Child migrants reunited in Newcastle

When Michael Blair was aged seven he was taken from his orphanage in England and told he was going on a holiday to Australia.

What the he did not know was that he was not actually an orphan but rather that his mother, who had him out of wedlock, was alive and had indicated she could come back for him.

Mr Blair arrived in Australia in 1952 and grew up at Mayfield’s Murray Dwyer Orphanage where nuns cared for 130 boys.

He was among 31 child migrants who reunited for the first time in more than a decade yesterday at Sacred Hearth Cathedral Newcastle.

Between 1947 and the early 1960s about 7000 British children were shipped to Australia to help populate the country’s former colonies.

Ripped from their families, the children were told they could bask in the sunshine and eat oranges. Instead, they faced a life devoid of love and affection and were commonly exposed to physical hardship and cruelty.

Mr Blair was reunited with aunts and cousins in 1994 but his mother had already died.

‘‘The tragic part was the deceit and the lies on both sides,’’ he said yesterday.

‘‘It brings back a lot of memories – some are tough but you try and be positive.’’

Yesterday’s event included Mass at the Sacred Heart Cathedral at Newcastle West followed by a plaque dedication at the former orphanage.

During the past five years, many of the men have experienced the power of apology from both the Australian and United Kingdom governments.

Maitland-Newcastle Bishop Bill Wright yesterday also reiterated an apology issued by former Diocesan Bishop Michael Malone in 2001.

Former British Child Migrants Reunion Committee member Catherine Mahony said it was an opportunity to reflect on the adult effects of such childhoods.

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