Clothes at Orphanages: Australia


Figure 1.--These Australian boys wear some of the army surplus uniforms adopted at some Australian orphanages.

A variety of orphanages were for years maintained by state governments and private charities. Most Australian states, as jurisdictions in other western countries, no longer have orphanages. Terrible accounts have surfaced in recent years about abuses at some of these facilities. Many of the most serious abuses appear to have been connected with the British chilod migration program. Because of litigation, and accusations of child abuse, churches and charitable groups are no longer willing to run children's homes as they once did. Children in need of care are now most commonly fostered with families that have been carefully selected as nurturing foster-parents. HBC at this time only has limited information on the clothing worn at these institutions. Clothing varied widely from institution to institution. Their clothing at some orphanages was second-hand donations from church groups.

Orphanages in Australia

A variety of orphanages were for years maintained by state governments and private charities. There was no mnationally administered program. Most Australian states, as jurisdictions in other western countries, no longer have orphanages. Children in need of care are now most commonly fostered with families that have been carefully selected as nurturing foster-parents. Older homeless children (teenagers) are encouraged to develop self-reliance and independent living skills, rather than be placed into care. It has been found that they do better as adults than children who have been institutionalised. Because of litigation, and accusations of child abuse, often associated with the child migration program, churches and charitable groups are no longer willing to run children's homes as they once did. Through the 1960s however, children were often looked after in orphanages or a variert of "farm homes" or other institutions maintained by charitable organizations. Religious groups played a particularly important role.


Figure 2.--These British child migrants at Dr Barnardo’s Farm School at Mowbray Park, Picton, NSW, during 1948.

Child Migration Program

The subject of orpahanges is an especially sensative one in Australia. Britain pursued a child migration program in which young Britons were forcibly shipped to Australian orphanages. As one advocate of empire termed it, "every child a pioneer of the Empire". It was not a new concept. The first 100 English child "vagrants" were despatched from the London area to Virginia in the Americas in 1618, their passage arranged by the City Fathers. The organized program apparently began in the early 20th century. Deportations were also made to Canada, Rhodesia, New Zealand and Australia . These deportations reportedly occurred as late as World War II and the late 1960s. The last nine children were flown to Australia in 1967 under the auspices of Barnardo’s. Many of the people involved as children are now demanding an investigation. Many of the estimated 10,000 former child migrants still living in Australia allege they suffered emotional, mental and other abuse in orphanages, and want the Government to match the British Government's $2.5 million travel fund allocated to reunite victims with their relatives. They are also seeking compensation for their suffering and additional funding for the Child Migrants Trust, an Australian organisation that provides counselling and help with family research and reunion. The child migrants are demanding a full judicial inquiry into orphanages and reasons for their "deportation" to Australia, which they claim was an attempt to help populate the country with "good healthy white British stock". Child migration was a separate category from youth migration or juvenile migration. Child migrants were apparently-abandoned, illegitimate, poverty-stricken children of primary school age who were usually in care in the United Kingdom before their despatch to Australia. On arrival in Australia, child migrants were placed in care (ie in children’s homes or orphanages) for further training before placement in employment. Many of these children, separated from their parents and familiar surroundings, suffered from the disruption and dislocation, and this part of a family history can be a distressing one to uncover.

Assessments

In recent years a variety of reports have emerged about the mistreatment of children in Australian and other orphanages. The tradition of such reporting is not a new development, going back to Charles Docken's Oliver Twist. There is no doubt some horendous orphanges operated. It is also undountedly true there were many conpasionate facilities. It is difficult to assess just how extensive abuse was at these faciliities. HBC notes that quite a large number of institutions were involved in the child migration program, but the horendous stories which have emerged come from a relatively small number of those institutions. Some the reports are indeed staggering, such as the orphanage run by the Sisters of St. Joseph in Australia. Up until 1970 the orphan babies were reportedly used to test vaccines.

Counting the Cost

The Health Committee of the British House of Commons visited Australia and New Zealand in 1998 to inquire into the welfare of former British child migrants who had been caught up in the infamous child migration scheme. The Committee's final report was a damning indictment of child care institutions run by the Christian Brothers and the Sisters of Mercy, two orders of the Roman Catholic Church. Counting the Cost presents evidence submitted to the Committee by VOICES, the group of survivors who fought the Christian Brothers in a long and bitter legal battle in an effort to gain justice. But while the evidence reveals that the ill-fated children were physically, sexually and psychologically abused and ruthlessly exploited in the Brothers' orphanages, it also reveals that politicians, bureaucrats and social workers, aware of the criminal abuses, stood by and did nothing to prevent or even curb them. Reports of conditions in the orphanages were ignored or brushed aside, civil servants powerless before the power and influence of the Catholic Church.

Trust Me

Penguin Books in 2001 published Trust Me, a graphic novel by best-selling English author Lesley Pearse. The novel tells in vivid and gutsy terms the story of some of those who survived the Australian orphanages. The book centers on two young sisters who were transported to Australia as victims of the infamous child migration scheme and a young lad who survived Bindoon. Pearse interviewed adults intrusted to Australian orphanages. Some provided horrifying stories of their lives in Roman Catholic orphanages. Lesley says she felt traumatised after her trip to Australia when she met some of the former child migrants. "They told me things that made my stomach churn" shesaid. "I took it all home in my head and as I wrote my book there were times when I wept with pity for the victims and felt murderous towards those who had ruined their lives". When she was 3 years old, Pearse was herself placed in a Catholic orphanage where she experienced first hand the callousness and cruelty of such institutions, her research driving home the realisation that but for the grace of God she too might have been one of the unfortunate children transported to Australia--at the time the other side of the world.


Figure 3.-- Boys from the Bethelda Christian Boys Home also appear to have worn military-styled uniforms.

Orhanage Clothing

HBC at this time has little information about the clothing worn by children at Australian orphanages. Clothing varied widely from institution to institution. Their clothing at some orphanages was second-hand donations from church groups. At least some orphanages appear to have had uniforms for the children. In at leasr some instance the children wore military styled uniforms, although we do not know at this time how common this was. For instance, Salvation Army orphans often wore army surplus clothes. One Australian source reports, "They looked quite neat, as they were well washed and ironed." Boys from the Bethelda Christian Boys Home also appear to have worn military-styled uniforms.






Christopher Wagner





Navigate the Historic Boys' Clothing Web Site:
[Return to the Main orphanage page]
[Return to the Main charity institutional page]
[Introduction] [Activities] [Bibliographies] [Biographies] [Chronologies] [Contributions] [Frequently Asked Questions] [Links] [Style Index]
[Boys' Clothing Home]



Created: June 10, 2001
Last updated: June 10, 2001