Oranges and Sunshine

Ruth ECM, Newsletter

Australia is known as the Lucky Country. We enjoy many freedoms and we live a life that is rich and full with natural resources in abundance. We have a culture that offers many opportunities and protects those freedoms.

One of those freedoms is the right to access your personal information.

Enjoying my holiday break, I took the time to settle down with my favourite cool drink, some nibbles on the side to watch a recommended movie, Oranges and Sunshine.  The story is about children sent to Australia during the bombings in England, children taken from unwed mothers, and those children placed with the state by parents in time of crisis.  Those parents had an expectation they would return to them after the crisis. If I thought it would be a feel good moment in time I was sadly mistaken.  The movie is an emotional rollercoaster that digs into the personal experiences of a forgotten sector of our community.  The reality of this truth in our community is heartbreaking. Deported children were promised oranges and sunshine but they got hard labour and life in institutions such as Keaney College in Bindoon, Western Australia.

Margaret Humphreys, a Social Worker based in the UK takes us on her journey across the UK, Canada and Australia as she worked to bring families together.

My husband, a bit of a movie cynic that is generally impatient with most movies, stepped into the room with his brother and asked “What are you watching?”  I replied that the movie, based on fact, was about the children that have been sent to Australia and that a Royal Commission into Child Abuse of children in custody has been called in Victoria.  This was catalyst to the forefront of our political leaders attention after an investigation into record keeping within the Department of Human Services after access to information for those children proved too difficult. Each Council has had a letter from the Keeper of Public Records Victoria, that we are not to destroy records that could apply to this sector of the community. I reminded him that we have personal friends who have been affected by the child deportation to Australia and it is in their interest that they get all the support they need to find their biological identity and families.

As I spoke the story unfolded on the TV screen with a ‘child’ sharing their personal trauma of needing to fill the aching emptiness that the lack of personal history brought in their life.  The movie got my husband’s attention and he sat down to watch.

The Victorian Ombudsman released his report on the “Investigation into the storage and management of ward records By the Department of Human Services” in March 2012.  It says that “numerous reports over the past 15 years have documented harm caused to many children held in care.  Those reports have highlighted the need for former wards and children in the care of the state to have access to the records concerning their time in care, for emotional, medical, psychological, financial or legal reasons.  In some instances, the existence of such records are the only means by which a former ward can reconnect with a sibling or parent from whom they were separated at childhood.”

The Department of Human Services holds about 80 lineal kilometers of historical records stored in boxes at numerous locations, much not inspected or indexed.  Only 26 of the 150 years plus worth of records relating to wards and institutions are indexed and catalogued.

This matter is likely to be the big ticket item in 2013.  Councils are also custodians of children records, including maternal and child health records, children services records, youth services records and even, where that child has matured and needed services as an aged or person with a disability.  At any time there could be reference that provide context to that persons story.  Each council has a responsibility to ensure that their records are properly managed, and to support in any way they can, this Royal Commission that focusses on this important part of our community.

I encourage every one to watch the movie.  Be inspired to get behind this Royal Commission.  Do whatever you can within your councils to support access to the information your council holds to unlock the mystery of these ‘children’s’ past so they can be freed from that emptiness within.

BTW, Mr ‘Movie Cynic’ was visibly moved by this story and is now ‘110% behind our work to support these people”.

Some up-to-date news as of today is:

From Prime Minister Julia Gillard

From NSW Whistleblower

From Closer to Home in Healesville