February 25, 2010 / 7:34 AM / 9 years ago

Forgotten Australian talks of a childhood lost

SYDNEY (Reuters Life!) - A former British child migrant who suffered years of abuse in Australia after being separated from her mother welcomed Britain’s apology for the old policy on Thursday, but said more needed to be done.

Former child migrant, 74-year-old Michael Snell (L) of Gloucestershire, talks with Britain's High Commissioner to Australia, Baroness Valerie Amos, at an apology reception at the British Consul General's residence in Sydney February 25, 2010. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologised on Wednesday for past British policies of shipping thousands of poor children abroad, mostly without their parents' knowledge, to former colonies where many suffered abuse. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne

Lynda Craig was five years old and labeled a problem child when she was sent to Australia in 1955 while her mother underwent treatment for cancer.

It was six years before the pair were reunited. But the abuse, physical labor and poor education and care left emotional scars that Craig, now 60, still carries.

Craig was among hundreds of former child migrants who attended special and somber functions around Australia on Thursday to hear Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologize for what he said was a shameful episode in his country’s history.

“It means a lot to me,” a tearful Craig told Reuters at a special event hosted by Britain’s High Commission and consulates around Australia.

“I don’t know whether the apology will be enough, because I really want to see more given to those people who are left behind, than just an apology,” she said.

The Child Migrants Trust estimates about 130,000 children aged three to 14 were sent from Britain to live in Commonwealth countries, mainly Australia and Canada, under an enforced settlement policy between 1930 and 1970.

It is estimated between 8,000 and 11,000 children were shipped to Australia. Many were orphans, but others were sent away without the knowledge of their parents.

Craig remembers talking to her mother about moving to Australia, but she wasn’t prepared for the new life she faced.

“I think my mother told me that I was going on a big ship and I was going on a holiday,” she said.

Craig recounts painful memories of the Fairbridge farm school, where she was neglected and put to work. She was 11 before her mother successfully applied to take her daughter back.

“The problem I had was trying to be socially accepted, it was a lonely couple of years,” she said, adding childhood memories still haunt her more than 50 years later.

Britain’s High Commissioner to Australia, Valerie Amos, read Brown’s statement in Sydney, then added her own apology.

“I think we have to recognize that it’s been an extraordinarily difficult part of our history, I think we have to recognize that,” Amos said.

“I certainly, in hearing those stories, have been deeply, deeply affected by it and I cannot imagine what it was like having to live through some of it.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologized to the child migrants in November 2009.

Editing by Ron Popeski

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