Britain still refuses to apologize.
Australia Apologises To Abused Children
11:27am UK, Monday November 16, 2009
Ian Woods, Sky News correspondent, Australia
The Australian prime minister has apologised to thousands of British children shipped to Australia with the promise of a better life, only to suffer abuse.
At an emotional ceremony in the Australian capital Canberra, Kevin Rudd said his country was "sorry for the tragedy, the absolute tragedy, of childhoods lost".
"The laws of the nation failed you," he said.
He apologised for his country's role in the migration and extended condolences to the 7,000 survivors of the programme who still live in Australia.
The apology comes after the British government said Gordon Brown would next month also apologise for child migrant programmes that sent as many as 150,000 poor British children as young as three to Australia, Canada and other former colonies over a period of three and a half centuries.
The policy of plucking children from care homes and orphanages in the 1940s and 50s now seems misguided at best and cruel at worst.
But at the time, the Government agreed that churches and charities could ship the children to the other side of the world.
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Australia was in need of what was described then as "good white stock" to populate it.
And there was a benefit for Britain too - it cost ten times more to feed and house the children in a British orphanage as an Australian one.
As many as 10,000 youngsters were dispatched over the years.
John Hennessy was one. He says they were lied to so they'd go willingly. "Out there kangaroos will take you to school, it's a land of milk and honey. Fruit everywhere… and innocent kids, we fell for it."
Instead many were abused, and treated as little better than slave labour. John still has a stammer he developed when he was beaten as a child.
British orphans working in a garden at Melrose House, near Parramatta, Australia in 1953
British orphans working in a garden, near Parramatta, Australia, in 1953
"It wasn't Charles Dickens time, it was our lifetime and England was the only country in the history of the world ever to export her children to the other side of the world and then abandon them," he said.
"We are Britain's flesh and blood."
Mr Hennessey was finally reunited with his mother when he was in his 50s. She died six years later.
John Hawkins was also exported. His mother wasn't married when he was born, but she was told her little boy was going to be adopted by a British couple. Instead he was put on a ship to Australia.
They lost not only their childhood, they lost their country of birth, they lost their families, they lost everything, deliberately, when it was so unnecessary.
John Hawkins, a victim of the programme
"We regarded Australia as a place where you went to if you didn't have a mum or dad, and you were never ever going to see Britain again."
He witnessed other children being sexually abused by paedophiles who worked or helped out at the care home where he lived.
"He had his hands down children's trousers while he was talking to them, in front of other children. He was quite open about it. He was allowed to take children home for the weekend."
Both men have welcomed Australia's decision to formally apologise to the child migrants as well as hundreds of thousands of Australian children who suffered similar abuse in a 40-year period which only ended in the 1970s.
But Mr Hennessey is angry that the British government has failed to take the lead.
"I am very, very disappointed… more than disappointed that it has taken the Australian government to move first," he said.
"I'm disappointed that Gordon Brown is not standing alongside our prime minister on Monday as a joint venture."
Jolyon Welsh, the British deputy high commissioner in Canberra, insists the announcement that there will be a British apology too is not just because the Australians have reacted first.
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"The British government did say some years ago that it believed what had happened was wrong and I don't think we've got to the position we're in now because the Australian government has moved," he said.
"I think these things have an evolution of themselves and as we've thought about it and reflected, our position has changed."
But Mr Hawkins says an apology is meaningless without recompense.
"I can't see how simply saying sorry for destroying the childhood of so many children," he said.
"They lost not only their childhood, they lost their country of birth, they lost their families, they lost everything, deliberately, when it was so unnecessary.
"I don't know how you say sorry for that, but without some form of compensation I don't see how you can."
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