982. Lady Dodds-Parker, former Chairman of Fairbridge, also entered in correspondence with Dr Barnardo's, the University of Liverpool's archivist, the Provincial Archivist of British Columbia Archives and Record Service, the Fairbridge Foundation in Sydney, NSW and the Fairbridge Society (WA) in Perth, Western Australia, to determine the precise level of access available to researchers, relatives of Old Fairbridgians and Old Fairbridgians. Personal files are only available to former child migrants. However, the personal files remain the property of Fairbridge. For this reason, the request by one former Old Fairbridgian that his file be destroyed was turned down. Old Fairbridgians are not asked to sign any documentation before they receive assistance from Fairbridge re their personal records. There is no charge with regard to the services provided by Fairbridge. Fairbridge contributes £350 pa to the University of Liverpool to cover their administration costs.From records held at by Fairbridge's Central Office, at least 96 child migrants have requested information since 1991. It is not clear how many other former child migrants have requested information prior to 1991. However, from a reading of the files to hand the response to enquires has been open, straightforward, helpful and prompt. By comparison with Barnardo's which receives approximately 150 requests for information per month, Fairbridge receives a very small number of enquiries. This is not surprising in view of the relatively small number of children under Fairbridge's care, and given the fact that Fairbridge's child migration policy effectively ended 30 years ago.Records for the Pinjarra Farm School are held at the Battye Library, Perth. Those for Molong in the Sydney Library. Those for Canada in the University of British Columbia Archives Department. Other records relevant to child migration prior to leaving the UK held by Fairbridge are in the Archives Department, University of Liverpool.

HOW LIVES HAVE BEEN AFFECTEDMany Old Fairbridgians have expressed their gratitude for what Fairbridge has given them. For many the organisation is their family. However, there are those for whom the experience has been difficult, and, latterly, traumatic. One Old Fairbridgian, now residing in this country, is extremely bitter about his treatment. It has recently come to light that he lost his personal possessions in a burglary in 1942 which included letters from his mother and brother and wishes Fairbridge to do something about it now. He is seeking compensation for loss of his "Trust" fund, which was spent on his behalf by Fairbridge. He is unhappy because he has rediscovered his sister but his brother in law will have nothing to do with him. He places the blame on Fairbridge and the National Children's Homes, Church of England Society and the Government.Another complainant has recently returned to this country, having had a very unhappy time at the Pinjarra Fairbridge Farm School, to visit her sister who does not wish to have anything to do with her under the mistaken apprehension that she prostituted herself when she ran away from the school and still considers her in this light.A third man has no file or record in this country although he did attend a Fairbridge Farm School, and we are unable to trace any record of him. He, again, was at the Middlemoor Home with his siblings who, at the time he migrated, were not considered medically fit to go to Australia with him.Another relative would like to go to Australia for two years with her husband to spend time with her sister. This would entail selling their property here and as they are unable to work in Australia they would have no funds when they returned to UK so are unable to undertake this trip.If there were more funds available it would be beneficial for the child migrants and their families and would facilitate the re-unification process. From Fairbridge's view, a counselling service upon which it would call both in Australia and in this country would be of enormous benefit as child migrants could then be professionally helped when researching their backgrounds. Because of the work Fairbridge now undertakes in the UK with disadvantaged young people it is not economically viable to employ a counsellor for the ten or so cases which occur in a year, many of which are enquiries from Australia rather than in this country.

February 1998

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Prepared 10 August 1998