On their own - Britain's child migrants

Shirley Ronge

Reproduced courtesy Shirley Ronge.

Listen to an interview with former child migrant Shirley Ronge.

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Shirley arrived in Sydney in 1950, aged 10, with Barnardo’s. She reflects on the reasons for sending children there and talks about her work with Barnardo’s Australia.


I did feel angry when I found out that my mum really didn’t want me to come and she wasn’t counselled about it but in those days they weren’t. And in those days they wanted to get as many, well you could say Anglican white children over here as they possibly could and they got the best possible stock that they could. And as a politician friend of mine says in England, they did all of that and look what they’re left with now. I mean that’s really...

And the best British stock did come here and you had to have a certain health standard, you had to have a certain IQ and then the boys were sent on farms and the girls were sent to domestic work and that was appalling. What’s kids with this terrific IQ doing housework, domestics, these days we could have been anything.

So somebody in England, a Barnardo person contacted them here and said what’s she doing doing domestic work with the high IQ and everything and so I was gotten out of it. But you see all the la de da’s, they all wanted a little Barnardo girl to come and work for them and that wasn’t really very good. And the boys all had to go on farms.

I’ve met boys who’ve been at Bindoon and I’ve met them from all over and I just get so angry I could you know, oh, you think of little boys with no shoes on carrying bricks and rocks and oh. And I’ve met these people and they’re never going to get rid of their anger, it’s just so terrible, terrible, terrible. What a breach of faith that was just... I don’t want to talk about it.

Thankfully a lot of the boys got off the farms and have really done some really tremendous things.

If I think about it there’s anger there about my mum and certainly that person, that husband of hers. But with hindsight I wish I’d stayed there and I’m so damned lucky I wasn’t adopted, I was so grateful for that because I might have lost my identity. I might never have found all these people that look like me, people out there that have got brothers and sisters and parents, you’d all take it for granted that you looked like people and some of the kids had siblings. We were envious of that but when you go back and meet them and I caught my own uncle looking in the mirror, see that he’s got this frown line above his nose like I’ve got, I’ve seen people and my brother doing the same thing, looking in the mirror, ‘what are you doing?’ ‘Ah seeing how much alike we are’.

I’ve worked for them for eight and a half years and I run the reunions. I don’t feel that I’ve got to give them something back, I just like them and its just like sort of I’ve been with them since 1941 and we all have this terrific rapport with each other that I can go into state and ring somebody up and say ‘oh I just rang for a chat’ and they’ll say ‘oh you’re not going back without coming to see me are you?’ just because... and even if I haven’t met them, when I was working, they used to come into reception but still they ring me up and we have the reunions and that. Yeah and they tell me stuff because I’m a little old lady and I understand and I’ve been there and done that.

And even I think the Management Committee people are quite surprised at some of the things that I’ve done, we wouldn’t do it now. We’d do anything to keep families together. Mind you seeing some of the kids running around today I don’t think the homes were such a bad idea because at least you had somewhere to go at night and you had your friends and there was an invisible fence, you couldn’t do this, that and the other and it wasn’t so bad.

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