Child Migrants, memories, photos

Orphaning experiences

by Godfrey Gilmour (guest author) on 13 April, 2011

“I may not have been an orphan in the real sense of the word, and my experience at Clontarf as a state ward, however, was full of orphaning experiences”. Godfrey Gilmour, a retired Anglican priest, noticed himself as a child in a photograph, published on this website, taken by Mick O’Donoghue at Clontarf Boys Town in the 1950s. Here, he shares his experiences as a child migrant from a loving family in Malta to the harsh conditions at Clontarf:

I was born in Malta in 1944 in wartime. My mother was Mary Tonna and my father Geoffrey was an English soldier recently transferred to Malta from the North Africa campaign. My parents met sometime in late 1942 or early 1944. It was a wartime love affair and did not come to light til my mother became pregnant and her parents became involved. It was then discovered that Geoffrey was married and that despite my grandfather’s attempt to sort something out, it came to no avail. The army then intervened and sent Geoffrey away to the Italian campaign. My mother never heard from him again and her registered letters to him containing photographs of me went unanswered.

After the war, I lived with my mother and grandparents. It was a comfortable and culturally enriching life. I was close to my grandparents and extended family and I still have very happy memories of that period of time.

At the age of seven I was placed in St Patrick’s School in Sliema which was a boarding school where I experienced abuse for the first time, my family was unaware of this, and  I felt unable to tell them about the events at St Patrick’s for I was fearful of the repercussions that might ensue. I was eager to leave the place and always longed to see my father.  Some time in 1952 Father Cyril Stinson came to the school in Malta from Western Australia to recruit boys to migrate to Australia. I always remember that he had a florid face and smelt of whiskey. Along with other boys I was told how wonderful Australia was, and the wonderful school we would be going to. My mother along with other parents was also told similar things and also thought this would be a good thing especially as she was also advised that she could also follow me to Australia. In my child’s mind, I thought that somehow, I would be closer to England and that I might see my father. I had no idea Australia was on the other side of the world.

In July 12th 1953 I migrated to Australia. When I arrived at Clontarf, I immediately felt that this was a dark place. And it proved to be so almost from day one. It felt as though I had landed like on the dark side of the moon. I didn’t fit in at Clontarf; I had come from a cultured family in Malta. My mother had a wonderful singing voice. I always had plenty of reading matter, at night, in Malta; she would sing me to sleep with operatic arias that she had learnt. But at Clontarf, I experienced a great deal of deprivation especially in the early years. I was to experience emotional, physical and sexual abuse almost the very first days. There was a predatory culture at work at Clontarf and at Castledare; young boys were preyed upon by particular staff and also older boys. My first nights in one of those large cold dormitories were miserable and I recall crying myself to sleep wondering when my mother was going to arrive and take me away.

From the first days I witnessed and then personally experienced the harsh discipline and the use of the infamous straps made of several layers of leather and reinforced with metal to make them weightier and more painful. The staff carried these up the sleeves of their cassocks and used them with terrible efficiency. In the absence of their straps staff resorted to sticks, canes and fists even on very young  boys and those who were maimed through accidents. The attitude of some staff was sadistic.

There was also this process of depersonalisation at work at Clontarf and a loss of identity. I soon became a number. My Christian name was never used, only my number and surname. My personal belongings were soon taken away from me, my books were burnt, and my mail home was censored. We were forbidden to speak Maltese.  Being bi-lingual I was at times told to translate letters from Malta to Maltese boys for the principal in case information about Clontarf was getting back to Malta. There was a lack of respect for the individual, the well-being of the institution mattered more.

The food was so awful after the Mediterranean diet I was used to; hunger was a constant reality, and boys resorted to raiding the pig bins for food. The enforced nudity, the lack of privacy [even the toilets lacked doors], the constant hard work that we had to engage in, often in dangerous conditions, made inroads into our health and well-being also affected of academic performance. Many boys failed academically and were put to work at an early age and were functionally illiterate on leaving Clontarf.

My mother came out to Australia in October 1954. Catholic welfare found her work at a Catholic presbytery in Fremantle. In early 1955 my mother found employment at Castledare, the junior orphanage that fed into Clontarf. She became uncomfortable with the violence that she saw. On raising this with one of the brothers, he said, “I didn’t want to be here. My parents forced me to become a Christian Brother”.
My mother was asked to leave Castledare and moved to Perth and worked there. In 1957 my mother married Jack Gilmour. He immediately wanted to adopt me legally and immediately ran into obfuscation both by the authorities and also the staff at Clontarf. People did not readily question authority in those days. Unbeknown to them, I was legally a state ward. My step father then took steps to change my name by deed poll. This was done much to the chagrin of Brother Doyle, the principal, who in an interview with my parents at which I was also present raised objections. My parents insisted that I should now be known as Godfrey Gilmour. Already out of favour with Brother Doyle this latest issue made life difficult, ever more difficult for me.

My final year at Clontarf was spent in Br Doyle’s class. It was a devastating year for me. I was brutalised and humiliated by this man all year. I was at times hit over the head by this man and had my spectacles broken after being hit across the face. He took a dislike to my accent and constantly drew attention to what he described as my ‘plummy accent’ and humiliated me in front of my peers. I became an anxious boy, I developed a speech impediment, had sleep problems and even experienced bouts of enuresis, [bed wetting] something I had never experienced in my life. At the end of the school year I was simply told to leave and not come back. I virtually left in the clothes I was standing in. I was still a ward of the state and yet my parents received no support whatever for my transition to life outside the orphanage. After several years my mother received a letter from the Child Welfare Department in Perth, advising my mother that she could now adopt me.

Such was my experience in care in Western Australia, I may not have been an orphan in the real sense of the word, and my experience at Clontarf as a state ward however was full of orphaning experiences. Putting the past behind me I forged a career in education, family welfare and ministry.

PS: I was to meet my father in the UK, shortly before he died we were reconciled. I also met 9 siblings and large family. My mother did not live to see that day. She died in Malta.

Godfrey with mother Mary Tonna, 1955, WA
Godfrey (circled) at swimming pool construction site, Clontarf, WA
Child Migrants, memories

I learn not to show my emotions

by Raymond Brand (guest author) on 13 April, 2011

Former Child Migrant Raymond Brand writes about his experience as a child migrant from Britain, growing up in Castledare and Bindoon, WA. Ray describes the abuse he suffered and how education and medical care were low priorities at Bindoon.

Download Ray’s story (PDF 6.9mb)

Forgotten Australians

Invisible thread

by Maree Giles (guest author) on 20 October, 2010

Maree Giles is a former inmate of Parramatta Girls’ Training Home is now an Australian author, editor, poet, journalist, creative writing teacher and mentor, and the mother of two grown-up children. She  was a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Kingston University, London, 2009 and 2010, and is currently a dissertation supervisor on their Creative Writing MFA.

She is the author of  Under the Green Moon and The Past Is A Secret Country. Maree’s debut novel Invisible Thread is based on her experiences in Parramatta Home.

Her poem under a lucky sky is also based on her time in the Home.

Forgotten Australians

The betrayal

by Wayne Miller (guest author) on 17 September, 2010

The Betrayal – Born in Innocence Raised in Hell is Wayne Miller’s personal history of his life as a ward of the state, resident in St Vincent de Paul’s Boys Home, South Melbourne and St Augustine’s Boys Home, Highton, Geelong.

Wayne’s history was the basis of his submission to the 2004 Senate Community Affairs Committee’s Inquiry into Children into Institutional Care. Wayne’s testament is Submission no. 15 and may be downloaded from the Senate website.

Forgotten Australians, memories, Stolen Generations

My life in the cold, numb inhumane days

by Rhonda Trivett (guest author) on 7 September, 2010

My book that is coming out in December is called My Life in the Cold Numb Inhumane Days:

From when I was taking away from my mum at 3 months old then I was locked up from the age of 7 going since I was the age 8 until I was 21 years of age.

It talks about how female murderers that they couldn’t handle in jail were put into Osler house in Wolston Park Hospital with children 11, 12, 13 and 14 year olds in the early 1970s.

And how these children were murdered, killed, bashed and raped with acts of forced cannibalism in our own country Australia, when they were supposed to be getting looked after, being a wards of the state as children. I was only 13 going on to 14, a stolen and forgotten child as well and after being raped and bashed all them years.

Watching my friends get murdered. How I ended up on heavy drug and alcohol and Metho drinker and how I stoped. how did I even become a Satan worshiper and what drive me.

How I met a real love. How I see life and who screwed me.

Why did this happen to me and other children? And how I want wrongs made right and their needs to be justice. How I see life.

How I rehabilitated my self and how I have suffered and I suffer now.

art, Forgotten Australians, memories, poetry

Gloria’s story

by Gloria Lovely (guest author) on 17 June, 2010

Gloria Lovely was taken to St Vincent’s Orphanage, Nudgee, Queensland, in 1943, when she was 18 months old. She was then sent to a foster family at the age of ten.  Here, in an excerpt from the book Lives of Uncommon Children – Reflections of Forgotten Australians (2009, Micah Projects – Queensland), and her poem A Child’s Despair (2005), Gloria writes about her experience in foster care.

He was murdering me. He was murdering me every day. I didn’t want to wake up of a morning because I knew what I might face. Another day of fear. Have to hurry, do the chores, then off to school – an escape. I’m free of fear there for a while, a positive advantage. School is the best time of day, learning to be smart and a little educated, making me feel good.

I absolutely love to learn, anything and everything, trying to fill my mind with knowledge, and remembering it all. I loved going to school; it was my sanctuary, but then I had to go back to my foster home, my home of fear and dread. And my foster parents. My foster father was a sinful man, using my body for his sexual gratification. No on else knew he was doing it on a weekly basis. It was my hell; he was destroying my spirit, and my foster mother was very cruel, punishing me for not doing the chores right. Like scorching a white shirt, peeling too much skin off the potatoes and onions.

But to the people of the community, they were such wonderful people, because they fostered other children from the orphanage as well, and going to church every Sunday, letting people know they were looking after their foster children. What wonderful people, but behind the scenes, behind closed doors, we foster children were suffering daily. What a charade. We were their slaves, and I was his bedroom slave. I was the housewife in every sense of the word.

Hence my thinking of him killing me – killing every part of my being, my soul, my all. Who can I turn to? No one. Were the other foster children feeling the same as I? Are they living in their own hell? Do they fear them as much as I do? I feel they would like to go back to the orphanage like I would. Oh, please God, help us all. This is the part of my life which I was lucky enough to survive this living hell. It is in the past now, and I thank my lucky stars that it came to an end when it did, and I grew to adulthood.

A Child’s Despair
(From Orphanage to Foster Care)

A girl-child sleeps at night
A stranger, she is not, to fright
She wakes, suddenly,
“Will he come tonight?”
This poor unfortunate, in such a plight.

To these unkind people she was sent,
No one knew, they were so bent.
Her body, he took, by force, times again
“My God, protect me”, once again.

“Our secret”, he says, “do not tell”.
His sick mind, he hid so well
And her (so cruel) she could not tell
That belt, the belting she could foretell.

She screams in her soul, no one can hear
She cannot cry out, she lives in fear.

Her body tells day by day
People do not read that way
“The child is slow,
She was born that way”.

Over the days, months and years
She carried on, despite her fears.

She now has grown to womanhood,
And all she likes to give…..is good.

Gloria (left) and Juanita with the statue of the orphan child, Brisbane 2010