© Brenda Joy, 2010

Winner, 2010 ABPA New South Wales Championship – Serious Section and Overall, Dunedoo, NSW.

In November 2009, the Federal Government issued an official apology* to all children raised in homes and orphanages in Australia during the twentieth century.  In February 2010 this was followed by an apology* by the British Government, for amongst these children were young migrants sent here from Britain, under a state-approved scheme aimed to relieve the burden of unwanted poor and to expand population of the colonies.*
These children were promised a better life.  Some gained this. 
This is the story of the many who did not. It is told from a daughter’s viewpoint.

No sadness filled our childhood days, my parents did their best to raise
         their offspring in an atmosphere of care.
We knew they both were English born, transported from a life forlorn,
         dislodged into an orphanage austere.
A phase they’d wanted to disown, so till this day we had not known
         what they and other migrants had to bear.
A quest by some for recompense meant steps to closure could commence,
         with governments and people more aware.

For tribulations of the past, ‘Apologies’ have come at last
         to victims whom society deprived.
Forgotten once they’d left their moor, this progeny of nation’s poor,
         no follow up to see how they’d survived;
no interest in these youngsters’ plight – put out of mind when out of sight –
         the salve of greener pastures well connived.
Two problems solved by their deport.  To help expand, the British wrought
         a plan approved and cleverly contrived.

For people struggling to survive – no alms to keep their young alive –
         this offer seemed the answer to their prayer.
They signed their children to the scheme, surrendering to lure of dream,
         “They’ll ‘ave a better chance at life down there.”
One hundred thousand crossed the sea, away from home and family
         entrapped into the destiny they’d share:
for once they’d gone, then they were lost, just cast aside like refuse tossed,
         and those who tried to reach them faced despair.

Survival became way of life, these children forced to suffer strife
         developed codes of comradeship to bond.
The sense of mateship lent reprieve, just meagre comfort to relieve
         the burden of façade that each had donned:
for banishment to south of Earth convinced them that they had no worth,
         brought doubts and fears too raw to rise beyond.
Their stoic actions aimed to hide emotions buried deep inside —
         the need for love, with no-one to respond.

The traumas of the nights alone, away from all that they had known,
         afraid and isolated, set apart,
while through the days of constant toil at dairy chores and tilling soil,
         exhausted children battled from the start.
What sins had brought abandonment? No news from kin or letters sent,
         as mail was screened for wrongs it might impart.
Unpaid-for labour, profit based, saw basic schooling soon erased —
         forgotten, like the pain within the heart.

The stories that were never heard, abuse by punishment and word,
         the rod of iron used to keep control
by guardians but poorly taught, reacting to their fear, distraught,
         misplaced, and quite unsuited to their role.
Sadistic deprivation reigned through brutal measures unexplained
         to kids bereft of dignity. Some stole
the remnants of their self-respect with acts more harmful than neglect —
         perverted sex that wracked the very soul.

Too long kept covered, hidden ills, with dread and guilt such crime instils –
         denials, victims scared, remaining dumb.
Now finally the silence breaks, acknowledgement of past mistakes
         revealing scandals unbelieved by some.
Alas, my Dad’s no longer here. Those years of hardship and of fear
         had caused his mind and body to succumb.
But Mum is standing by my side, she’s spoken out, restored some pride,
         she’s shown the courage that can overcome.

To say we’re sorry’s just a start to soothe disturbance of the heart.
         No word, or deed, or fund can compensate
for lack of home and family rights, for work-filled days and fear-filled nights —
         this token is too little come too late.
And yet my mother feels at last, through recognition of the past —
         compunction for the shame that was their fate —
that wounds now purged and opened wide, not left to fester deep inside,
         may mean her tortured nightmares can abate.

Forgotten children – childhood lost, still scarred and hurt, traumatic cost,
         forsaken, exiled, and by all reviled.
To move ahead’s their only course, on past regret and deep remorse,
         the horrors of their youth must now be filed.
Injustice has been brought to light.  My mother’s prayer is that this might
         prevent the sadness of some future child.
Perhaps contrition, harshly earned, may mean that lessons have been learned —
         and with this hope in heart, my mother smiled.

*Apology to the ‘forgotten Australians’ made by the Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd in Canberra on 16th November, 2009, followed by an apology to the ‘child migrants’ by the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown on 24th February, 2010.

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