On their own - Britain's child migrants

Eddie Butler

college building by a palm tree and a statue
Catholic Agricultural College Bindoon 2010. ANMM collection.

Listen to an interview with former child migrant Eddie Butler.

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Eddie was 10 when he sailed to Australia and was sent to Bindoon with the Christian Brothers. Here Eddie talks about his struggle to discover his real identity and trace his family.

Transcript

I went and asked a brother one day, Brother Wexstead if I had any relations, he said ‘no, no, no’, he said ‘you’re an orphan’; I said ‘am I?’ He said ‘yeah’ and I thought that’s funny, you know I don’t ever believe that anybody’s an orphan but I accepted it. A lot of the boys were given letters up there and they were writing letters away but I didn’t because I had no one to write to.

But in 1970 I started looking. I had a feeling there must have been... there’d be a mother and father out there somewhere and I started in 1970 looking and it came to fruition in around about 1999 or 98 that mother was found, but she had died two years earlier. But I found out that I had a sister and I’ve seen my sister; she lives in New Jersey in America.

But everywhere I tried and every person I ever spoke to about it they weren’t interested. The red tape that I had to go through just to get anywhere was – that was in England and Australia – was so hard, they just didn’t want to know about you. And the hardest part was that when I left Bindoon the brotherhood had given me the wrong name and the wrong birthday and that made it a lot harder to find my mother. And the Child Migrant Trust eventually found her but it was too late then.

I had a piece of paper and I had my name on it and my birthday. I remember this so well, I remember picking it up from my brother and I was Edward John Butler and my birthday was on the 23.11.1936... the 25.11.1936, that wasn’t my name and that wasn’t my birthday. But it took me until only about 98/99 and I went to the Child Welfare Department in Perth and I asked them if they had any information on me and the bloke produced a Birth Certificate that had been there all that time. That had been in that office from the day I must have left England apparently because it still had the penny stamp on it, that’s how I know it was very, very old.

So it must have come out with me from England but no one gave it to me and I had to find that myself and that’s when I found out my name was a different name and my birthday was a different birthday. And then I was able to find my mother because my mother’s name was on the Birth Certificate and that’s how the Child Migrant Trust found it. I could have found my mother because I had my mother’s name. All I was doing was looking for a boy that was born to somebody with the wrong name and the wrong birthday.

I went to Catherine House, myself and my wife spent four days solid just looking through all the things. I sent people over there with money which went through there and they could never find it because they wouldn’t find it because it wasn’t there, the wrong name and the wrong birthday, it didn’t gel, there was nothing came out of it.

I’ve asked everybody and they all blame everybody else, so I said well somebody’s at fault but no one was prepared to come forward. No one, no one takes responsibility for anything, not a thing everywhere I go, they all pass the buck, they’re happy to get rid of me.

And all the boys that came out, they’ve had the same trouble all the time. Everywhere you go you’ve got the same problem, they don’t want to know you; you’re a misfit.

In the last six weeks I’ve just become an Australian citizen because I’ve got my right name and my right birthday and before they put on the wrong one, they put the wrong name on, the wrong thing and they would not change that for me and I just got Senator Knowles to organise that for me. She was the only one that would do it. The Christian brothers couldn’t do it with their letter, the Child Migrant Trust couldn’t do it with their letter, no one would accept it except for Sue Knowles; she got that for me. I must thank her for that.

My family is here. I’ve got three lovely daughters and three son-in-laws and I’ve got nine grandchildren. They’re all Australians; Australia is my home, that’s what I’ve made it. Australia has been good to me, I’m proud to be an Australian without a doubt.

Yeah you’ve got that tie because of what happened and you never lose that but I’m proud to be an Australian yeah, without a doubt.

I feel the British Government knew a lot more than they were saying they did, they knew about it, I think it was a way to populate Australia and once we were out here they let it go, they didn’t care, they had no responsibility once we were out here and they should have responsibility now for what happened to us. I mean because we found relations and that, we find it very, very hard to go over and see these people, our relations, and the British Government should be coming to the party on this and I really mean that, to help the people over here.

I’ve had two trips, I have had one from the British Government and I appreciate it and I’ve had one from Seibers which is the Christian brothers and I appreciate that. But I still think there could be more. I’ve only seen my sister twice in my life and I was unable to see my mother because of what they done to me and my father. So you know I think they owe it to us, I really mean they owe it to us. I think we should be allowed to go over at least once a year.


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