Abuse survivors sent from UK to Australia as children given fresh hope of redress from Prince’s Trust | Australia news
Former child migrants sent from the UK to Australia by the Fairbridge Society may be a step closer towards receiving compensation for sexual and physical abuse, after the Prince’s Trust said it was providing funds to allow survivors to make claims.
Many of an estimated 2,500 child migrants sent to most Australian states by the Fairbridge Society between 1912 and 1970 were sexually abused, as well as regularly beaten.
They appeared set to miss out on compensation and acknowledgement through Australia’s national redress scheme for people sexually abused as children in institutions, because the Fairbridge Society no longer existed.
But the Prince’s Trust, the youth charity founded by the Prince of Wales in 1976, has now taken steps so abuse survivors can seek redress related to the former Fairbridge Society.
Established by Kingsley Fairbridge in 1909, the Fairbridge Society enjoyed the patronage of high-profile individuals including members of the royal family.
The society ceased to exist in the early 1980s when its child migration programs ended, although a replacement organisation continued working in the UK until it became part of the Prince’s Trust in 2011 and was dissolved two years later.
Fairbridge has now been reinstated as an organisation in the UK, under administrators.
“The Prince’s Trust is providing Fairbridge with funds, to give victims and survivors the opportunity to make claims, and it is also our hope that Fairbridge will sign up to the Australian redress scheme,” a spokesperson for the trust said.
“We are in proactive and ongoing talks with the Australian authorities and with the administrators of Fairbridge, and we are committed to finding the best way to support the victims and supporters.
“We categorically condemn all forms of child abuse.
“Although the Prince’s Trust has never had any involvement in child migration schemes, we once again want to say we are deeply sorry for the hurt and suffering experienced by victims and survivors.”
In 2017, the former Australian ABC managing director David Hill, who was sent to a Fairbridge farm school at Molong in NSW in 1959, told a UK national inquiry the Prince’s Trust was “covering its backside” by denying it had known of serious abuse suffered by child migrants sent to Australia by the Fairbridge Society.
Richard Hinch was six when he was sent to Australia in 1951 under the British child migrant program.
He spent 10 years at the Fairbridge Farm School in Pinjarra, Western Australia, where he experienced sexual, physical and mental abuse.
Hinch, president of the Old Fairbridgians Association of WA, views the move by the Prince’s Trust as a positive step, but not the end of the fight.
“There is light at the end of the tunnel, but I still look at it as a very faint light,” he said.
The light would be a bit brighter once Fairbridge joined the redress scheme, he said.
“I want to see the kids actually receiving the money in their bank accounts before I say ‘yep, the daylight is now showing’.
“As far as I’m concerned I’ve still got a lot of fighting to do.”
Joint administrator Chris Laverty said she could not confirm Fairbridge would join the national redress scheme.
Laverty said she had reached out to the Australian government to discuss the criteria needed to join the scheme and whether that was compatible with a UK insolvency process.
Hinch and other former Fairbridge child migrants had been writing to the Prince’s Trust and even Prince Charles himself to try to get action on redress.
A former Kingsley Fairbridge Farm School child, who did not want to be named, said the Prince’s Trust had previously argued its involvement was only due to the fact it inherited the Fairbridge records and archives.
“Now they’ve actually come round and said they are now going to do something,” he said.
“I find it quite amazing.”
Hinch and WA support service Tuart Place had been trying to get Fairbridge declared a defunct organisation for redress purposes and for the Commonwealth and state governments to be made to step in as the funder of last resort.
Anna Swain of the Knowmore legal service said the Prince’s Trust’s action was welcome news but it remained a waiting game.
Until institutions like Fairbridge formally join the scheme, redress applications sit on hold.
Some survivors have held off even applying until the institution responsible for their abuse is added to the list of participating organisations.
“We hear this a lot, that ‘they’re waiting for us to die’,” Swain said. “They may never join [the redress scheme] as well, that’s obviously the great worry for a lot of people.
“We have a number of survivors who have already lodged applications some time ago and have been waiting for the news that an institution will take responsibility for the horrors that they have suffered.”
Institutions have until 30 June to join the national redress scheme or at least provide a binding commitment.
The UK government also has a redress scheme offering payments of £20,000 ($38,000 at current exchange rates) for all former British child migrants on the basis they were exposed to the risk of sexual abuse.