Insight into Child Migrant Experience

Insight into Child Migrant Experience

An insight into what life would have been like for the thousands of children involved in Britain's child migration schemes can be experienced in the travelling exhibition "On Their Own: Britain's Child Migrants".

"So many were sold the same stories of Australia; that it was oranges and sunshine, kangaroos, riding horses and picking fruit off trees... And then that shock of arriving and realising that none of that was going to happen and that you were sent off to a remote institution to become a farmer or a farmer's wife." Kim Tao, Curator, On Their Own: Britain's Child Migrants.

The exhibition from the Australian National Maritime Museum in collaboration with the National Museums Liverpool, UK is now on display at the Albury Library-Museum in southern New South Wales.

The British child migration scheme involved thousands of "orphaned" or children from "poor" families being shipped to Commonwealth countries like Australia to help with labour shortages and increase populations. Many were separated from parents and siblings in the process.

In recent years both the Australian and British government have made formal apologies to child migrants. Curator Kim Tao says the aim of the exhibition was to showcase the long history of child migration from the 1860's until the late 1960's.

"It is designed to take visitors on a journey. We move from the bustling dockside to the excitement of the ship voyage and we look at the shock of arriving on a new land and then that subsequent search for family and identity and adult life... It really focuses on personal, lived and individual experiences of former child migrants."

The exhibition includes photographs, audio files, memorabilia and personal accounts from child migrants.

"I wouldn't say they were happy to share their stories but they wanted to share them... It was important validation for them and their families for recognising the impact of these schemes on their lives. I think it was about finally being heard after such a long time of being powerless children and having no-one to turn to and talk to and believe these experiences."

Now based in north east Victoria former child migrant Pam Wright officially opens the exhibition in Albury. Wright was shipped to Australia as a five-year-old "orphan" in 1950, at the time both her parents were alive.

Wright who turns 70 next year still doesn't know why she was considered an "orphan" and sent to Australia.

"I don't recall life being particularly harsh; I think it was normal Britain after the (Second World) War... The day before I was shipped I was with my father... I have blocked out how I actually got on the boat."

When Wright arrived in Australia she was sent to an orphanage outside of Albury. Today she considers herself one of the "lucky ones". She received a "good education" and became a nurse and nurse manager.

"I believe three of the group of 15 I came out with have committed suicide... I had two children of my own and I was so determined nothing was going to happen to them."

On Their Own: Britain's Child Migrants at the Albury Library Museum until April 28th, 2013.


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