Child Migration Scheme · Uncategorized



“I will bring farmers here”

Fairbridge Farm School, Pinjarra (Note – the children didn’t even have shoes)

As iiCSA has this week begun hearing testimony from former child migrants who endured such unbearable experiences and who illustrate the trauma and pain caused by such heinous actions, I will be writing a few posts here and there regarding the Child Migration Scheme.

The scheme has always had a very profound effect on me – from the moment I first watched a former social worker, Margaret Humphreys, interviewed on television one day.  She was telling the stories of some of the migrants that had contacted her and who were desperate for help and she was advertising her new book.  I watched transfixed and was so moved by what I heard I pre-ordered the book and waited.  It was a shocking tale of lies, pain, terror, sexual and physical abuse and cover ups.

Children – some a lot younger than eight – being shipped off to Australia.

If you’ve never read Empty Cradles by Margaret Humphreys, I cannot recommend it highly enough.  It is a fascinating insight in to the accidental uncovering on this country’s biggest shame and the cover up that Margaret fought against.

If books aren’t your thing, then I recommend watching Oranges and Sunshine.  Netflix currently have it or you can pick up a DVD cheaply online.  It’s the same story of Margaret Humphreys and the child migrants and is a very moving account.


In order to go back to the beginning, I think it is best to leave the idealistic description of the child migration scheme to an article written by Sir Arthur Lawley and published in The Times newspaper on 9 May 1927 on the Fairbridge Farm School in Western Australia.

He paints a picture of successful, happy, prosperous children attaining valuable skills in the sunshine, whilst enjoying free time activities such as swimming in lakes and being ‘mothered’ just as if they were part of a real family.  Sadly we now know this is far from the truth.





(By Sir Arthur Lawley, GCSI, KCMG)

“So the vision came to me when I was

Starved and miserable,

I spoke it out aloud: ‘Some day I will

bring farmers here.’”

(Kingsley Fairbridge)

Such was the remarkable utterance by Kingsley Fairbridge when only a lad of 12 years, who in later years became the founder of the Farm School which bears his name.  He was born in 1885, and his all too short life ended in July, 1924, but his work lives after him.  Recently his autobiography was given to the world, and is recognised as a remarkable romance.  In the manner of his upbringing there was a complete absence of anything approaching the conventional, for he was brought up not in a school, but on the South African veldt, until we find him a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, resolved to devote himself body and soul to the emancipation of city children from the thraldom of the slums.  At the same time he sought to people the vast vacant spaces of our Oversea Dominions with the right sort of emigrants, beginning with the very young – boys and girls whose training should fit them for the duties incidental to life on the farms of Australia, Canada, or South Africa, just as the case might be.

From his earliest days at Oxford his mind was busily engaged with the idea of farm schools, and his enthusiasm grew as time went on, until he was able to launch his scheme with the help of his fellow-undergraduates from oversea.  In 1912 he started his first farm school in Western Australia with 13 small boys, and another 22 came out five months later.  He bought a small farm of 160 acres, which was his headquarters for some years.  It had many deficiencies and disadvantages, but these were faced and overcome, and the children settled down happily until war broke out and threatened the undertaking with total collapse.  But peace came at last, and at once Fairbridge set sail for England, resolved to make a fresh start and invoke the sympathy and help of friends at home.  Within one year he had collected a sum of nearly £30,000, and again set sail for Australia, determined to make a new beginning on a more suitable site.


He acquired 3,200 acres of land in the neighbourhood of Pinjarra, about 50 miles south of Perth, the capital of Western Australia.  Here are to be found some of the oldest of the state’s settlements, the homes of sturdy sons of sturdy pioneers, a thriving community of friendly neighbours.  The district is well adapted to the pastoral and fruit-growing industries, enjoying an ample rainfall and a delightful, temperate climate.  At the time of its acquisition the land was rated as second-class pastoral land, but the successful introduction of subterranean clover has made it a good dairying country and enhanced its value to a remarkable degree.  The Dandelup River runs for two miles through the property; on either side of it are rich alluvial flats, in which almost anything can be grown.  At one point the river widens to a good-sized pool, wherein all the children – boys and girls – have learned to swim.  Another source of pleasure are the gardens which surround each cottage and are the subject of keen competition for a challenge cup from year to year.  The live-stock include sheep and cattle, pigs, and poultry, and are increasing in number so satisfactorily as to encourage the hope that some day the school will be self-supporting.


The lay-out of the homestead is on the simplest possible lines.  The cottages are designed to hold a dozen children, and no more.  Each cottage is under the care of a house mother.  There is an excellent staff of house mothers, who have ideals as well as common sense, and do, in very truth, “mother” the children.  Thus every endeavour is made to give the boys and girls the same kind of environment as they would get were they the children of a working Australian farmer.  Boys while still at school receive an excellent manual training, and, after they have attained 14 years of age, a practical training in all kinds of farm work.  The average boy leaves when he is 15, and is sent on to a farm as a “useful boy” – that is to say, he can ride, milk, handle sheep and horses and pigs, and drive a team; usually he can do light ploughing.  He gets a wage varying from 10s. to £1 a week, half of which is paid to him direct and half sent by the employer to the farm school, where it is banked for him.  He can draw on his bank account for clothes, &c., and received the whole, with accumulated interest, when he is 21.


In the matter of sports Fairbridge boys have shown that they can more than hold their own in the cricket and football fields.  Two of the boys have won competitive scholarships, one to an agricultural college and one to a secondary school.  There are far more applications for farm boys than can be met, and it is possible to pick very good places for them.  For the girls there are no fewer applications than for the boys.  From the time of their entering the school they are trained in domestic work, and gradually initiated in to the mysteries of the home, the kitchen, the dairy, the laundry, and so forth.  Two Scout troops among the boys and two Guide companies among the girls play an important part in the life of the school, and the children excel at singing and dancing.

Such is the manner of life of the 200 children who have been brought out into the sunshine, away from the darkness of the slums.  At the present time 100 boys and 100 girls are undergoing training, and it is hoped before the year is out to have new buildings for the accommodation of another 100 children, bringing the total number to 300.  The ages of the children leaving these shores run from eight to ten years.  They are selected from the Poor Law children or from Dr Barnardo’s Homes.  That they shall be sound mentally and physically is insisted on.  They are for the most part orphans, though a few are the offspring of undesirable parents.  As the days add themselves and make the years, a wonderful change comes over them.  From the lips of every visitor comes unbidden outspoken comment on the obvious happiness of the children and their remarkable physical development.  For the rest, they get an excellent education at the hands of the state, and thus the health, the ability, and the character of these little people are being built up, fitting them to fulfil Fairbridge’s prophecy: “I will bring farmers here!”

Very young children at St Vincent’s Foundling Home, Western Australia


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