When the first parties of British child migrants sailed to Australia in 1947, they did so in the context of a significantly changed policy context. A re-evaluation of immigration needs by the Australian Commonwealth Government during the war years led to it developing far more ambitious policy goals for assisted immigration supported by the creation of a new senior ministerial post. Following the decision to make the Home Office the lead department for children’s out-of-home care, its Children’s Department which began to involve itself far more in policy discussions about child migration with staff in what had been the Dominions Office and was (from the summer of 1947) renamed the Commonwealth Relations Office. The break in child migration work during the war years provided an opportunity for voluntary organisations to make new decisions about their continued involvement in it and, in the face of a more co-ordinated policy from the Australian Commonwealth and State Governments, other organisations began to involve themselves in child migration for the first time. The experience of the war years, particularly in relation to the effects of mass evacuation on children, also led to a number of voluntary and professional bodies raising concerns about the effects of emigration on children, creating a more contested public environment for child migration schemes than had existed during the inter-war years.Footnote 1 All of this took place in the broader policy landscape of children’s out-of-home care in Britain which was beginning to be re-shaped in response to the publication of the Curtis report.

The Commonwealth Government’s evolving policy for assisted child migration had a profound effect on the systems and conditions that post-war British child migrants experienced and played a crucial role in shaping the policy environment in which British civil servants and politicians operated. A review of the role in child migration in supporting Australia’s future immigration needs had been initiated by the Australian Commonwealth Government well in advance of the end of the war. In 1943, an Inter-Departmental Committee to consider post-war immigration needs established a sub-committee specifically to review prospects for the resumption of child migration. The sub-committee was created in the context of wider public discussion about future prospects for child migration and increased war-time anxiety about Australia’s insecurity through the under-population of its large land mass.Footnote 2 A memorandum recording the sub-committee’s formation noted that assisted child migration was as a potentially valuable element of wider immigration policy given that children could be more easily assimilated into Australian society than adults and that their introduction soon after the end of the war would not divert housing and employment from de-mobilised servicemen and women.Footnote 3 Child migration could even create new employment opportunities, for example, for war widows who could be enlisted as paid carers.Footnote 4 Ben Chifley, the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction, who was to become Prime Minister from 1945 to 1949, was also noted as being particularly enthusiastic about making early arrangements for the resumption of child migration.

An initial audit of voluntary organisations that had been, or might in future be, involved in child migration was undertaken by the sub-committee, leading to fuller reports being commissioned from Caroline Kelly.Footnote 5 Reuben Wheeler was tasked with trying to obtain more information about the level of interest in voluntary organisations whilst he was based as Chief Migration Officer at Australia House in London,Footnote 6 and Walter Garnett was also briefed about and consulted on the sub-committee’s work.Footnote 7 The Dominions Office were also aware of the sub-committee’s work and eventually provided, on repeated request from Wheeler, a non-committal memorandum indicating that no firm view could be taken about likely prospects for post-war child migration until broader inter-governmental policies around assisted migration had been agreed.Footnote 8

The issue of the available supply of child migrants remained a matter of concern for the sub-committee. It learned that there were probably no more than 2000 war orphans in the United Kingdom and that public sentiment towards them made it more likely that they would be considered priorities for adoption or foster care in the United Kingdom rather than being made available for emigration.Footnote 9 As before the war, child migrants were seen as most likely to come from residential children’s homes or poor families. Walter Garnett also made it clear that the decreasing birth-rate in Britain and the prospect of improved family allowances meant that the supply of post-war child migrants from Britain was unlikely to be substantial and that consent to children’s emigration would only happen in future if those responsible for them were ‘persuaded that very great advantages will accrue’ to the children.Footnote 10 Whilst an interest was also taken in the possibility of immigration of children from continental Europe as an extension of the ‘white Australia’ immigration policy, it was also understood that this might involve overcoming some popular prejudice against immigration from southern Europe as well as anti-Semitic sentiment against the immigration of Jewish children.Footnote 11 Although the immigration of non-British European children was regarded as inevitable, given the likely limitations on the supply of children from the United Kingdom, attracting children of ‘British stock’ remained the preferred policy. In spite of repeated warnings about the limited numbers of children available from Britain, however, the gap between the Commonwealth Government’s aspirations for the level of post-war child migration from the United Kingdom and the actual numbers of children it received was to become a recurring theme in the post-war period.

An initial assumption made by Chifley was that post-war child migration would become a more formalised element of Commonwealth immigration policy. Rather than leaving this work to interested voluntary organisations, the Government would, he proposed, establish receiving institutions for child migrants with suitably trained staff so that child migration could be encouraged and managed on a much larger scale.Footnote 12 The idea that child migration be used as a means of addressing Australia’s pressing need for an increase in its population in the coming decades marked this proposal as somewhat different in emphasis to other suggested settlement schemes for refugee children which had a more primarily humanitarian intent of rescuing children from ‘their bombed and battered homelands’.Footnote 13 The Commonwealth Government’s ambition was to take advantage of the social upheaval across post-conflict Europe to try to attract 50–60,000 child migrants within two or three years of the end of the war.Footnote 14 Suitable accommodation could be provided through repurposing buildings previously used by the armed services and other organisations.Footnote 15 The Director-General of the Department of Post-war Reconstruction further modified this idea by arguing that large-scale camps would not be appropriate places to house children on a long-term basis and that after no more than two years in these reception camps, children would be moved to smaller hostels in urban areas under the care of cottage mothers.Footnote 16

Support for this plan was not universal, however. Officials in the Department of the Interior suggested that, at least in the short term, it would be better to continue to undertake this work through interested and experienced voluntary organisations albeit with greater government support.Footnote 17 The Department of the Interior was also more sceptical that children would be available for migration from Britain to the extent that supporters of the mass government scheme believed and instead took the view that it would be more productive to direct funding to incentivise immigration from widows with children or families with young children.Footnote 18 The sub-committee on child migration also supported the option of working through approved voluntary organisations and initially excluded any reference to the idea of a government-managed scheme in its report to the main Inter-Departmental Committee on Immigration.Footnote 19 Walter Garnett also expressed the view that working through voluntary organisations would be preferable because they were better placed to identify suitable children for migration in the United Kingdom, were more experienced in this work, provided suitable care and their religious or philanthropic ethos made them more acceptable to parents and guardians in the United Kingdom.Footnote 20 Garnett’s preference for the ethos of voluntary organisations rather than the impersonal and ‘soulless’ services provided by the state continued despite his knowledge, by the end of 1943, of problems at both Tardun and Northcote. Evidence of failings at these receiving institutions also did nothing to affect Garnett’s confident reassurance to the Australian sub-committee on child migration that the UK Government remained committed to increasing the British stock of the Dominions and would continue encourage child migration as part of this wider policy.Footnote 21

Despite the sub-committee’s recommendation that child migration should continue to operate primarily through supporting the work of voluntary organisations, the Department of Post-war Reconstruction continued to advocate for its more ambitious, government-managed proposal. Although Chifley’s enthusiasm for child migration as an element of post-war Australian reconstruction was initially kept confidential—for fear that other Dominions might seek to steal a march on the possible supply of children from Europe—it began to be aired publicly as a policy proposal by the middle of 1944. At a speech to the Trade Union Conference in Melbourne in June, the acting Prime Minister Frank Forde argued that without substantial immigration to increase its population the future security and viability of Australia was at risk. Encouraging immigration on the basis of cheap labour was, Forde told his audience, an anathema to the Labor Party and child migration offered an alternative and more sustainable means for substantial population growth.Footnote 22 By the autumn of 1944, Chifley’s Department of Post-war Reconstruction had successfully lobbied the Cabinet to ensure that its proposals would be considered again by the Inter-Departmental Committee on Immigration and then by the Cabinet.Footnote 23 In addition to setting out the demographic case for acting in a concerted way to draw on the short-term supply of children displaced through the war, it offered some specific suggestions about this scheme’s implementation. It was proposed that legislation be introduced to bring child migrants under the guardianship of the Minister for the Interior (following the model used for Children’s Overseas Reception Board [CORB ] evacuees). An outline budget for this work was also suggested, estimated to be in excess of A£26 million over eight years not including any building costs.Footnote 24 Whilst the Treasury recognised this to be a very significant financial commitment, it also argued that if substantial funding were to be directed towards population growth in Australia then child migration represented a more cost-effective and secure means of achieving this than funding schemes designed to encourage Australian families to have more children.Footnote 25

After receiving widely publicised Cabinet approval in principle for these proposals in December 1944,Footnote 26 a consultation meeting was arranged with representatives of State Governments the following month.Footnote 27 Presenting this scheme to the meeting, the Director-General of the Department of Post-war Reconstruction suggested that this should be seen as a national initiative that sought to avoid stigmatising child migrants as ‘charity cases’. Whilst recognising the administrative challenges of this work, State representatives were generally supportive of the proposal, including the suggestion that children be placed in cottage homes in urban areas as soon as possible after their arrival to avoid institutionalisation in reception camps (although some preferred adoption or foster placement to cottage homes).Footnote 28 A pre-circulated memorandum from the Departments of the Interior and Post-war Reconstruction also suggested that some cost savings could be found, for example, by involving child migrants in growing their own vegetables—as long as this did not extend into an exploitative use of their labour. It was also recognised, however, that recruiting and retaining suitable cottage mothers would require attractive rates of remuneration.

On the basis of this positive response, State Governments were then asked to provide proposed budgets for the delivery of this scheme in their State. A provisional agreement between the Commonwealth and States was also drafted in which the Commonwealth offered a relatively generous financial provision (compared to the pre-war period) of funding children’s selection, emigration, maintenance to the age of 16, and half of capital building costs, with States expected to bear the cost of children’s education and the other half of capital costs. By August 1945, estimated costs from State Governments had been received and collated by the Department of the Interior.Footnote 29 These indicated that the total cost of the immigration of 51,000 children would be in the range of A£64 million to A£71 million,Footnote 30 for which the Commonwealth Government would be liable for around 70% of this and State Governments the remainder. This did not include projected costs for children’s overseas recruitment, outfitting, passages and escorts for shipping which could rise to a further A£4 million if all the 51,000 children were migrated. The main reason for the substantial rise in projected costs was that this new budget now included costs for the construction of new cottage homes, hostels and additional school buildings (estimated to be just over A£32 million), for which cottage homes accounted for most of this budget. After the cost of the construction of new cottage homes, the staffing of those homes was the next most expensive item in the total budget, estimated to be around A£31 million. Even if financially practical, it was doubted that a building programme on this scale would be possible given wider national pressures on building materials at the end of the war. Given the uncertainty as to whether child migrants on this scale would even be available, it was suggested that another alternative might be to set up a pilot scheme for 440 child migrants to be received across four States as a means of assessing the viability of a larger scale initiative at a cost of around A£700,000.

Although the likely costs of these proposals were much greater than had initially been anticipated, they remained under consideration by the Commonwealth Government.Footnote 31 This policy appeared set to receive further support with the creation of a new Commonwealth Department of Immigration in July 1945. Arthur Calwell, its first minister, had just published a short book outlining the serious demographic challenges facing Australia in the coming decades and supporting the child migration plan as an integral part of the national response to this.Footnote 32 Even though, Calwell acknowledged, there might be fewer children available for emigration than some hoped, it was nevertheless gratifying to see that a London newspaper had declared Australia to be ‘the coming greatest foster-father of children the world has known’. Calwell further endorsed the plan to bring 50,000 war orphans to Australia in his first major ministerial speech to the Australian Parliament that was released as a separate Government publication.Footnote 33 Whilst maintaining the ‘white Australia’ immigration policy and preferring ‘good British stock’, Calwell was, however, increasingly willing to accept that the numbers of white immigrants that Australia needed—including child migrants—would need to be taken from continental Europe as well as the United Kingdom.Footnote 34

By this point, the Dominions Office had already begun drafting free and assisted passage schemes, including support for child migration, in consultation with the Commonwealth Government.Footnote 35 However, it paid relatively little attention to Calwell’s proposals for child migration and took more interest in the implications of Calwell’s policy announcement relating to free passages for discharged British servicemen and, later on, the possible inaccuracies of subsequent Commonwealth Government publicity material for potential immigrants on the costs of living in Australia.Footnote 36 Whilst the aim of supporting British emigration to its Dominions was still seen as valuable in terms of maintaining social, cultural and strategic bonds across the Commonwealth (with Australia seen as the most proactive Dominion government with regard to arrangements for post-war migration), the prospect of the loss of British citizens during a period of a falling birth-rate and need to maintain a strong work-force for economic recovery was regarded with concern.Footnote 37 Support for widespread emigration was therefore not as strong in the Dominions Office as it had been with the original passing of the Empire Settlement Act. As one official commented rather tepidly, ‘if the Dominions wished for immigrants from the United Kingdom, and if emigrants wished to go, the United Kingdom Government would not be disposed to stand in the way’.Footnote 38

Doubts were growing, however, about the viability of the policy which was now taken up by Calwell. By the summer of 1945, it was publicly recognised that even if potential child migrants were available in the United Kingdom and continental Europe, the lack of available shipping for possibly at least two years constituted a significant logistical challenge.Footnote 39 Further discouragement for the Department of Post-war Reconstruction’s ambitious plans came from a report commissioned by Calwell from a Commonwealth Immigration Advisory Committee that he convened from delegates attending an International Labour Office conference in Paris.Footnote 40 Within its wider remit of investigating attitudes and prospects for emigration to Australia from the United Kingdom and continental Europe, the Advisory Committee was also tasked specifically with assessing the feasibility of the plans for recruiting 50,000 child migrants. The Committee’s views, set out in its report submitted in February 1946, were dismissive. It commented that wide publicity for these proposals were premature, had been made without any adequate survey of children’s availability and, as a consequence, had been the source of ‘a certain amount of embarrassment’. The countries they surveyed had few war orphans, apart from Norway who claimed this status for the special case of children fathered by German soldiers, and former enemy countries were not considered suitable places for recruitment. Suitable countries also generally wished to make their own provisions for the limited numbers of war orphans they had and did not want to consider emigration for them. As the recruitment of children on the scale envisaged was highly unlikely, the Committee recommended that the substantial investment that such a scheme required would be better spent on assisting adult and family migration. Given the lack of grounds for pursuing the proposed Commonwealth Government scheme, it also concluded that it would be more sensible to provide encouragement to voluntary organisations already interested or involved in child migration work and who appeared ‘to have done a reasonable job in the past’. Their views about the challenges facing the policy of mass child migration came as no surprise to Calwell as he himself had acknowledged in the Australian Parliament the previous autumn that the prospects for recruiting war orphans from Britain or continental Europe did not look strong in the near future.Footnote 41 A memorandum from the UK High Commission in Canberra to the Dominions Office summarising the Committee’s report also commented that ‘the non-availability of children is, however, possibly the least of the difficulties with which this scheme would have been faced. Its promoters had little appreciation of the problems connected with the transfer of children and had principally been attracted to this form of migration by what they thought to be its simplicity’.Footnote 42

In view of these evident challenges, Calwell sought to revise the Commonwealth Government’s policy on child migration away from the ambitious Government-controlled plan and back to the policy of supporting the work of voluntary organisations that had originally been favoured by the Department of the Interior.

Before these proposals were finalised at the Premiers’ Conference in August 1946, Calwell also introduced new legislation that made the Commonwealth Minister of Immigration the legal guardian of all child immigrants to Australia who were unaccompanied by their parents. The Immigration (Guardianship of Children) Bill was presented to Parliament by Calwell in July in part because the National Security (Oversea Children) regulations which had brought CORB evacuees under the legal guardianship of the Commonwealth Government was due to expire at the end of December 1946 and successor legislation was required to cover more than a hundred CORB evacuees still resident in Australia.Footnote 43 The Bill, which received Assent in August and came into effect on 30th December, placed all child evacuees and child migrants under the Minister’s guardianship until they reached the age of 21.Footnote 44 The Minister was empowered both to delegate his powers and responsibilities as guardian to State officials (in practice usually State Child Welfare departments) and to place child migrants under the custodianship of organisations which had been approved by the Minister for such work.Footnote 45 The Act also allowed for the drawing up of regulations regarding principles guiding the placement of children with custodian organisations and the standards to be upheld by custodian organisations, although in practice such regulations were never brought forward.

The Premiers’ Conference in 19th August 1946 finalised the proposed financial and administrative arrangements by which the Commonwealth and State Governments would support child migration.Footnote 46 Rather than persist with the ambitious government-managed scheme—passed up by the Conference, according to a note from the UK High Commission, because of its ‘exorbitant cost’Footnote 47—it was agreed that child migration would be pursued ‘under the auspices of approved voluntary migration organisations’.Footnote 48 The Commonwealth Government’s proposal was not abandoned but officially suspended until conditions were such that the scheme might be revived. States agreed to fund up to a third of capital costs for building work that voluntary organisations required for child migrants—with the Commonwealth Government being left to decide how much of the remaining costs would be paid for by itself and the voluntary organisation concerned. States also agreed to pay 3/6d per week maintenance for child migrants (with significant differences emerging in later years between this level of funding between States)Footnote 49 to the age of 16, in addition to maintenance funding from the UK Government and from the Commonwealth Child Endowment scheme. State Governments would be responsible for the reception and after-care of migrants, with the Commonwealth Government responsible for all work relating to immigration matters conducted overseas. If States did not already have Immigration Departments, they agreed to establish one or ensure that a branch of another department would take responsibility for immigration matters. The Commonwealth Government also agreed to establish a small office in each State run by a regional Commonwealth Migration Officer to support effective liaison between State and Commonwealth immigration bodies. These arrangements were confirmed, on 10th September, by the Inter-Departmental Committee on Migration,Footnote 50 with the Commonwealth contribution to voluntary organisations’ capital grants set at one third to match that of the State. The Commonwealth’s contribution was also agreed as being repayable, without interest, should the voluntary organisation to which it was paid cease to receive and accommodate child migrants. Given concerns about the difficulties of safely placing child migrants directly into foster care, the Committee agreed that additional maintenance funding would not be paid for child migrants in private households for the time being, unless no further places were available at receiving institutions. Whilst the clear policy preference was to encourage child migrants from the United Kingdom, a conference of Commonwealth and State officials the following December confirmed that similar terms of support would apply to child migrants from other European countries.Footnote 51

The effective abandonment of Chifley’s original vision of a national child migration plan was to have significant implications. For some of its advocates, this policy was intended to mark a significant shift away from the charitable management of child migration—in which children might be cast as objects of pity and suspicion—to a collective project of nation-building which should elicit civic pride. Whilst this emphasis was softened in some public statements by the Commonwealth Government, which suggested that the government-managed scheme was intended to supplement rather than replace voluntary organisations’ child migration work,Footnote 52 the scale of the proposed Commonwealth scheme was such that it is difficult to imagine that its implementation would not have led to children being diverted away from residential institutions run by voluntary organisations in Australia. However, the costs of building and staffing new government-run homes meant that the Commonwealth Government’s continued interest in child migration was ultimately outsourced back to voluntary organisations for its delivery. Although Arthur Calwell had previously claimed that post-war child migrants would not be placed in institutions,Footnote 53 the Commonwealth Government’s plan of accommodating them in scattered cottage homes in urban areas with carefully selected and well-remunerated staff was never realised. Instead, for many post-war child migrants, their living conditions were to take institutional forms that some advocates of the government-run scheme had previously criticised as unfitting for this new national project.

The Resumption of Assisted Child Migration in 1947

The confirmation of the Commonwealth Government’s financial support for child migration in September 1946 created conditions in which practical arrangements for the migration of parties of British children during the following year began to be made.Footnote 54 In many cases, voluntary organisations had already by then been developing plans in anticipation of the post-war resumption of child migration, either to resume their pre-war activities or to enter the field of assisted child migration for the first time.

The numbers of children involved reflected the more pessimistic assessments that had been made about the availability of children from the United Kingdom. With sailings of child migrants to Australia beginning in the autumn of 1947, by 31st March 1948 group nominations from voluntary organisations for 749 child migrants had yielded only 472 arrivals.Footnote 55 This pattern of slow recruitment was to persist in coming years. In his 1944 report, Walter Garnett had estimated that a realistic figure of 200 children would need to be sent each year for five or six years merely to fill existing spaces in institutions already receiving child migrants by then, let alone allowing for the approval of new receiving institutions. Between 1947 and departure of the last known unaccompanied child migrants in 1970, there were only six years in which the numbers of child migrants leaving the United Kingdom reached that level.Footnote 56

From the autumn of 1947, the Fairbridge Society began to send small numbers of children to its farm school at Molong, with 70 having arrived there by the end of August 1948.Footnote 57 Despite pressure from the Western Australian Government to expedite the migration of up to 300 children to Pinjarra, neither the Commonwealth Relations Office nor the London branch of the Fairbridge Society were happy to countenance this until the conflict between the Fairbridge organisations in London and Western Australia had been resolved.Footnote 58 As Garnett observed, though, the UK Government had little power to prevent the emigration of children to Pinjarra if they were accepted by immigration officials at Australia House, other than ending its maintenance agreement for their upkeep.Footnote 59 Following a resolution to this conflict in the autumn of 1947, agreement was reached for 20 children to sail to Pinjarra in December 1948, on the basis of some evidence of progress in renovating the farm school after dilapidation caused by its limited use during the war.Footnote 60 The scale of operations at Pinjarra was also reduced, with the pre-war capacity of 400 children now halved to 200. By the end of 1949, 155 children had been sent to the two Fairbridge farm schools in Australia. Despite its hopes to provide substantial support to the Australian Commonwealth Government’s ambitions for increased child migration, Dr Barnardo’s Homes had only sent 104 children to its institutions in New South Wales from the autumn of 1947 until the end of 1949.Footnote 61 The Northcote farm school re-opened in June 1948 with the arrival of 20 British children, but only a total of 47 had been sent by the end of 1949.Footnote 62 This fell considerably short of the Trustees hopes to receive 50 child migrants a year, leading it to make an unsuccessful request to Arthur Calwell for a grant to bridge the shortfall in its income until more children, and their accompanying maintenance funding, became available.Footnote 63

As noted in Chap. 1, the Church of England Advisory Council for Empire Settlement had, in its pre-war organisational form, been involved in adult, family and juvenile migration. Although now constituted primarily as an advisory body on imperial migration matters under the chairmanship of the former Governor-General of Canada, the Earl of Bessborough, it now began to involve itself in child migration.Footnote 64 The first children emigrated under the Council’s auspices were sent to the Swan Homes in Western Australia in response to a nomination from the Secretary for Anglican Orphanages for the Diocese of Perth.Footnote 65 Again, however, the initial numbers sent through the Council’s work were minimal compared to the Commonwealth Government’s ambitions, with only 67 children sailing between the autumn of 1947 and the end of 1949.Footnote 66 The Salvation Army and Presbyterian Church also successfully submitted nominations to receive 40 and 25 child migrants respectively, but no children had been sent under either of these nominations by the end of 1949.

Another new organisation to enter this field after the end of the war was the Over-Seas League.Footnote 67 Its newly appointed honorary migration secretary, Cyril Bavin, had a long-standing interest in juvenile migration through his work with the YMCA and been an active exponent of the group nomination system for immigration to Australia which had given greater opportunities for churches and voluntary organisations to involve themselves in assisted migration work.Footnote 68 Bavin also served, during the war, as the YMCA’s representative on the Children’s Overseas Reception Board before taking on his honorary position with the Over-Seas League. In February 1948, officials from London County Council sought an interview with Bavin after the League had publicly advertised a scheme by which children would be emigrated to Australia for adoption.Footnote 69 Bavin described a scheme in which the League collected both the names of prospective adopters in Australia and the names of children being put forward for adoption by families in the United Kingdom. Prospective adopters were, Bavin claimed, vetted by the Australian Government. In addition to undertaking the usual selection and medical interviews at Australia House, children emigrated in this way also required licences from the Bow Street Magistrates Court under the terms of s.11 of the 1939 Adoption of Children (Regulation) Act before leaving the country. The costs of their passage to Australia were shared between the Australian Government and the child’s new adopters. As this scheme did not receive any funding under the terms of the Empire Settlement Act, no notification of it appeared to have been given to the Commonwealth Relations Office, and the UK Government had no formal role in relation to it at all. Compared to other nascent post-war child migration schemes, the League appeared more successful in sending larger numbers—with Bavin claiming that 130 children had been sent since September 1947. The unease that London County Council officials felt about Bavin’s broad outline of the scheme was soon compounded by information received by its Education Officer’s Department about two boys recruited for emigration to Australia by the League who were judged by the Council to have difficulties that might make their adoption placement likely to break down.Footnote 70 These concerns were passed on by the Council’s Education Officer to the Children’s Department in the Home Office.Footnote 71

An element of mystery surrounds this work, however. The Over-Seas League submitted formal proposals the kind of scheme described by Bavin for approval by the Australian Commonwealth Government Department of Immigration in July 1948. These were rejected by a conference of Commonwealth and State officials the following month because the League’s proposals did not allow face-to-face contact between children and adopters prior to the adoption, did not enable sufficient transfer of records to relevant State authorities and did not allow for a probationary period in which the child would live with their new adoptive family before their adoption was finalised. Furthermore, the League was judged to have an insufficient organisational presence in Australia to support adoption placements that were in difficulty or had broken down, with children no longer cared for under failed adoption placements then becoming an additional demand on State Child Welfare departments.Footnote 72

The refusal of this proposal by the Commonwealth Government raises questions about the basis on which the League had apparently already sent at least 130 children to Australia before its proposal had been sent to Australian authorities. The League also appears to have continued this practice to some extent after the official refusal of its scheme.Footnote 73 One possibility is that, given Bavin’s prior association with the Children’s Overseas Reception Board, these children were classified as returning to Australia to households in which they had previously been placed during the war through the Board’s work. Bavin certainly later claimed that all the children sent to households in Australia were returning CORB evacuees, something for which the Australian Commonwealth Government had given its approval.Footnote 74 However, both the case of the two boys noted by London County Council Education officials and Bavin’s account of a more widely publicised-scheme suggested that even if some of those children being sent to Australia by the League were returning CORB evacuees, certainly not all were.

There are some other indications that ‘CORB status’ may have been applied to children being sent to Australia in order to facilitate their emigration. In June 1949, a State immigration official for New South Wales wrote to Noel Lamidey, the Chief Migration Officer at Australia House, to ask about a group of seven children about to arrive on the SS Mooltan who were marked on the shipping list as a CORB children’s party despite the fact that ‘very few of these children, if any, were originally members of the CORB party evacuated to Australia’.Footnote 75 In his reply the following month,Footnote 76 Mr Lamidey commented that:

The Overseas League in London has taken an interest in CORB children who wish to return to Australia and this arrangement has worked satisfactorily particularly as the League is in a position to provide the children with entertainment at the various ports of call. Usually however, there are insufficient children to make the formation of a separate party and the appointment of escorts worth-while. For this reason, therefore, approved children who require the services of an escort have been included in the party.

Noting that some nominators in Australia (presumably individuals rather than organisations) would find the process of making shipping arrangements for children they were due to receive difficult, Lamidey commented that ‘various voluntary bodies have proved most helpful in this connection’ and states that ‘the Overseas League, whilst not an approved organisation for the reception of children in Australia, is nevertheless active in the migration field and it would perhaps be unwise to discourage their efforts’. The implication of this letter was that the League, with the support of immigration officials at Australia House, was using the status of returning CORB evacuees as an administrative mechanism to enable the emigration of children for whom arrangements of securing berths or finding escorts might otherwise be difficult. Later that year, around the time that the League’s use of this system appears to have ended, Sir Tasman Heyes wrote to Noel Lamidey indicating that he had become aware of CORB status being applied to two juvenile migrants with no actual connection to the war-time scheme and that this practice should end, with child and juvenile migrants only being sent under the actual names of their approved sending organisations.Footnote 77 Whilst the failure of the Over-Seas League to retain any administrative records about its post-war child migration activities makes it difficult to clarify in any more detail how their migration of children to Australian households operated, it therefore appears that Bavin had found an administrative process through which he could arrange the emigration of children to Australia without the League being formally approved as a child migration organisation by the UK or Australian Commonwealth Governments.Footnote 78

The Catholic Child Migration Parties of Autumn 1947

The most ambitious post-war plans for child migration were developed by Catholic authorities in Australia. In April 1945, the Bishop of Geraldton wrote to the Commonwealth Prime Minister, John Curtin, to request that the nomination for 50 girls to be sent to Nazareth House, which had been suspended at the start of the war, be re-opened along with a new proposal for a further 50 boys to be sent to Tardun.Footnote 79 Some British child migrants were still living at Tardun at that point. Although they were no longer eligible for UK Government maintenance funding, their continued presence at the farm school meant that the Christian Brothers were still eligible for receiving UK Government funding towards the interest payments of their overdraft for Tardun.Footnote 80 John Dedman, as acting Prime Minister, replied that as no formal arrangements for assisted passages had yet been agreed with the UK Government, no action could be taken on this request for the time being, but that the Bishop should raise the matter again in six months’ time.Footnote 81

With the Commonwealth Government’s proposal for a government-managed scheme receiving further publicity, these plans were significantly expanded. The prospect of children being received in State-run hostels and cottage homes may also have had a galvanising effect on Catholic authorities anxious about the loss of children to Catholic institutions. Correspondence between the Commonwealth Department of Immigration and the United Protestant Association around the same time suggests that the issue of large numbers of war orphans being admitted to State-run rather than denominational homes was not only a matter of concern for the Catholic Church.Footnote 82 In September 1945, Canon Craven informed the Dominions Office that Redmond Prendiville, the Archbishop of Perth, had written to Bernard Griffin, now Archbishop of Westminster, to request the resumption of child migration to Catholic institutions in Western Australia as soon as possible, with a view to receiving 2500 children over the next 18 months.Footnote 83 In response, Griffin had asked the Catholic Child Welfare Council to give this matter urgent consideration at its annual meeting in October.

The previous December, the Dominions Office had sent Craven a copy of the appendix from Garnett’s report on Christian Brothers’ institutions in Craven’s capacity as a representative of the Catholic Council for British Overseas Settlement.Footnote 84 Garnett’s views about Castledare were also passed on to Archbishop Prendiville, who had written back to Garnett to say that he had conducted ‘exhaustive enquiries’ about conditions there and was now satisfied that these were now acceptable.Footnote 85 Craven subsequently met with Ronald Wiseman at the Dominions Office in February 1945 to discuss the criticisms that Garnett had made in relation to the Brothers’ work.Footnote 86 Craven told Wiseman that it had always been the intention that the Catholic Council for British Overseas Settlement would send representatives to Western Australia to inspect the Brothers’ institutions directly, but that this had been interrupted by the war. Craven was noted as saying that the Council was dissatisfied with conditions at the Brothers’ institutions—particularly at Castledare and Tardun—and would not allow any further children to be migrated there until such an inspection had taken place and any shortcomings rectified. In response to Garnett’s observation about boys being retained at Tardun to the age of 18 without receiving meaningful training or wages, Craven reportedly commented that ‘he was quite aware that Father Conlon required watching and that it was necessary to see that the Christian Brothers did not try to absorb the children into their own Institutions, rather than allow them to choose their own vocation’. Despite these cautionary observations about the Brothers’ work, Craven asked Wiseman if there were any likely prospects of opportunities to send child migrants to New Zealand, as there were likely to be more children available for emigration through the Council than could be accommodated at Brothers’ institutions in Western Australia alone. The emigration of children to Canada, Craven said, was proving unsatisfactory as child migrants were subsequently able to save enough for return journeys to Britain whereupon they ‘drifted back to their old surroundings and all the care spent on their training was lost’. New Zealand, like Australia, appeared to Craven to be an attractive destination for child migrants as it was so much further away.

This conversation provided the context for Craven’s discussion with Wiseman in September 1945 about Prendiville’s proposals for the immigration of 2500 children. Craven was cautious about Prendiville’s suggestion, writing to Wiseman that ‘it is quite easy to talk in figures of this size … but as you well know, in practice such migration is a very difficult and delicate matter involving heavy responsibilities for those who have it in their power to arrange such migration’.Footnote 87 Whilst emphasising that the key matter to be borne in mind was ‘the interests of the children themselves’, Craven also sought to establish whether the Dominions Office would support the resumption of migration to Christian Brothers’ institutions, whether training provided in Australia would be flexible to meet the interests of children, and whether Government funding and shipping were likely to become available.

Wiseman sent a non-committal response to Craven about these questions regarding future policy. It was clear, however, that subject to agreements on assisted migration being reached with the Australian Government, the Dominions Office were in principle willing to support future schemes if it judged that arrangements for the care, education, training and after-care of child migrants would be suitable.Footnote 88 In response to an enquiry from the Dominions Office about his views on Prendiville’s proposals, Walter Garnett replied that if more children were to be sent to the Brothers’ institutions they should only be sent initially to Clontarf until their primary education was complete before being sent either to Bindoon (for trades training) or Tardun (if they had particularly interests in agricultural work).Footnote 89 Castledare, Garnett said, should not be used at all, despite Prendiville’s assurances about improved conditions there. Although there was some variety in training available at the Brothers’ institutions—compared to Fairbridge—Garnett commented that this was not broad enough to consider that education would be provided in ways tailored to the interests and ability of the individual child. Garnett had no concerns about girls being sent to Nazareth House, Geraldton. He was sceptical about the numbers of child migrants suggested by Prendiville, noting that Prendiville had suggested a much smaller capacity at the Brothers’ institutions when Garnett had discussed this with him the previous autumn. Such expansion, Garnett noted, would only be feasible if other institutions were being used or it was being proposed that children be placed in private households. Both of those options would require further scrutiny, however, and Garnett agreed with the Dominions Office’s view that child migration should resume only subject to conditions in receiving organisations being understood to be satisfactory. Wiseman conveyed these views in detail back to Canon Craven.Footnote 90

Shortly after this, the Catholic Child Welfare Council met to discuss Prendiville’s proposal. After this meeting, Fr Denis Murphy, the Council’s Secretary, wrote to Ronald Wiseman explaining that as the Council had a number of new members who would benefit from an up-to-date evaluation of institutional conditions in Australia, it would be helpful if the Dominions Office would give permission for the Appendix of Garnett’s report previously sent to Craven to be circulated to all the Council’s members.Footnote 91 Wiseman agreed on the condition that both the individual institutions named in the Appendix and the Christian Brothers as the receiving organisation be anonymised.Footnote 92

Early in the following spring, Br Conlon began corresponding with Arthur Calwell to ask how close assisted migration agreements were to being reached between the Commonwealth and UK Governments and notifying Calwell of his intention to recruit child migrants from Britain from the following May.Footnote 93 Conlon also reported his work in visiting Australian dioceses whose bishops and representatives were said by him to have a keen interest in supporting the Commonwealth’s ambitious plans for adult and child immigration.Footnote 94 Calwell, who had been educated by the Christian Brothers, commented later in life that he owed everything, after his parents, to the Brothers and liked to keep in touch with them.Footnote 95 Whilst Calwell operated within the constraints of his ministerial role, he also took the trouble to correspond with senior figures in the Brothers on comparatively minor administrative issues that he would not write to officials in other voluntary organisations about.Footnote 96 Calwell also actively encouraged the Catholic Church in Australia to create administrative structures to support Catholic immigration, leading in the spring of 1947 to the Federal Catholic Immigration Committee by the Australian Catholic Episcopal Conference.Footnote 97 In his correspondence with Conlon, Calwell was keen to facilitate his work both by providing letters of introduction to officials in London as well as arranging Conlon’s shipping.Footnote 98 Whether or not Calwell was already clear by February 1946 that the Commonwealth plan of receiving 50,000 war orphans in State-run cottage homes and hostels was unlikely to be viable, his support for Conlon’s work suggested both a pragmatic willingness to make use of voluntary organisations if they could deliver child migrants as well as a degree of partiality towards the Brothers.Footnote 99 In a charged sectarian atmosphere in which some Australian Protestant groups regarded with suspicion both Catholic representation within the Labor Party and the prospect of increasing numbers of Catholic migrants with questionable loyalty to the British Empire,Footnote 100 the work of Calwell’s Department was also carefully picked over for any signs of Catholic bias. Questions about favouritism to the Catholic Church in immigration matters—often motivated more by sectarian paranoia than substantial evidence—were raised both in the Australian House of Representatives and private correspondence with immigration officials.Footnote 101 Whilst Calwell’s natural affinities were with Catholic organisations, such scrutiny created greater pressure for him publicly to display an even-handed approach, and strong rebuttals of Catholic bias were made both by him and other Government officials.Footnote 102

Conlon arrived in London in May 1946, with Justin Symonds, the co-adjutor Archbishop of Melbourne, who was undertaking a wider tour of Europe on behalf of the Australian Catholic Hierarchy to assess the potential for future child and adult immigration.Footnote 103 In one press interview, Simonds was reported as saying that he felt that child migrants had the greatest potential as ‘they soon respond to a new environment and forget the old, which is most necessary for the little innocent victims of the war’.Footnote 104 Soon after his arrival, Conlon called upon the Dominions Office to present his letter of introduction from Calwell and inform them of his intention to begin to recruiting Catholic children for emigration. In a meeting with W.G. Head (who had recently replaced Robert Wiseman as Assistant Secretary with responsibility for overseas settlement)Footnote 105 and R.L. Dixon, Conlon set out plans for a national Catholic child migration scheme in which 5000 children would be received mainly in residential schools run by religious orders across Australia and sought clarification on whether the Dominions Office would fund this in a comparable way to the pre-war parties to Western Australia.Footnote 106 No further discussion had taken place about plans for Catholic child migration since Wiseman’s correspondence with Murphy and Craven six months’ previously. As a consequence, the two civil servants, who had relatively little experience with previous child migration work, were somewhat surprised to be presented with this plan by Conlon without any forewarning by any Catholic officials in Britain. Head and Dixon were non-committal about the availability of funding and shipping, and in the absence of any clear policy framework to support Conlon’s plan, recommended that he not be ‘too hasty’ in initiating any selection of children for migration.Footnote 107 They also encouraged him to make contact with Craven, as a representative of the Catholic Council for British Overseas Settlement, so that Conlon could work with a British organisation known to them. Having been made aware of this meeting by Head, Walter Garnett again expressed scepticism about the capacity either of the United Kingdom to provide, or Catholic institutions to receive, the numbers of children envisaged by Conlon. He also repeated his view that proper checks would need to be made about the conditions into which these children were being received, writing:

It is all very well to talk loosely of Catholic convent boarding schools in all parts of Australia, but these schools vary considerably. Some of them are in the back of beyond and what would be the quality of the care and education the children would receive is a matter which would require investigation. I am not in favour of introducing children into schools over which it would be impossible to maintain any general supervision; nor am I in favour of placing children in private homes unless there is a properly supervised Government scheme (as there is in Canada) to keep such placements under constant scrutiny.Footnote 108

Garnett also confirmed with Head, after consulting with the Commonwealth Department of Immigration, that his understanding was that Conlon’s visit was primarily an exploratory mission to establish the numbers of children who might be available for emigration. Whilst the Commonwealth Government was keen in principle to support child migration, he reported, no firm proposals along the lines described by Conlon had been submitted to it and further checks on conditions for child migrants would be needed before any such scheme could be approved.Footnote 109

Whilst it appeared to British civil servants that little was likely to develop in the near future from Conlon’s visit to the United Kingdom, Conlon continued to work towards the resumption of Catholic child migration. On 21st May, Conlon and Simonds sent Calwell a four-page proposal for 5000 Catholic children recruited through the Commonwealth Government’s child migration scheme to be placed with Catholic residential schools and institutions across the 23 Catholic dioceses in Australia.Footnote 110 Up to 300 of these children, they suggested, could be placed in private households although the emphasis of these placements on training children for future work (e.g., in training girls to be domestic servants) marked them out as significantly different to the understanding of foster care in the Curtis report. Such support for the Government’s child migration plans would, they argued, only be possible with significant capital funding support from the Government to expand institutions’ capacity to absorb these children as well as adequate funding for maintenance and outfitting costs. Calwell eventually gave a full reply, following the Premiers’ Conference and meeting of the Inter-Departmental Committee, stating that whilst he would be ‘glad to co-operate and assist in every way within my power’, any form of assistance from the Commonwealth Government would have to be set at the same level for all voluntary organisations.Footnote 111 Whilst setting out the range of financial support that could be offered by the Commonwealth and State Governments, Calwell noted that Commonwealth funding was not currently available for outfitting costs for child migrants, but noted that sending organisations should still recognise that the emigration of children in their care would still relieve them ‘of a considerable financial liability in respect of subsequent maintenance once they sent their children to Australia’.

Simonds and Conlon also met with Craven and Archbishop Griffin at the end of May, at which Griffin agreed to set up an urgent, extraordinary meeting of the Catholic Child Welfare Council within two weeks to discuss their child migration proposals.Footnote 112 The urgency and comparative secrecy of this meeting—whose minutes were unusually for the Council marked as ‘Strictly Confidential’—appears to have reflected a wish to ensure that Catholic child migration arrangements could be made as expeditiously as possible to ensure that Catholic children were emigrated through these rather than through other non-Catholic bodies whose planning was not yet as advanced.Footnote 113 Although some members of the Council expressed concern at these migration proposals, given the anonymised version of Garnett’s report they had previously received, Craven reassured them that any problems with the Brothers’ institutions had mainly only occurred because of war-time conditions. Whilst true of the over-crowding at Tardun following the requisitioning of Clontarf by the Royal Australian Air Force, this was a less accurate assessment of the problems that Garnett had noted about the retention of boys’ at Brothers’ institutions after school-leaving age without pay or problems with staffing and conditions at Castledare. With Griffin’s support, the Council agreed to co-operate with Conlon’s work on the basis that he would only recruit children through the relevant Catholic child rescue administrator for each diocese and not by direct approaches to residential institutions run by religious orders as Conlon had done before the war.Footnote 114

It is unclear whether Conlon complied with this request. Although Conlon had, by October 1946, reportedly identified 260 children for emigration by agreement with diocesan officials, the residential institutions from which these children were being sent from bore little relation to the institutions from which children were eventually sent the following autumn.Footnote 115 Conlon’s by-passing of diocesan officials remained a matter of complaint from the Catholic Child Welfare Council to subsequent representatives of the Australian Catholic Church involved in the administration of assisted migration.Footnote 116

Although the Dominions Office were made aware of the Premiers’ Conference agreement about child migration by mid-September,Footnote 117 they remained unaware of Conlon’s activities until Conlon contacted Head again in early November to see if the UK Government would contribute to costs not covered by the Commonwealth Government.Footnote 118 Even then Conlon did not discuss the work he had done by then in any detail, nor confirm whether he had followed the Dominions Office’s request that he work in conjunction with the Catholic Council for British Overseas Settlement. After being notified of this meeting, Garnett advised that if any plans were to be implemented to send children to Catholic institutions in Australia, prior notification of these should be given so that they could be visited and approved for this work by both Commonwealth and State Governments and someone on behalf of the UK Government.Footnote 119 Garnett also re-iterated his view about Castledare as an example of an institution unfit to receive child migrants,Footnote 120 and added his concern that the State official who had visited it with him—McAdam—was sympathetic to the Catholic ethos of the institution and could see no problems with it at all.

In January 1947, Canon Craven visited the Dominions Office to explain that Conlon had been in touch with him to discuss his plans for child migration but that the Catholic Council for British Overseas Settlement could not proceed with this until they were satisfied with conditions in the Christian Brothers’ institutions in Western Australia. Until a UK representative of the Council had gone to Australia to inspect these institutions, Craven reportedly said that Conlon could not be advised to undertake any ‘energetic action’ to arrange for children’s migration for the time being. Conlon clearly was engaged in ‘energetic action’ to make arrangements for children’s migration by that stage, however, as he had already written to Calwell the previous month expressing concern that shipping arrangements should be made as soon as possible for the children he had provisionally selected.Footnote 121 Whilst initially indicating that these child migrants would be given urgent priority when shipping berths became available, Calwell subsequently wrote to Conlon to confirm that inspections and approvals of receiving institutions would need to take place before nominations for these children could be agreed and that the lack of available shipping berths made urgent action difficult.Footnote 122 However, it subsequently transpired that the nominations from the Catholic Episcopal Migration and Welfare Association (CEMWA)Footnote 123 for 340 children to be sent to Catholic institutions in Western Australia were approved by State officials and sent by them to Australia House in London for final allocation of those places to selected children without those inspections having taken place.Footnote 124 On becoming aware of this, Garnett asked Sir Tasman Heyes, Secretary of the Commonwealth Department of Immigration to arrange for inspections to take place.

When these inspections were undertaken by State officials in May, significant shortcomings were identified in a number of the receiving institutions that the CEMWA had proposed.Footnote 125 Clontarf—which Garnett had previously recommended serve as the initial reception centre—already had 135 boys in residence with a reported capacity for only 25 more despite CEMWA having asked for 50 boys to be sent there. Accommodation at Clontarf was found to be over-crowded, dirty, spartan and in need of widespread repairs. With no female staff, and no prospect of this institution offering anything like a ‘homely’ atmosphere, immigration officials concluded that it was not in an appropriate state to receive any British child migrants. Although conditions at Castledare were said to have improved considerably over the past year or two,Footnote 126 accommodation was still not entirely satisfactory. Although the inspectors judged that the 30 requested child migrants could be accommodated there, it was recommended that they only be introduced gradually in groups of six to ten to make this process manageable. Although no inspection visit was undertaken to Nazareth House, Geraldton, another recent child welfare inspection had indicated that dormitory space originally built there for child migrants had been occupied during the war by elderly residents, with the institution having become the main reception centre for elderly men and women in need of residential care for that area. In the absence of new accommodation, there was no capacity for the 50 proposed child migrants to be housed there and approval for this was therefore withdrawn. Whilst the CEMWA had requested that 100 boys be sent to Bindoon including boys under school-leaving age, inspectors found that it currently had no school facilities and recommended that this number be reduced to 50 and restricted to boys aged 15 and over who had already completed primary education. This restriction was also recommended on the grounds that a new block of buildings (including dormitories) was still under construction mainly by a small number of boy trainees and was unlikely to be completed in the near future. Only Tardun and St Joseph’s Orphanage, Subiaco (run by the Sisters of Mercy), received unqualified recommendations, although again in these cases, it was advised that they be sent children only in small parties of 10–15 over the next year.

On the basis of these recommendations, Heyes advised immigration officials at Australia House in London that the total number of child migrants to be accepted under CEMWA’s original nomination would be reduced from 340 to 175, with it being acceptable for a ‘token booking’ of 45 children to be sent to these institutions in the next few months. Conlon’s original plan of sending all 340 children in one shipping was regarded as entirely impractical.Footnote 127 Calwell wrote to Conlon notifying him of this reduction and indicating that he hoped to meet Conlon when he travelled to London later in June, commenting ‘I then hope to renew old friendships and shall be looking forward to discussing with you in person some of our mutual problems, which are sometimes difficult to explain by correspondence’.Footnote 128 After being sent copies of the inspection reports, and notified of the decision to reduce the numbers of children being sent, Garnett commented that it was very clear that State authorities had approved the original nominations without having undertaken proper inspections and that he remained sceptical that Castledare could accommodate more than 70 children.Footnote 129 Without a satisfactory follow-up report on Castledare to be submitted in six months’ time, Garnett indicated that he would not recommend that the UK Government sanction the sending of any children to Castledare.Footnote 130 He also forwarded the critical reports on to the Dominions Office in order to head off any attempt by Conlon to have these reductions revised.Footnote 131

This decision set in motion a number of actions by the Catholic organisations involved to attempt to reverse this reduction—efforts supported by Western Australian immigration officials. Following the purchase of several pre-fabricated buildings previously owned by the Royal Australian Air Force as accommodation for girls at Nazareth House, Geraldton, State officials recommended that the original nomination of 50 girls to be sent there be restored.Footnote 132 On arrival in London on 28th June, Calwell had a series of meetings—including with Clement Attlee and other members of the Labour Cabinet—intended both to encourage emigration to Australia and to make arrangements for increasing the availability of shipping berths for migrants.Footnote 133 Through these meetings he succeeded in securing the use of the SS Ormonde as a migrant ship to Australia, as well as sailings of the SS Asturias.Footnote 134 Calwell also met with Conlon who requested that the original nomination for 340 child migrants be fully restored.Footnote 135 Whilst still in London, Calwell received notification from the Archbishop of Perth that following fresh inspections of Clontarf and Bindoon, the State and Commonwealth immigration officials would be recommending the re-instatement of the full quota of 340 child migrants.Footnote 136 This change of mind had resulted from the acquisition of a new building at Clontarf and the promise of A£5000 from the Archbishop of Perth for further renovations, as well as the planned transfer of teachers and preparation of new classrooms and dormitories at Bindoon.Footnote 137 The fact that Calwell evidently supported this request indicates a willingness on his part to give a greater priority to child migration than might have been expected at the time given the more urgent need for adult immigrants with specific labour skills.Footnote 138

Garnett gave his support to these approvals, subject to an official from the Commonwealth Department of Immigration visiting Castledare to confirm its suitability.Footnote 139 This appears to have come in the form of verbal assurances that he received from Reuben Wheeler and there is no indication of any written report being provided despite the Dominions Office making a follow-up request for this in early August given the imminent departure of the first planned party of child migrants at the end of that month.Footnote 140 In the absence of such a report, there appears to have been some confusion amongst civil servants in London about the exact status of Castledare as an approved institution, and the Home Office Children’s Department erroneously believed that there was no intention to include Castledare as a receiving institution for the time being.Footnote 141 A note on the Dominions Office file for this correspondence also commented that nothing had been heard from Canon Craven since his visit to the Dominions Office at the start of the year.Footnote 142 Given Craven’s repeated comments about the need for Catholic representatives in the United Kingdom to make an independent inspection of institutions in Western Australia before sending any more children, the note recorded that it would be worth contacting him to assure him that the UK Government was now prepared to support the resumption of migration to these institutions based on the revised reports on them that it had received that summer. The fact, however, that arrangements for these children’s migration by the Catholic organisations involved were well-advanced by then indicates, however, that the Catholic officials involved had already decided to send children to those institutions without such inspections having been made.

On the 29th August, the SS Asturias left Southampton with 146 children sailing under this group nomination, arriving just under a month later at the port of Fremantle in Western Australia as part of a larger group of over a thousand assisted migrants from the United Kingdom.Footnote 143 On arrival they were welcomed by the Premier of Western Australia, Archbishop Prendiville and two Western Australian senators representing the Commonwealth Government, with newspaper headlines inaccurately describing them as ‘war orphans’.Footnote 144 A further 88 children under this nomination arrived at Fremantle on the SS Ormonde on 7th November, and another 100 on the SS Asturias on 10th December. Of the 334 children sent in total to Catholic institutions in Western Australia on those three sailings, 257 had been sent from institutions run by, or associated with, the Sisters of Nazareth. Each of the arrival parties continued to be marked by press coverage and messages of welcome from politicians.Footnote 145 Despite the recommendations of sending child migrants in small groups to ease their assimilation into receiving institutions, virtually the whole of the group nomination raised by the CEMWA arrived in Western Australia over a period of just over ten weeks.

The demographics and distribution of these children demonstrated a lack of detailed monitoring by UK officials. Although Castledare had been meant to receive no more than 30 boys, in the event it received 52 because Conlon had recruited a larger than expected number of younger boys who could not be sent to any of the Brothers’ other institutions.Footnote 146 Although Garnett had previously stated that boys should only be sent to Castledare if aged seven or over, 32 of the child migrants sent there that autumn were aged six or under.Footnote 147 A similar gap in oversight occurred in relation to Nazareth House, Geraldton. Although the 52 girls sent there only slightly exceeded the agreed quota of 50, the decision by State immigration officials to allow this quota to be re-instated after the acquisition of buildings to accommodate them did not appear to have been communicated to the UK High Commission.Footnote 148 Although Garnett supported the re-instatement of the CEMWA’s request for 340 child migrants, his correspondence about this with the Dominions Office implies that he thought that this number had been raised again because of more positive reports about Christian Brothers’ institutions.Footnote 149 The issue of whether girls should have been sent to Nazareth House, Geraldton whilst elderly residents were still accommodated there appears to have been forgotten by Garnett. It was only in 1949 that the UK High Commission raised a query with the Commonwealth Department of Immigration as to why girls had been sent to Nazareth House, Geraldton when it had no record of having given its approval to the institution or any information as to whether elderly residents had indeed been moved to another institution.Footnote 150 In response to this, the Commonwealth Migration Officer for Western Australia indicated that the girls had been sent there because the original suspension had ‘seriously embarrassed’ the Catholic authorities given that girls from the United Kingdom had apparently already been selected and were ready for shipping when the suspension was made. In view of this, it had been felt that although the continued presence of elderly residents at Nazareth House, Geraldton was not ideal, the provision of alternative accommodation for the child migrants through the buildings purchased from the Royal Australian Air Force represented an adequate compromise.Footnote 151 The need for consultation with the UK High Commission about this appears to have been overlooked. With elderly residents continuing to be admitted to the institution during that year, State officials eventually took the view that re-housing them would be impractical and the Commonwealth Relations Office gave retrospective approval for child migrants’ admission to Nazareth House, Geraldton without any consultation with the Home Office.Footnote 152

Problems with monitoring the profile and destination of child migrants sent to Western Australia in the autumn of 1947 was not restricted to the Catholic institutions. In May 1948, Garnett spotted that six of the children sent to the Swan Homes the previous autumn had been girls despite State officials previously reporting that there was no available accommodation for them and the group nomination being restricted to boys only.Footnote 153 The fact that immigration officials at Australia House were clearly aware of the restrictions of this group nomination,Footnote 154 yet still allowed girls to be sent under it, further suggests both that some latitude was being exercised in terms of children emigrated under these nominations and that no effective monitoring of this was being undertaken by the Commonwealth Relations Office. There is no record on file of the Commonwealth Department of Immigration’s response to Garnett’s query about how these girls were allowed to be sent.

The implications of the decision to allow child migrants to these Western Australian institutions on the basis of assurances about future improvements, and without sufficient oversight from the UK High Commission, were to become clear in the months after their arrival. When Western Australian State inspectors visited Bindoon on 19th January 1948, they found ‘large numbers of the boys of all ages at work on and about the building’, some of whom were undertaking physically arduous activities in the heat including quarrying stone and digging holes. Although the Superior in charge, Br McGee, claimed that boys under school-leaving age only participated in such activities on a voluntary basis, it was also acknowledged that those who had worked the hardest in these tasks were given priority when children were selected to play in, or watch, cricket matches away from Bindoon. Dormitories, although adequate, were spartan and lacked any sense of homeliness. No school desks or equipment had yet been delivered, and the recreation room was bare with no play materials and little evidence of use. Some boys over school-leaving age, and counted as trainees, were found to be receiving no wages and the level of domestic staff appeared inadequate.

State officials were sufficiently concerned about these conditions to convene a special meeting to address each of these points with Catholic representatives. When Garnett was sent the reports and correspondence relating to this, he forwarded these on to Cyril Costley-White, an Assistant Secretary in the Commonwealth Relations Office, regarding them as reassuring evidence that the child welfare officials were actively addressing any problems found in residential institutions to which child migrants were being sent.Footnote 155 However when another inspection visit took place in April 1948, the boys were found not to be in school again (reportedly because two Brothers were temporarily away from the institution) although some evidence of work was found in their school books.Footnote 156 The new Principal, Br Keaney, promised inspectors that their education would not be neglected and said that if inspectors refrained from ‘pin pricking criticism’ and allowed him to have a ‘fair go’, then the institutions could be brought up to a good standard.

Reliance on boys’ labour to develop the uncompleted buildings at Bindoon was to continue, however. A conference of State officials in the autumn of 1949 noted continued evidence at both Bindoon and Tardun of ‘boys working [and] not receiving proper education, also that some boys acting improperly indicating insufficient control’. It was noted that ‘If British authorities were aware of conditions may create uneasiness and probably cessation of selection of children under the scheme’.Footnote 157 The use of child migrants to undertake this labour whilst they were still in receipt of UK Government maintenance funding intended to enable them to receive education or training was recognised to be ‘a very delicate one’.Footnote 158 Following positive educational and inspection reports, however, no further action was taken in relation to this and the UK High Commission was not notified of these concerns.Footnote 159 Whilst the evaluations from later inspections varied, the reliance on boys’ labour for building work and slow progress on required improvements to dormitories and bathrooms continued to be noted.Footnote 160 Similar problems occurred to Clontarf where problems associated with lack of renovation at the site continued to be noted by inspectors until the summer of 1951.Footnote 161

Conditions for the young child migrants arriving at Castledare were particularly poor. On 9th July 1948 an unannounced inspection visit by child welfare and immigration officials recorded that:

Floors stained under the beds by liquid, which undoubtedly was urine which had dropped there through continually saturated mattresses. In several instances there was still a quantity of urine on the floor which had not soaked away and no effort had been made to mop it up… Many of the wire mattresses of these beds showed a rusty tarnish on the area of contact with urine sodden bed mattress. The mattresses were themselves in a deplorable state. For instance, one appeared to have been thrown out to dry after continual bed wetting and the dirt had become impregnated on the urine affected area. The mattress covering, in practically all cases was grimy and dirty. The mattresses themselves were torn, and in [one] cubicle… the mattress was nearly torn in half, exposing a mass of brown fibre filling. In this case the Manager, Brother McGee, admitted that a boy was using this bed … The blankets inspected were miserably thin … Two and three blankets to a bed are totally inadequate both in quantity and quality to provide necessary warmth for children of tender years sleeping on these verandahs subject to chill conditions of winter.Footnote 162

The schoolrooms at Castledare were, the inspectors noted, over-crowded, and in the only recreation room, which was the only place with heating, the fireplace was blocked off with staging. In addition to the poor physical condition of the home, the staffing was wholly inadequate in numbers and personnel given that ‘Castledare is catering for children who are still little more than babies, who need love, affection, care and attention which a child of such age would get from a mother’. The unhealthy environment of the home, numbers of children accommodated there and lack of regular medical checks posed a significant risk of epidemics, including the threat of a possible spread of polio. ‘Lacking proper facilities, care, attention and opportunity what will be the reaction’, the inspectors asked, ‘on their citizenship value’? There is no indication that a copy of this report was forwarded on to Garnett. Although improvements were made to the dormitories at Castledare later that autumn, inadequate staffing, over-crowding and insufficient teaching space continued to be a source of criticism in inspection reports for another five years.Footnote 163 Poor staffing and inadequate supervision compounded the fact that Br Murphy, since recognised as one of the most prolific sexual offenders within the Christian Brothers in Western Australia, was on the staff of Castledare from 1944 to 1954.Footnote 164 Levels of staffing at Castledare were to remain fairly consistent for the next ten years with the Home Office eventually questioning in 1957 whether the inadequate staffing levels in an institution accommodating younger children meant that Castledare should possibly have its status as an institution approved by the UK Government withdrawn.Footnote 165 As was to prove to be the case in many other instances as well, however, these Home Office concerns were not pressed to the point of decisive action and in the face of assurances about further staff appointments, the approval of Castledare was maintained.

The failure of oversight of these Catholic migration parties in 1947 by UK authorities was starkly demonstrated in the unsanctioned numbers of young children being sent to an over-crowded, impersonal institution at Castledare, shivering at night in urine-soaked bed clothes and mattresses and at risk of serious sexual assault. Boys were also sent under the agreed age limit for Bindoon as well, one of whom has since reported being targeted for sustained sexual abuse by a number of Brothers there.Footnote 166 However, the lack of readiness of Clontarf and Bindoon to receive the children sent to them in the autumn of 1947, and the transfer of girls to Nazareth House, Geraldton and the Swan Homes in Perth without UK Government approval were also indicative of a broader failure in monitoring the placement and welfare of those children.

Complex Organisational Systems: Failure, Social Imaginaries and Trust

This failure in oversight occurred at the intersection of different organisational interests and capacities. After the politically sensitive decision to suspend the original Labor Government plan quickly to secure 50,000 ‘war orphans’, the parties of child migrants who began to arrive in Australia from Britain 1947 were a politically helpful indication of Calwell’s, and Labor’s, continued commitment to securing Australia’s interests through the expansion of its population.Footnote 167 As newspaper coverage showed during the autumn of 1947, the arrival of these children for Catholic institutions in Western Australia was woven into a political narrative about Calwell’s success in making Australia the most attractive destination for imperial migration.Footnote 168 Calwell’s active role in ensuring that child migration was given a high priority could also be understood as an attempt on his part to achieve some measure of success for a policy to which his personal political reputation had become attached. For Catholic organisations in Australia, the arrival of these children marked an opportunity for the growth of the wider Catholic population as well as a means of ensuring that child migrants would be housed in denominational institutions rather than the State-run homes originally envisaged in Chifley’s scheme. For Catholic organisations in the United Kingdom, it offered the possibility of creating space in their residential homes to allow new admissions as well as sending children from family backgrounds judged undesirable to places far away in which they could be offered new lives under Catholic formation. For the Commonwealth Relations Office, it formed a continuation of the well-established policy of sending children overseas as part of imperial migration intended to reinforce the cultural bonds of the Commonwealth and, given reasonable standards of care and training, provide children with good opportunities for their futures.

Alongside each of these interests, there were various forms of organisational limitation. The sheer scale of the Australian land mass meant that, apart from any political considerations of the relationship between Commonwealth and State Governments, the Commonwealth Department of Immigration was largely dependent on the knowledge and actions of State officials for the oversight and delivery of this work. Catholic organisations in the United Kingdom had little direct experience of the institutions in Western Australia to which children were being sent and, where concern was expressed about standards, this proved less influential than the willingness to participate in a shared project with their religious counter-parts in Australia. For the Commonwealth Relations Office, there was similarly little direct knowledge of conditions in Australian institutions and a reliance instead on information provided by Australian authorities and through the UK High Commission. Given that staff at the UK High Commission in Canberra had not undertaken any direct inspections of institutions that were about to receive British child migrants since Garnett’s visit to some of them in 1944, the information about these institutions available to the Commonwealth Relations Office was even more limited than it might have been.Footnote 169 The limited oversight performed by staff at the UK High Commission also meant that the sending of girls to Nazareth House, Geraldton or the Swan Homes in Perth despite lack of approval for this from the UK Government were not isolated incidents. In September 1949, Harry Bass wrote from the UK High Commission to the Commonwealth Department of Immigration to check if there were any other institutions to which child migrants had been sent of which it was not aware or had not given its approval and received confirmation that there were no other such cases.Footnote 170 In 1951, however, it was discovered that British boys had been sent to the Church of England Padbury farm school in Stoneville, Western Australia, when the Swan Homes had insufficient accommodation for child migrants, despite Padbury not having gone through any approval process.Footnote 171 The following year, it was also found that Dr Barnardo’s Homes had placed child migrants at its residential home at Normanhurst in New South Wales, again without this having been an approved institution.Footnote 172 In both cases, the receiving organisation appeared to have assumed that approval of other institutions that they ran by the UK Government automatically extended to all residential institutions under their control. Whilst the fact that such non-approved placements were discovered could be seen as indicating that some degree of oversight was working, such placements tended to create pressures for the post-hoc approval of institutions such as Nazareth House, Geraldton and the Padbury farm school which might not have otherwise been approved had they not already been in receipt of child migrants.

In the wider context of these organisational interests and limitations, Walter Garnett played a focal role in the failure of oversight by the UK Government of these initial post-war parties of Catholic child migrants. This observation is not made so much to attribute blame to Garnett as to focus on the conditions under which an individual’s policy judgements can carry particular influence and the processes through which significant errors of judgement can occur.

Garnett ’s role in decision-making and oversight in relation to these Catholic migration parties was notable not only because of the reliance of Commonwealth Relations Office staff on his views and advice, but because of the stark contrast between his previous emphasis on the need for appropriate standards and supervision in receiving institutions and the realities experienced by many of those children on arrival. His individual influence arose both out of his organisational context—in a governmental office specifically tasked with mediating between the UK and Commonwealth Governments—and his personal biography. His experience of dealing with matters relating to child migration since his participation in the 1924 Bondfield delegation marked him as having far greater expertise in this field than the civil servants who had taken on responsibility for this in the Commonwealth Relations Office following the retirement of Ronald Wiseman. The practical necessities of relying on Garnett’s judgements as the UK Government’s ‘man on the ground’ in Australia was therefore reinforced by the sense that policy decisions could only sensibly be made in London on the basis of his more experienced advice. The absence of any maintenance agreement between the Commonwealth Relations Office and a representative Catholic sending organisation—which was not finalised until March 1949 when an agreement was finally signed between the UK Government and the London office of the Federal Catholic Immigration CommitteeFootnote 173—meant that the Commonwealth Relations Office had no administrative mechanism in place to check the ages or institutional destinations of those child migrants. In the absence of such an administrative check, reliance on Garnett’s views and knowledge became even stronger.

Given the influence that Garnett had over the Commonwealth Relations Office’s decisions about the approval of receiving institutions in Australia, the process through which he came to accept the proposed migration of 340 children to Catholic institutions in Western Australia was to have a profound effect on many of those children’s lives. His understanding of those receiving institutions was inevitably limited by the sheer physical distance—more than 2000 miles—between his Canberra office and Western Australia. What direct knowledge he did have, based on single visits three years before, strongly shaped his perceptions. He continued to maintain through the autumn of 1946 that Nazareth House, Geraldton was an eminently well-equipped and suitable institution without knowing that elderly residents had been occupying the accommodation built for child migrants. Similarly, his experience of Castledare as an over-crowded, under-staffed institution not designed for the reception of young children persisted, despite the attempt by the Archbishop of Perth to persuade him otherwise.

In the absence of more up-to-date direct experience of these institutions, and there being little prospect of his called-for inspection of these institutions by a representative of the UK High Commission, Garnett relied instead on his broader assumptions about the organisational structures with which he was dealing. Although Garnett had argued at the Commonwealth inter-departmental sub-committee on child migration that voluntary and religious organisations were more likely to do their work well because of their ethos of vocation and altruism, he was clearly unwilling in practice simply to accept that the proposed Catholic migration scheme was a positive initiative. Garnett was far more prepared, however, to believe that a system of inspections by State officials, and State-based Commonwealth Migration Officers, could offer a sufficient safeguard for this work. His evident unhappiness at the failure of State officials to undertake appropriate inspections before CEMWA’s initial application for 340 child migrants was approved, and his satisfaction at records of State officials quickly following up concerns at Bindoon indicated his more fundamental belief that such government inspections would be sufficient if undertaken properly. He was clearly aware that such systems were not infallible—as his experience of McAdam’s endorsement of Castledare had shown him in 1944—but on balance regarded the general system of inspections by Australian officials as the best that could be done to ensure child migrants’ welfare. His broad trust in the capacity of government systems to protect the welfare of children therefore compensated to some extent for any lack of detailed information. There is no indication that he pressed for any urgent inspections to be undertaken at Castledare after children’s arrival there, despite his long-standing concerns about that institution. Instead the existence of a system of inspection functioned more as a proxy of care, providing a more general assurance of protection for children rather than a very regular source of information. A broad confidence in the safeguards offered by this governmental system may have created a context for Garnett’s failure to establish the ages, numbers and institutional destinations of the Catholic child migrants who arrived in Western Australia in 1947 or to ask more searching questions about CEMWA’s fitness as a custodian organisation for child migrants despite the fact that it had requested children be sent to institutions that inspectors had found to be substantially unsuitable or ill-equipped.

In this regard, similarities can be seen in Garnett’s trust in Australian governmental systems—based on his broad sense of collaboration with Australian civil servants and the principle of respecting Australian autonomy—and the willingness of Catholic officials in Britain to support the migration of children to receiving institutions they recognised as sharing a common religious mission. Both reflect different social imaginaries, a mapping out of the social world around notions of affinity and identification with larger social institutions. Such imaginaries create a sense of shared meaning and purpose with particular groups and social bonds assumed to be, if certainly not infallible, then broadly reliable and worth maintaining. They provide social actors with the means for understanding and judging how to act in worlds that they know to be imperfect and through their actions, people continually reinforce or refine the social imaginaries through which they live their lives. Trust is not therefore simply a passive stance of accepting some social relationships as being particularly valuable or reliable. Rather, the act of trusting is an important means through which a sense of social bond with others is reinforced and renewed.

The recursive reproduction of such social bonds through acts of trust had particular significance for initiatives such as the child migration programmes in which monitoring of children’s welfare by British officials was primarily reliant on written reports by other people. Overtly challenging the adequacy of these reports with Australian authorities could carry connotations of mistrust and bad faith which British officials wished to avoid. As coming chapters will demonstrate, British officials typically took the view that such confrontational interventions would have little practical benefit and that it was preferable to maintain bonds with Australian authorities whilst trying to work gradually through these relationships to improve standards for child migrants.

In a religious context, such acts of trust function as a way of maintaining an active sense of shared religious belonging and can acquire the aura of a religious virtue or duty. In the context of governmental administration, acts of trust within the same department can reinforce a sense of shared departmental purpose and identity in the context of periodic conflicts and competition with other government bodies over status, power and the control of resources. Acts of trust across governmental departments are a necessary means through which shared identities and a sense of purpose are forged, enabling projects of governance to be possible across complex governmental structures. If Garnett was not prepared to accept the assurances of the Archbishop of Perth about improvements at Castledare in 1944, two and a half years later he was apparently willing to accept verbal assurances from Reuben Wheeler, at the Commonwealth Department of Immigration instead.Footnote 174 In doing so, Garnett not only acted out from his sense of shared social bonds with other Commonwealth administrators, but in accepting these assurances also performed his role in a way that reinforced those bonds. The policy and organisational delivery of post-war child migration to Australia was thus enabled through different organisational imaginaries which made the migration of children from Britain to institutions several thousand miles away seem meaningful, or at least tolerable, and which served to sustain different forms of organisational identity, bond and loyalty.

The Home Office and Child Migration After Curtis

The Curtis report, and the Cabinet’s decision in the spring of 1947 to make the Home Office the lead department for children’s out-of-home care in England and Wales, created a significant shift in the administrative structures for child migration within the UK Government. Until 1947 policy and operational decisions about child migration had been almost entirely conducted within the Dominions Office, in discussion with the UK High Commission in Canberra or the Treasury (where decisions had financial implications for government spending). By the summer of 1947, officials and ministers within the Commonwealth Relations Office were increasingly conscious both of the recommendations of the Curtis report in relation to the resumption of child migration and of the need for the Home Office to be satisfied with arrangements for child migrants’ care overseas.Footnote 175 From this point on, the already complex administrative systems operating between the Commonwealth Relations Office, UK High Commission, and Commonwealth and State Governments in Australia now had to involve the Home Office as well as the Scottish Home Department (for children emigrated from Scotland).Footnote 176

The Home Office had, as noted in Chap. 2, already become involved in discussions with the Dominions Office and the Fairbridge Society by the end of 1945 about the tensions between the Fairbridge organisations in London and Western Australia. After a further meeting between representatives of Fairbridge’s London office, the Dominions Office and the Home Office in January 1946, it was agreed that the two government departments would produce a memorandum setting out their views on how this might best be resolved.Footnote 177 Agreed by the summer, this memorandum stated that whilst the Fairbridge organisation in London had the right to be informed about standards at Fairbridge farm schools in Australia, and to be assured that these reflected ‘up-to-date’ understandings of child-care, the powers and responsibility to ensure that these standards were maintained should ultimately reside with appropriate State authorities in Australia. As an internal note on this memorandum in the Dominions Office put it, ‘the Dominions Office will not underwrite the London Society’s authority in this matter and it is impelled further to suggest that Fairbridge act in line with the larger politic—that of self-government for the Dominions’.Footnote 178 This position was strongly endorsed by Walter Garnett, reflecting both his confidence in the ability of State authorities to fulfil these responsibilities and his view that close management of Australian institutions could not be successfully achieved by Fairbridge administrators and committee members some 12,000 miles away back in London.Footnote 179 The memorandum also included what was to prove to be a highly significant move away from the principle of representatives from the UK High Commission undertaking annual visits to check on conditions at institutions receiving child migrants. Whilst the UK High Commissioner in Australia was also said to have the ‘right to satisfy themselves by inspection if necessary, that proper standards of training and education were being maintained; … the main task of supervision with a view to ensuring the maintenance of such standards … would devolve on the State Government’. Direct visits by representatives of the UK High Commission in Canberra were therefore to be the exception rather than a regular feature of British oversight of these schemes, with faith placed instead in the capacity to State authorities to discharge these responsibilities.

Whilst claiming to be broadly happy with this approach, Fairbridge’s London officials still felt that more could be done to ensure that it had more control over operations in Australia.Footnote 180 A process began of redrafting the charity’s articles of association in an attempt to circumvent challenges posed by the incorporation of the Australian farm schools as autonomous entities. To secure agreement for this, a Fairbridge delegation led by Sir Charles Hambro made arrangements to visit Australia in October 1947 to engage in face-to-face negotiations with the Australian committees. In preparation for this, meetings were held with staff in the Home Office’s Children’s Department in order to produce a document about appropriate standards for child migrants which could help to strengthen the London delegation’s position. By the time these meetings took place, officials in the Children’s Department were already increasingly aware of the need to develop a wider policy position in relation to child migration, having been approached by Br Conlon, Dr Barnardo’s Homes, the Church of England Advisory Council for Empire Settlement, Australia House (about possible migration to area schools in Tasmania) and the Save the Children Fund with various queries and requests relating to the resumption of child migration.Footnote 181

In response to these approaches, the Home Office Children’s Department had already begun to think about its more general policy position in relation to child migration. Although its direct knowledge of conditions and operational practices in Australia was limited,Footnote 182 it had already received a highly critical report of both standards of care at the Middlemore Homes in Birmingham and of selection and preparation of children being sent from there.Footnote 183 In an initial policy memorandum drafted by Janette Maxwell in June 1947, it was suggested that an over-arching Home Office policy of encouraging or discouraging child migration was unlikely to be of practical use as the Home Office only had any powers to influence the possible migration of children under ‘fit person’ orders or, when the Children Bill was passed into law, children under the care of local authorities.Footnote 184 Nevertheless, given the growing number of approaches being made to the Home Office either on matters of general policy, or for children requiring Secretary of State consent for their migration, it was suggested that a broad view of the relative benefits or risks of child migration should be developed. Whilst Maxwell noted that the Dominions had the potential to offer child migrants significant future opportunities, their ability to realise these would often be limited if they were sent to isolated residential institutions, as Garnett’s 1944 report had shown. Although more general policy objections could be raised against child migration—in terms of the need for Britain to retain its young population against the demographic trends of an ageing and declining population—the priority should be ‘to consider each child’s particular position without undue regard for national and wider considerations’. As a general rule, emigration could be appropriate for a child with no family and no childhood prospects other than remaining in institutional care (although as her senior, Mary Rosling, noted in the margins, this was precisely the kind of child who should be boarded out). Such children were unlikely to be able to have a well-informed view of the implications of their emigration, however, given the likelihood that they had been presented with a ‘highly glamourized’ view of life in Australia. If a child had any family members or relatives with whom there was any chance at all of them returning or being boarded out with, then, Maxwell argued, their emigration should be actively discouraged.Footnote 185 Just as the Curtis report had suggested, decisions about a child’s welfare needed to be based not only on purely material considerations—such as whether material standards in Australian institutions were better than a child’s prospective home life in Britain—but on the importance of their emotional care and continued contact where possible with family members. Particular caution should be exercised in the emigration of very young children who had only been committed to care in this country for a short time, and for whom any decision about their emigration would best be delayed for some years. In summary, Maxwell concluded, ‘we should tend to be anti-emigration expect where we can be fully satisfied that the child can only gain by it’. It is, after all, an irrevocable decision. ‘Once done it can only, with the utmost difficulty, be undone’.

This policy position was developed further after members of the proposed Fairbridge delegation to Australia met with Mary Rosling at the Home Office in July and found her to be more supportive of their wish to have greater control over operations in Australia than her predecessor, Miss Wall.Footnote 186 In response to a request from the Fairbridge delegation, Rosling agreed to produce a memorandum setting out the policy direction for children’s out-of-home care in the United Kingdom which the Home Office would expect to see reflected in standards of overseas organisations receiving child migrants.Footnote 187 The production of this memorandum was also discussed at a meeting between Janette Maxwell and Cyril Costley-White and R.L. Dixon in the Commonwealth Relations Office, convened to discuss the views of the two departments in relation to child migration. Maxwell later noted differences between their positions in which ‘we [the Home Office] tend to discourage in favour of boarding out or more family care in this country, while they [the Commonwealth Relations Office] encourage without giving much attention to the individual children involved’.Footnote 188 Maxwell was also told about the work of Walter Garnett at the UK High Commission, who was said to investigate ‘every home to which it is proposed to send children’ and who, despite having little knowledge of child-care standards in the United Kingdom, was described as having a long experience with receiving institutions in Australia. Costley-White and Dixon raised no objections to the Home Office providing the Fairbridge delegation being provided with a memorandum and, when Maxwell offered to make a copy of this available to Garnett on the basis it might help him in judging the suitability of proposed receiving institutions, diplomatically replied that he would certainly ‘appreciate such a note’. The meeting also led to the Commonwealth Relations Office sharing with the Home Office the reports it had received about Christian Brothers’ institutions in Western Australia. A week after the first party of children had left for Western Australia on the SS Asturias, Mary Rosling noted on the Home Office file containing the reports that she did not ‘feel entirely reassured about these places’.Footnote 189

In September, Rosling’s memorandum was sent to the Fairbridge delegation in draft form for their comments, with Harry Logan, the London Society’s new Acting General Secretary replying that they were delighted with it and believed that it could not ‘fail to have the utmost influence on the success of our visit’.Footnote 190 Suggested changes from Fairbridge added greater caution to the passing on of a child’s case history unless the Principal at the receiving institutions was judged to be capable of making appropriate use of it and these were incorporated into Rosling’s text. A copy was then sent to the Commonwealth Relations Office for Garnett, forwarded on to him by Costley-White with a cover letter explaining both the memorandum’s wider policy context in the wake of the Curtis report and its origins in the July meeting between Fairbridge and Mary Rosling at which it was noted the Commonwealth Relations Office was ‘not represented’.Footnote 191 Costley-White suggested that Garnett circulate this to relevant Commonwealth and State contacts before the Fairbridge delegation arrived so that it could be made clear that the memorandum represented the current view of the Home Office rather than the settled position of the UK Government and Charles Hambro would not be able to claim to be the bearer of Government ‘instructions’ from the United Kingdom.Footnote 192

The final text of Rosling’s memorandum began by directly quoting from the Curtis report about the key principles that should underpin children’s out-of-home care: ‘affection and personal interest… respect for his [sic] personality and regard for his self-esteem … stability … opportunity of making the best of his ability and aptitudes … [and] a share in the common life of a small group of people in a homely environment’.Footnote 193 Given the importance of these principles it was said that it ‘would be difficult to justify’ the emigration of children to receiving organisations who failed to implement them. Somewhat diluting the particular wording of paragraph 515 of the Curtis report, the memorandum stated that child migrants should receive care and opportunities overseas that would be as good as if that child had remained in the United Kingdom. To this end, some continued involvement by sending organisations was essential and the Home Office would not ‘regard with equanimity any scheme of emigration in which the care of the child passed entirely out of the hands of the parent organisation in this country’. Such on-going responsibility was necessary both for monitoring the care of children already sent and to ensure that conditions were appropriate for any children emigrated in the future. This should also involve the ‘parent organisation’ in setting the general policy for the care and training of children in overseas institutions. A liaison officer—an idea originally proposed to the Home Office by Fairbridge—should be appointed to ensure effective communication between the sending and receiving bodies. Staff should be carefully selected to ensure that they were able to offer care along the lines of the Curtis principles. Selection decisions should involve an experienced social worker, assess the impact of emigration on any continued family bonds and be made entirely on whether emigration was in the ‘best interests of any particular child’. Residential homes should operate on the basis of care in small groups, provide opportunities where possible for engaging with the local community and provide children with experience of building up their own possessions and managing pocket money. Education should take place in local schools or, if provided in residential institutions, be equivalent to standards in local schools, with children able to develop academically according to their particular ability and interests. Effective after-care from a trained worker should be provided. Holiday placements with local families through an ‘aunts and uncles scheme’ should be arranged where possible. Where new accommodation for child migrants was being considered, care should be taken with thinking about the whole needs of the child—not just the material standard of their accommodation. However beautiful an isolated rural location might be, it would always be preferable to find sites that would enable children quickly to integrate with local communities both through their schooling and through other informal activities.Footnote 194

Garnett ’s response to the memorandum—which was later passed back to the Home Office—was tetchy.Footnote 195 ‘The Home Office’, he wrote, ‘in preparing this memorandum appear to have been very largely guided by the views of the Fairbridge Society, by whom indeed the memorandum might well have been written’. Indeed many of its proposals for control of operations in Australia by ‘parent organisations’ in the United Kingdom reflected ideas that the Fairbridge Society in London had already discussed in meetings with the Commonwealth Relations Office. Aside from the issue of control of Australian operations from the United Kingdom, Garnett wrote that the other general principles set out Rosling’s memorandum re-stated points that he had already made in his 1944 report. Any inference that Australian authorities needed to be educated on these points drew a defensive and, given his knowledge of problems at receiving institutions during the war, inaccurate response from him. ‘In general’, Garnett wrote, ‘standards of care and aftercare of children brought to Australia by voluntary organisations have in the past been satisfactory and well up to the standard now laid down in the Curtis Committee’s report as a result of the deficiencies found in existing arrangements for the care of under-privileged children in the United Kingdom. It must not however be assumed that the standard of care which is to be obtained in the future in the United Kingdom has not hitherto obtained in connection with child migration schemes in Australia and I should deprecate any suggestion of this nature’. If anything, Garnett added, standards of care were not just as good in Australia as in the United Kingdom, but in some cases better and one of the main lessons of the Curtis report was how uneven standards of care remained in Britain. Rosling’s memorandum, he claimed, reflected insufficient knowledge of the differences between the various organisations involved in sending children to Australia, and in the case of the Fairbridge Society, failed to establish why the London office had an inherent right to control local bodies in Australia ‘who do all the work and have to cope with the problems on the spot’. ‘I trust’, Garnett concluded, ‘that the Mission will exercise discretion in showing this memorandum to the local bodies’. Whilst the principles set out in it were reasonable and, he claimed, already generally accepted by receiving institutions, the inference of being lectured about these standards was something that ‘those who have devoted many years to this problem on the spot might not take … very kindly’.

To the surprise of officials in the UK High Commission and Commonwealth Relations Office, the Fairbridge delegation was successful in its negotiations with the Fairbridge committees in Australia about the revision of the Society’s articles of association to make it a more integrated organisation.Footnote 196 The Australian bodies agreed to give up their autonomous status and to become part of a single new incorporated body that would include the London Society and all the overseas farm schools. A number of figures associated with past conflicts—including Gordon Green—retired, resigned or agreed to allow limits on their future influence.Footnote 197 The London office was given the power to appoint Principals at the farm schools and to nominate a certain number of members on newly constituted Boards of Governors, but with day-to-day operational issues left to local management overseas. All constituent parts of this new organisation agreed to adhere to a common ethos in terms of providing care attentive to the needs of the child.

Whilst Sir Charles Hambro and other senior figures in Fairbridge in the United Kingdom could feel satisfied in achieving new arrangements for the governance of overseas farm schools, this process had been a divisive one for relationships within the UK Government. The decision by Hambro to court the Home Office’s support for its attempt to gain greater powers in Australia, given the long resistance to this from civil servants in the Commonwealth Relations Office, was a strategically effective manoeuvre of playing off the influence of one government department off over another. By emphasising the influence of the Home Office over future child migration policy—with the Fairbridge delegation reportedly telling the Perth Committee that the Home Office was now the lead department on thisFootnote 198—it became easier to create an impression that the further supply of children for Australian farm schools was dependent on compliance with Rosling’s memorandum.

By allying itself with Fairbridge’s London Society, however, the Home Office Children’s Department was now perceived by officials in the Commonwealth Relations Office and UK High Commission as insufficiently sensitive to the principle of the autonomy of the Dominions and to the political complexities of managing relationships with organisations overseas that had to be understood as the equals of their counter-parts back in Britain. Senior civil servants in the Commonwealth Relations Office such as Sir Charles Dixon and Cyril Costley-White, as well as Garnett in Canberra, had by then a long history of immersion in this culture and from their perspective the Children’s Department’s intervention on behalf of Fairbridge was ill-informed, clumsy and risked provoking adverse reaction in Australia. From the perspective of the Children’s Department, for whom staff such as Rosling and Maxwell were enthused by the new policy framework for children’s out-of-home care ushered in by the Curtis report, it was important to introduce new ways of thinking about child migration to established practices which seemed not attentive enough to the needs of the individual child. If the Children’s Department’s intervention appeared patronising to Garnett, for Maxwell and Rosling, it was a necessary part of their departmental mission to try to ensure that the ‘reforming spirit’Footnote 199 of the Curtis report was working its way through all forms of children’s out-of-home care. The process of finding an accommodation between these contrasting departmental positions was to shape the UK Government’s approach to the management of child migration programmes in the coming years.