Monday, July 02, 2012


Under the title “Farmed out to Fear”, the Weekend West, 26 May edition of The West Australian exposes the scandal of orphan children sent from Britain , from 1913 until 1981, to Fairbridge Farm School at Pinjarra, Western Australia.

In 1913, Kingsley Fairbridge established the Child Emigration Society, later to become the Fairbridge Society. Its sponsors were mainly British aristocracy and royalty, who traditionally sent their own children to private boarding schools from the age of seven. Indeed, Fairbridge was visited by a number of members of the British royal family over the years, including the then Duke and Duchess of York in 1927, the Queen Mother in 1964 and Prince Charles in 1979.

Building the Empire

According The Western Australian, Fairbridge, inspired by a childhood on the African veldt, “saw in the children of London’s slums the raw material from which farmers and domestic servants could be fashioned for tilling the virgin lands, and maintaining the homes of the British Empire, which was crying out for settlers”. Labour shortages and the need to keep levels of “good British stock” high in the colonies was to be resolved. In Western Australia the government offered assisted passage of £6 a child, with the child to be taught under the State system of “compulsory education”.

The first children arrived in Pinjarra in 1913. by 1961, about 1,500 had arrived under the Fairbridge scheme. On arrival, the children, of whom some were as young as four, had their clothes taken from them, and were issued with shorts, tee-shirts and often rags; no underclothes, socks or shoes were issued. They became virtual slaves.

Similar schemes were set up in other Australian states, as well as in Canada. As I have noted elsewhere (The Impossibilists, p46), “After 1900, many farmers increasingly employed young make immigrants, brought to Canada by so-called charitable organisations,. More than 50,000 were imported, mainly from British slums.”

At Pinjarra, as time went by, reports of paedophilia, molestation, rapes, beatings, brutality and other abuse were made to the British Home Office; and they were generally true.

The West Australian cites the experiences of Marcelle O’Brien, now 67, who was taken from her foster mother in Britain, in 1949, and sent to Fairbridge in Pinjarra, aged just four, from six years of age she was beaten and forced to confess to crimes she had not committed. When she was 16, and still under the “care” of Fairbridge and the West Australian State, O’Brien was sent out on placement as a domestic. She was sexually molested by a man next door to the farm near Bunbury on another work placement. “They never showed me any love,” she recently said.

And Exploited

Christopher Pinnegar, now 71, who was also sent to Fairbridge, in 1950, claimed that there was no affection. “We used to get belted a lot,” he said. Telling the staff was a waste of time.

Mike Barnett, another child migrant who later became Labor MP for Rockingham, and who is now curator of the Fairbridge Migrant Museum, remembered a dormitory, “…a cavernous space beneath the rock, where the bare rafters arched overhead like the rib cage of some giant cetacean.” The conditions were like a concentration camp.

According to Mr. Barnett, evidence showed that Fairbridge was plagued with problems from the beginning. It was closed down in 1981. In a report by the British Home Office in 1949, which was slated to remain secret until 2024, but was made available recently, rampant abuse was admitted. Moreover, boys were used as “cheap labour” and “exploited”; and girls sent “into slavery”.


The West Australian revealed (26 may, 2012) that 205 children sent to Fairbridge Farm School between 1930 and 1981 have been awarded ex-gratia payments under the Redress WA scheme, a government scheme to compensate children abused in State care. One of them, Gordon Ashworth, has received A$13,000 under the scheme. “For 10 years incarcerated down there, they reckon that was all I was worth,” he said. “It’s laughable.” Of course, most of the former inmates will not receive any compensation: they are now dead!

Unlike other places of a similar type (including those run by the Catholic Church), Fairbridge Farm dodged similar scrutiny because of the patronage from British royalty, and a Western Australian board what was “stocked with local movers and shakers”. And the ruling class always looks after its own.


Sheshe said...

There is no amount of money that could compensate the degrading and lonely life at Fairbridge. I can not believe that it was allowed to run for as long as it did. We went out in 1966 and I was there for 5 years. To this day I still remember every little detail.

Anonymous said...

We were due to emigrate in 1972 as a family. there were 7 of us. Our parents were told that we they could not find accomodation for all of us and that we would be place in Fairbridge Village and we would be given back to them one by one once they'd found a suitable place to live. Ironically my brother settled in Bunbury and on a visit to him I visited the village. Couldn' help but think, although interesting we'd a lucky escape when mum and dad wouldn't even consider this and we remained in Scotland.

Anonymous said...

This policy was first exposed in 1987 by the Child Migrants Trust which has campaigned for a full, independent inquiry and adequate reparations for those impacted by these dreadful schemes. This latest chapter in a long saga concerns a settlement worth nearly £12million for those involved in a class action against the state of New South Wales, the Australian Government and Fairbridge for abuse suffered by children at the Fairbridge Farm school.It has clearly taken far too long for those concerned to face hard realities and emerge from denial.

Art Kid said...

Unfortunately sad history lost childhood sad ☹️ it allowed at all