Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd yesterday made a public apology to the hundreds of thousands of Australians, some of Maltese origin, who suffered abuse at the hands of their carers in institutions, orphanages and foster care.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) news website reported that the formal apology recognises the deprivation, pain and exploitation experienced by those Australians sent into state care and thousands of child migrants from Britain and other Commonwealth countries including Malta.
Monsignor Philip Calleja, who ran the Maltese Church’s Emigrants’ Commission for many years said that Maltese children were emigrated to Australia under the ‘Child Migration to Australia Scheme’ following an agreement between the Australian Catholic Immigration committee represented by Fr W. A. Nicol P.P. and the Emigration and Labour Minister J. J. Cole on 9 December, 1949.
Mgr Calleja wrote a paper about Maltese child migrants in March 2008. It was read out during the unveiling of the child migrants’ monument at the Valletta Waterfront.
The prime minister had reported that 310 children emigrated from Malta between 1950 and 1965. The monument symbolises respect to what the Maltese child migrants achieved away from their homeland but also expressed regret for their suffering.
At the time, the Australian government had offered to welcome Maltese boys, aged between eight and 11, and girls aged between five and 10 years in Catholic institutions. It promised to offer them employment supervised by the responsible Catholic authorities.
Mgr Calleja said that a certain Mgr Stinston had agreed with the Australian government to give priority to orphans. In fact most of the Maltese children sent to Australia under this scheme came either from government orphanages or Church children’s homes. He pointed out that all emigrated children left with their parents’ consent.
Boys were placed in Castledare Junior Orphanage, Clontarf Boys’ Town, St Joseph’s Trade and Farm School, Bindoon, and in St Mary’s Agricultural School, Tardun.
Girls were placed in St Joseph Girls’ Orphanage, Subiaco and Nazareth House, Geraldton.
A report drawn up in 1959 says that 222 children had been sent till that year. Only 41 were still in Australian institutions. Another 61 reached adult age and were employed, 14 returned to Malta and 106 joined their family who had also emigrated to Australia.
One of these children became a priest and many others embarked on a career though many grew up hurt knowing that their parents had consented to their departure from home.
Mgr Calleja explained that to evaluate the issue objectively one must appreciate that both the scheme operators and the parents had acted in good faith hoping for a better future for their sons and daughters.
The commission’s last report on child migrants reported that 113 had returned to their parents, 15 returned to the Maltese Islands and 66 were still working in Australia.
The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) website reported the Australian PM saying he was “deeply sorry” for the pain caused to the children and their extended families.
He said he hoped the national apology would help to “heal the pain” and be a turning point in Australian history. Some 500,000 “forgotten Australians” were abused or neglected in orphanages and children’s homes between 1930 and 1970.
The Canberra ceremony was attended by hundreds of people forced to migrate to Australia when young. Some 7,000 still live in Australia.
Some wept openly and held each other as Mr Rudd shared stories of survivors he had spoken to, including those who were beaten with belt buckles or sexually violated as children.