Thursday, October 28, 2010

Suffer little children......

One common punishment for resiliently rebellious children like Kathleen Clarke and Margaret Coyne was to tie the little bastards to the gum tree over the bull-ants nest.
"How Sister Rita thought up punishments like that, I'll never know. She was worse than Hitler!" is what they both told me in separate moments of place and time, confirming all the worst abuses which were a part of institutional life.

St.John's Orphanage, Thurgoona NSW
 Kathleen Clarke 3rd row down 5th from right.

Instilling terror in a child by dressing them in red and putting them in a paddock with a bull was another method to break the spirit of a girl, but it didn't matter how bullied Mum(or Margaret)was, how many times a nun's belt would be unfurled, there was nothing to do but sulk and drag your feet and cop it again. 

Like any prisoner of circumstance, there were times when looking for ways to escape needed the right opportunity, like a cricket match when the ball came sailing through her airspace and dropped behind close to the fence and the dirt road.

Instead of bending to retrieve the ball, Kath kicked it further until she reached the gap and dropped to the ground, slid under and ran for her life!

When you're a kid the distance and tree cover you've kept to, is no match to the Daverns and their truck with the hawkish eyes of a fat, red-faced fuming nun. Home-made calipers with bricks and sticks addressed such behaviour. With only five nuns to a hundred little terrors.

The litany of Deuteronomic curses for their disobedience was constant and when the New South Wales Welfare worker came every six months to check on the orphans, one nun sat on either side of their charge in her medieval garb whilst the officer asked their State Ward, how things were going in the new country....Fine. Kids were a bit shy.

Everything was fine in the promised land. No mention of any harm by nun or priest was heard. When it was Mum's turn to take Father Ryan's dinner across to his house, alone, she was quick to not get too close because that priest gave her the creeps and it was whispered about that he was a 'dirty old bugger'.

Margaret confirmed told me of a rape. She was sent to Victoria when found pregnant and returned without the baby boy - over the border back to the place of the crime. Nothing said by anybody.

It wasn't all bad. There was the casual escape into the graveyard where the nuns were buried to smoke some tobacco the odd-job-man bartered for stolen farm goods.
1996 I travel to St.John's Orphanage, Thurgoona to
see where Mum was in the 1950's and meet Margaret Landsdowne nee Coyne who came out on the ship with my mother,from Nazareth House, Birmingham! She confirmed the punishments as true.
The girls would crush eucalypt leaves to erase the illicit tobacco smell. Kath was surrounded by mountain and rural landscape more massive than the Lickey Hills back at Nazareth House in Birmingham. "Carrots" horizon had broadened in her psyche, and she was losing her Brummie accent, and picking up the colloquialisms of the Australian girls.
Perfection at  St.John's Cemetery, Thurgoona 1950's.
Being anti-authoritarian wasn't  only because Mum had orange hair as a kid, or the priest saying she had the look of the rebel Irish in her, (although she went really crazy when they chopped off her long plaits). It was strong within me, at nine years of age too - the eldest daughter of the eldest daughter.

I can picture myself  coming to a stand-still at the crossroads of Exeter and Tiverton Road thinking so clearly; My Dad did not deserve my love. Or God! If there was one. There was too much suffering in this world and it was mainly on women and children. 

Dad had committed adultery. God was no use. It was all lies to do as you were men!  I wanted to ease my mind of all these thoughts. I wanted to be free of Dad, and free of God. I wanted them to disappear. That meant I didn't have to attend Catechism anymore.

I looked at the big old Church of  St. Wulstans, and the hall  where my sisters and I had gone to Sunday School, leaving mum to have a lie-in, and guessed I was leaving childhood behind. 
Perhaps if the teacher had been less dull I would have stayed and made it to Confirmation, but when I questioned what was being said, to probe for a deeper understanding the instructor said there was no time, and I had to accept the Word of God, full stop.

I reasoned it was worth the risk of getting into trouble by God.  He should understand me anyway!  My father was a hypocrite. Always espousing moral certitude, the difference between right and wrong and he had destroyed my respect for him.  He had accused me of being a liar when I had gone up the hill to Nan with the truth that he was having an affair with Barbara from around the club.

When Dad lied to Nan too and told me off for saying lies to her,  and sent me to bed, I felt crucified. No wonder... I was absorbed in painting the Easter Mural on the classroom wall depicting Jesus on the Cross. 

Mum screamed at Dad as he brought his cases down the stairs. She called Barbara all the course names she could think of.  I didn't blame her for taking Dad away. I viewed her with disdain, as she pulled pints and men at the bar with her gold necklaces falling into her cleavage and flashing her false eyelashes.
Why Dad was leaving us for a woman who flirted with every man was beyond me. I was now resolutely on Mum's side - Your Father has always been selfish! Always gets what he wants, and now he thinks he's gone up in the world with her siting beside him in his new car.
After 12 years of helping him with his business, bringing up his kids, and now he can afford a Rover he pisses me off. That's all the thanks I get." 

Mum had suffered all her life all because she was illegitimate. She'd survived the cruelty of the nuns, came back to Birmingham when she was 18 years, but didn't get on with her mother. 
She'd had a baby boy but it died in the first week. The blood didn't match. The twins had a total blood transfusion and the last Rites performed by a passing Priest, but not the boy. Would Dad have stayed with us if he'd had a son? Maybe that was why the marriage was over. Yes! Like mum said, Dad was a Bastard, not her!

I didn't want to speak to him anymore. He didn't even tell us where he was living. It was like a disease in our area - men leaving their wives with the burdens and daily grind of bringing up the kids so they could go off with the Secretary or  bar-maid. 

In the back garden Exeter Rd. 1972 before heading
up the road to Brownie Guides.
I still had the Brownie Guides at the Church Hall, with Brown Owl leading the pack of pixies, gnomes, and elves....We were busy rehearsing a play of The Pied Piper and I was learning a solo song. 

Only a year before,  I had been pulled out of school to go for a family interview at  Australia House. We were going to emigrate to Australia.  Mum had always wanted to go back where the sunshine was, intuitively sensing a second trip would be a second chance of success - at least where the loads of washing would get dry in an hour! 
She reckoned Dad's ideas and his Protestant work ethic would enable them to build the home of their dreams. 

In the background, there was the hope a new life away from the ordinary temptations and habits was the solution 
to their crumbling marriage. 
The corrupting influences of his native Selly Oak & Bournbrook would dissipate in the spacious isolation of a NSW country town!
The day before we were supposed to set sail on the cruise ship for ten pounds each, Dad chickened out.

Under orders from Mum, my dad tried to explain why everything had changed. He couldn't emigrate...leave his Mum and Dad behind. He would miss Selly Oak! 
Mum didn't have any strong family ties, but he couldn't leave his Mum, or the house he was born in.
I listened, head bowed. Being eight years old I trusted my Dad knew best. It was an instinct in me to imagine myself in his shoes, unhappy not seeing Nan ever again.

Returning to the corner of my childhood Revelations! - My return to childhood home of Exeter Rd. Selly Oak. Birmingham, England. My house is on the other side. August2010

(c)copyright Julie McNeill Oct 2010
all rights reserved

Monday, October 25, 2010


St John's Orphanage, Thurgoona NSW 1952 - My mum Kathleen P Clarke 3rd row down, 4 across.


said Mum.

Mum doesn't remember anything before she was 9years.


Before the British Parliament voted for income support for single parents,
Herbert Austin set up his Longbridge plant opposite this building built for the first apprentices for building his cars. Birmingham R.C. Diocese bought it for an Orphanage/Institution for those who needed care and education and religion.

YOU'D THINK IT WOULD BE A GOOD THING moving children out of a mammoth institution ruled by nuns in medieval habits, in the miserable Midlands to Australia for a promising future, WOULDN'T YOU?
Boat children with the right/white credentials.
Once Mum arrived in Australia, Minister Calwell, Australia's first Immigration Minister in the Chifley Labor Government, signed her off, delegating responsibility to NSW. They in turn trusted the Nuns to carry out their obligations and Duty of Care.

The politician whom journalists called 'Cocky' Calwell, had an  unshakeable belief in Australia's first legislation of 1901 Federation - the "White Australia Policy".
He would never have to be faced with the abuses metered out to the children or make any grand Apology for harms done and their long-term consequences.
The long-term goal was reproducing more Catholics and cleaners and child-care workers, and factory hands.

For being a result of war-time sexual intercourse, Mum was an unfortunate accident, but thanks to the need of the Commonwealth of Australia to have good British breeding stock she was given a one way ticket on a massive cruise ship.
She thought it was a grand holiday from a charity, and would be returning in a couple of weeks.

The kids stepped upon the Ship at Southampton were given Red Coats - new Red Coats by the Charity people.

S.S. Asturius 1950 
Berth No 686 Miss Kathleen Clarke 9yrs
  c/o Dept. Immigration Syd. Ticket No. 261913


Mum's memory begins nine years into her childhood. Nothing before nine...she draws a blank on her British childhood.

Thanks to the work of Margaret Humphrey's and the Child Migrants Trust, Kath sought information about her life story - the institutional manouvres and secrets behind the scenes.

We don't know if Kathleen junior was a 'love child' because her Mother refused to reveal anything about the father even unto Death.
The papers show she was born at Dudley Rd. Hospital as her un-wed mother who was a Scots born care leaver, had been enticed to Birmingham with a job in the Munitions factories and a hostel room in Ladywood.

Kath junior was baptised with her mother's name at the Baroque styled Oratory Church commonly called 'Little Rome'.

Kathleen Senior was sent back to the Raddlebarn Rd. Mother and Baby home belonging to St. Edward's parish at Selly Oak.

Baptised at the R.C. Oratory, Hagley Rd.
Ladywood, Birmingham

Old Convent where unwed mothers had their shame hidden except when they had to walk to Church on Sunday or go to Confession.
Only God would know her future husband, Brian, my father was like his father Albert, born and bred just down the road. When they were lads, he said, he and his mates would go to the top of  Dawlish Rd. and watch the naughty mothers walking from the Nun's Home to the Catholic Church with their babies and tease them! 

Dad wasn't christened Catholic, but he said he felt guilty about his boyish taunts when hearing about her ex-wife's start in life!

The young women were required to breast-feed their babies for 3 months and then adopt them. Brilliant for the baby but must have been traumatic for the mother.

Nan had to go back to war-time work in Ladywood. She was able to pay for a foster mother in the rural mining town of Hednesford for 3 years until a work accident meant she had to place her daughter in an orphanage. 

I believe Mum's resilience came with 3 months of breast milk, 
and first three years with a caring foster family.

God had cursed Mother Eve for generations: Genesis 3:16

Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

Over the years we have learned parents who had children with disabilities were told it was best for them to put their child in an Institution and forget about them too, but none did.LINK TO..

The Child Migration Scheme is now universally recognised as having been fundamentally flawed with tragic consequences. (1.25 Senate Report 2001)

2.5 One definition of 'child migration' refers to the term broadly as the dispatch of poor, abandoned, often illegitimate youth from orphanages, institutions and workhouses throughout the United Kingdom to overseas British colonies - later Dominions.

15/3/1950 Border Mail - Albury Railway Station, NSW.
Kathleen Clarke(second of second row), didn't know she had a Mother still living. Or that she was named after her - or that before Christmas, on December 21st her mother had walked down Monument Rd, close to where she lived with her husband of two months, entered the Ladywood Police Station to give her consent in sending her daughter to Australia as a Child Migrant. 
The form claims to have been witnessed by Police Sergeant Hook, but there is no signature. 

Britain had been sending it's unwanted children overseas since the seventeenth century in batches to fill up the colonies with white British stock (so they didn't have to spend any more money on the ragamuffins).

The Past is not dead. It is not even past.

Nobody was expecting the child migrants would ever be able or want to return to their country of birth...a new school was built as St. John's for the Thurgoona community. The 3 R's was good enough for kids whose job was to be cleaners and factory hands, but did not encourage aspirations for more.

The kids scraped and recycled old bricks for building the school, then sent away to farms at 12yrs as Domestic labourers. The Nuns took the money.

Mum creates a smart impression age 19 to go back to the Mother country.
She will return in 1978 with her 3 adolescent children......

Finding Margaret Coyne, a former child migrant in Albury 1995. She shared the same cabin with Mum coming out to Australia! The red and black colour code coincidental! She confirms that all the torturous stories mum told me of her time in NSW were true, and worse. See Pages

I have come to see The Boomerang as the emblem of my mother's journey's between England and Australia. 

The former Child Migrant returned to the Mother Country after she found a pile of letters in Sister Rita's office whilst dusting. 
Mum confronted the not so Mother Superior and the 'shit hit the fan' . They had kept the fact of her mother who was alive and been writing to her!

They had said her mother was dead. 

No longer the Charge of the Nuns and New South Wales government she went to meet her mum and step-dad, and baby half-sister, on a highly expectant cruise home, which her step-father had to pay for!

Of course it wouldn't turn out as expected for mother and daughter, living together for the first time in Hubert Rd. Selly Oak (around the corner from the (unwed)Mother and Baby home).....
Hubert Rd. Selly Oak home of Kath's mum, Kath

Kathleen junior felt she had been brought over to be babysitter and house-help so her mother could go to work!

For some reason Kathleen senior thought her daughter should do as was asked of her! 
My Mother was free from Mother Superior, was determined to be independent. She took her sister out in the pram and got herself a job at Woolworths down the Village.
Her first winter meant freezing and fainting with hyperthermia at work! 
It was even colder than milking the cows with bare-feet at 5am every morning!
Cadbury Bournville Chocolate factory. Perhaps
George Cadbury was Willy Wonka!

Selly Oak  was a hive of industry in those years - Mum said she could leave one job in the morning and get another job in the afternoon. The big break came when Cadbury's gave her full-time work. 

The workers at Bournville had free health, dental care
and recreation services thanks to the philosopy of the Cadbury brothers. Within a day the housing for workers department had found Kath a place to lodge with a really nice land-lady.
The social club was very active and for the first time in her life she was having the life any young woman would desire - fun and freedom and finding attraction to a young man! 

Kath - the third return to England.

References: Lost Children of the Empire
                           Philip Bean&Joy Melvill (UnwinHyman1989)

                          Empty Cradles, Margaret Humphreys
                          (Corgi Books 1995)
Forgotten Australians - Australian Senate Report
                          August 2004 : p.151 Perspective from children
                          Lost Innocents-Righting the Record -
                          Report on Child Migration Aug 2001
2014 Royal Commission into Child Sex Abuse in Australian Institutions

(C)all rights reserved
Julie McNeill

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