Take a moment to think back to your childhood; for the majority of us those memories are filled with warmth, love and a sense of security but for over half a million people these memories are very different, their childhood was dark, cold, intimidating, full of fear and uncertainty. The days were filled with hard labour and physical abuse the nights with sexual abuse, the one constant was emotional scarring and mental anguish, a legacy for life.
Life in Children’s Homes and Institutions is an exhibition at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra. It tells the stories of about half a million people who lived in around 800 children’s homes or institutions from the 1920s to the 1980s.
Andrew Sayers director of the National Museum of Australia says “The National Museum of Australia has a role to tell all our important stories, including stories that weigh heavily on our national conscience. The voices in this exhibition come through loud and clear, these are stories that should be heard by all Australians.”
I met a child migrant a few years ago, before the National apology to Forgotten Australians was made, he was a man in his sixties originally from post war London ,who had been taken into care for reasons he couldn’t say, being only 5 years old. He was then shipped to Australia with promises of sunshine and a better life to endure years of abuse at the hands of those who were supposed to care for him, his name was changed on arrival and he had had no contact with his family to that day, he had no recollection of his own name his family name and no way of finding out as all records had been destroyed.
His is not a unique story but echoes the stories of all child migrants and forgotten Australians, so on the second anniversary of the National Apology to forgotten Australians go and have a look at the exhibition, take the time to read the stories look at the memorabilia and art works and listen to what they are saying to you, it is a disturbing and moving testimony to the survivors.
Ms Caroline Carroll, Chair, Alliance for Forgotten Australians said: “I encourage viewers to reflect on the exhibition, to look for lessons beyond the historical setting. I hope that the exhibition will galvanise interest in and support for Forgotten Australians accessing the health, community and welfare system; further that the exhibition will provoke discussion about the current child and family welfare system to help improve outcomes for children in out-of-home care today.”
The exhibition will be on display at the National Museum in Canberra from 16 November to the 26 February; admission is free but does carry a warning that it may not be suitable for children under 15.
For information about public programs associated with the exhibition visit www.nma.gov.au/exhibition/inside/
Alliance for forgotten Australians website:
The exhibition is disturbing and very sad but these people have had the audacity to find their voices after so many years and although they have long left the homes and institutions their experiences will never leave them and the impact of their experiences is the legacy their children have to bear, as they have had the courage to speak so should we have the courage to listen.