The West

Child migrant abuse revealed
Child migrant abuse revealed

The full extent of sexual, physical and psychological abuse suffered by hundreds of child migrants sent forcibly to Fairbridge Farm School in Pinjarra can be revealed for the first time.

Figures obtained exclusively during a four-month investigation by _The Weekend West _show that 205 child migrants who were among those sent to the institution between 1930 and 1981 have been awarded more than $1.1 million in ex gratia payments.

The payments were made under the Redress WA scheme for children abused in State care.

The staggering number of payouts came to light after child migrants broke decades of silence to expose incidences of paedophilia, pack rape, brutal beatings and slave labour-like conditions that have scarred them for life.

Emboldened by the figures after years of being afraid to speak out for fear of derision, six victims have shared the truth of their time at the Pinjarra farm school with _The Weekend West. _

They say the long-held fallacy has finally been shattered that Fairbridge was "better" than other child migrant institutions.

The veracity of the accounts from victims has been bolstered by previously sealed documents held in Britain which show authorities ignored warnings from whistleblowers about the abuse.

And in a further twist, the farm school's 99-year-old registry book, in which the personal details of 1500 child migrants were recorded on their arrival in WA, has turned up decades after it was thought to be lost for ever.

Inside the pages of the enormous tome is a wad of files no one knew existed which paint a harrowing picture of despair of the first two shiploads of youths sent out to work across WA.

Marcelle O'Brien, 67, was four years old when she arrived at Fairbridge in 1949. From the age of six she was beaten and humiliated by the "cottage mother" who had the job of raising her.

She was called a liar when, as a teenager, she mustered the courage to tell Fairbridge staff she had been pack raped and molested on two occasions while under their care.

"They said, 'If it did happen you let it happen'," she said.

"They didn't want to know. It wasn't just me. There were lots of others."

Ms O'Brien received $45,000 compensation under Redress WA - about $4000 for every year she spent being brutalised at Fairbridge.

Christopher Pinnegar, 71, who arrived at Fairbridge in 1950 aged nine, said he was sexually molested by an older child migrant.

He was too afraid to tell his cottage mother, who had earlier bashed him for reporting a bullying incident.

One child migrant, who did not wished to be named, said there were at least three paedophiles among Fairbridge staff who preyed on children in the 1950s.

_The Weekend West _has also obtained a written account from a child migrant who is now dead in which he claimed he and other children were raped by an adult staff member.

Details will be published in a special report on Monday.

In a 1949 report provided to the British Home Office, former Fairbridge principal Dallas Patterson warned of rampant abuse at the farm school.

But his detailed accounts of "exploitation", "slavery" and sexual abuse as far back as the 1930s were ignored and children continued to be sent.

Child migrant and former Labor MP Mike Barnett said he believed Fairbridge had dodged the same level of scrutiny and subsequent infamy applied to other child migrant institutions because of its patronage from British royalty and a WA board that was stacked with local movers and shakers.

He said the number of applications accepted under Redress WA had vindicated victims and shattered the illusion Fairbridge was the "role model" child migrant institution.

"It demonstrates that what we knew occurred in other child migrant establishments like Bindoon, is also the sort of behaviour that occurred in Fairbridge Farm School," he said. "Two-hundred people are impossible to ignore."

Founded in 1912 by South African Kingsley Fairbridge, about 3500 children were sent to the farm under various migration programs until it closed its doors in 1981.

Fairbridge WA Inc, the modern-day organisation that operates on part of the old farm school site, is a charitable organisation which formed in 1983.

Chief executive officer Mark Anderson said it did not have anything to do with child migration.

Child Protection Minister Robyn McSweeney, whose office confirmed the number of ex gratia payments made to Fairbridge child migrants, said Redress WA had inadvertently set history straight by providing figures for the levels of abuse at institutions such as Fairbridge.

Det-Sgt Greg Hill, from the child abuse squad, said police were still reviewing Redress applications involving Fairbridge but were not currently investigating any cases.

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The West Australian

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