Fairbridge abuse survivors anxious after federal government delays redress

Former UK child migrants sent to Australia’s notorious Fairbridge farm institutions say they again feel betrayed as the Australian government delays redress payments for abuse suffered while in care.

The Australian government agreed in March 2021 to pay redress claims for sexual abuse that former UK child migrants suffered at five Fairbridge institutions across Australia after a long battle for justice.

But in December a smaller group of those child migrants who boarded at the institutions was told its claims had been frozen, prompting further anxiety and mistrust.

Families separated

An old black and white photograph of a young fair-haired girl, probably from the early 70's. She's about 10
Claire Emanuel as a young child after immigrating to Australia.(Supplied)

Thousands of unaccompanied children, some as young as four, were sent out to Australia through the new defunct Fairbridge Society until the 1960s.

Homes were established in Molong in NSW, Crafers in South Australia, Exeter in Tasmania, Northcote in Victoria, and Pinjarra in WA.

A five-year-old Claire Emanuel, her parents and eight siblings, came to Australia from the UK in 1966 through the Fairbridge Society’s two-parent scheme which assisted large families.

“[Our parents] were promised that we were all going to go to this beautiful farm school with horses and animals and a Olympic-sized swimming pool. And that we would all be together,” the now 61-year-old said.

She wept as she remembered how the family of 11 was separated immediately upon arrival at Perth airport.

“My sisters got put in one cottage [in Pinjarra]my brothers got put in another cottage, and my younger sister and I got put into the babies cottage,” she said.

“The next day Dad left and we didn’t see [our parents] again for weeks.”

Ms Emanuel said as a five-year-old from a close and loving family, life at Fairbridge was physically and emotionally brutal.

Fairbridge Farm School students in the 1950s
Nearly 1,000 British children went through Fairbridge Farm School in Molong in its 50 year history.(Supplied: Molong and District Historical Society)

“It wasn’t a normal childhood … it was just lonely and sad,” she said.

“In the older girls’ cottage the cottage mother was really, really mean.

“I started to wet the bed, which she didn’t like, so she’d make me wash my sheets by hand in a big trough.

Ms Emanuel’s family was eventually reunited after a period of years, but she said things were never the same.

“It just had made us all strangers because we hadn’t been around each other,” she said.

Betrayal of trust

The Australian government agreed last March to pay redress claims to Fairbridge child migrants after years of wrangling with entities associated with the now defunct Fairbridge organisation.

A woman with a black top on and glasses, looks at paperwork on a kitchen bench. She is about 60.
Claire Emanuel says the process of claiming redress for abuse suffered at Fairbridge has been arduous.(ABC South West WA: Georgia Loney)

In December, Ms Emanuel said she was told her claim for redress had effectively been frozen because she was not classed as a former ward of the state.

“I get a phone call out of the blue telling me that my application has been put on hold and there is no more funding from the government,” she said.

“They make you drag it all up and you’re totally let down again, they make you drag it all up.

“They make you go through a very drawn out process and then leave you in a heap.

“We’ve just been left hanging.”

An older man with a grey moustache stands in front of the camera.
Ric Hinch says there has been widespread delays to the redress scheme.(ABC South West WA: Georgia Loney)

Ric Hinch is the president of the Old Fairbridgians Association in Western Australia, and said there were widespread delays the scheme.

He said the additional delays for the children who came out under the one-parent or two-parent schemes was another blow.

“That’s the background of the thinking of most child migrants in Australia and in Western Australia.”

Government cites ‘complexity’

A large old timber building surrounded by trees.
One of the cottages at Fairbridge Pinjarra(ABC South West WA: Georgia Loney)

The Department of Social Services acknowledged there had been some delays to processing Fairbridge applications.

The federal department would not say how many applications had been affected, citing privacy.

“The government is working to progress applications naming Fairbridge Farm Schools as quickly as possible.”

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