Useful And Fantastic: The Child Migrant
...We were alarmed about the farm orphanage he had come to in Australia. Although the boy’s report of it was ‘OK’ and he had fun with the other boys, it was noticeable that when he came down to us for holidays he improved rapidly in reading and behaviour, and the gains were lost by the next holiday. The orphanage also took no interest in the boys once they had left. They were out in the world alone. When it closed, they had no links left...
Val Yule brings a first-hand account of children who were give no reason for hope - an account which is distressing yet at the same time inspirational.
The British government has recently apologised to a boy I knew. He was a child migrant, ten years old, sent out from a Scottish orphanage with a boatload of other boys to a farm orphanage in Australia.
He had a watch that was given to him by a visitor to the Scottish orphanage, who took a special interest in him. We visited her some years later and found out that he was not originally from Scotland, but from Liverpool. Investigating further, we found out that his name had been changed, and it was impossible to find out what his family had been. At the time, we did not know that this had happened to other children too.
We were alarmed about the farm orphanage he had come to in Australia. Although the boy’s report of it was ‘OK’ and he had fun with the other boys, it was noticeable that when he came down to us for holidays he improved rapidly in reading and behaviour, and the gains were lost by the next holiday. The orphanage also took no interest in the boys once they had left. They were out in the world alone. When it closed, they had no links left.
The visitor in Scotland had been the one steady link in his life there. He was in danger of being betrayed in Australia too. When he was thirteen, he was rejected by a family he hoped would adopt him, because he could not stop stealing from them. They had gone overseas without him. He wrote letters to his lost overseas family, hopefully inventing great achievements in school, captaining the cricket team, coming top in school subjects. There was no reply. Fortunately a foster-family now took him up and gave him their name. He visited us with his new brother, very happy. Years later he visited us from interstate, where he had a good job, and he brought a beautiful girlfriend to meet us. He had become what he had predicted.
My interest in the possible significance of stories that children tell - not write - about their free drawings was aroused in 1957 by a story he told to me immediately after his rejection by the family he had longed for, when he was thirteen. He had spent a morning throwing match-box cars at the wall. At a loss, I said, “Tell me a story.”
He immediately sat up and told this story, as if it were from the top of his head.
I was able to take it down in shorthand.
“Once upon a time there was a mother goose who hatched out say 16 yeggs. They all hatched out except one which later cracked and out popped an ugly duckling. They all waddled to the pond for the mother to teach them to swim, all but the ugly duckling. He jumped in first and honked. When the mother and the ducklings went in the water they all had a swim and later on they all climbed on the mother’s back including the ugly duckling. The mother knocked him off, and he climbed on again. He jumped back on, only to land in the water again, and he was left in the pond all by himself. Amen.”
(How did the story end?) “He grew up to be a beautiful swan.”
And he did.
After he had told me this story in the 1960s, I began to keep track of how often children’s stories told ‘off the top of their heads’ might tell their future as well as their past. I was a child psychologist in hospitals and schools, mainly disadvantaged schools. Many of the stories told by disadvantaged and disturbed children were not reassuring. Significantly, those children had no adult that they believed cared for them, which our migrant boy, however tenuously, had had.
We are at present apologising for children who in the past, governments once misguidedly thought to give a new life in a new country, but for too many the odds were stacked against them. The deeds are done.
We should be apologising for the children today whose lives give them no reason for hope, whose families, environment and even the culture that gives them models, provide no emotional support. The first story such children often told me about their free drawings expect a fatal ending. The titles to the stories are mine.
by Sacco, 6
“Jump out the window.
Gonna walk to the window, climb out the window
and jump off the roof.
Cos get into the hoppital,
then he'll get needle.
He'll come out of hoppital and do it again.
Kill hisself again.
Jump out of the window.”
LOST IN SPACE
by Jack, 10
“A space ship out in outer space
they got lost in space
they land on a planet and the space ship gets wrecked
they have to build another one from the parts
they fix it up and they're gonna take off
they put the rockets on
and everyone's in there it'll blow up
and it'll kill them because it was the wrong fuel
and they went up to heaven
and they dies
and there was just skeletons lying around on the sand
underneath parts of the rocket.”
THE BIKIE'S END
by John, 13
“He's a bikie, and he's just been arrested by the police
for disturbing the peace and put in jail for two years.
And when he gets out
he does the same thing again
and it happens again.
And he tears down the police station and gets
and they don't see him again. (And what happens?)
Nothing happens. He goes to a hut out in the bush and
he kills the bloke that lives in there, cos it's
got all food and that in it,
and the police have been tracking him
and he gets caught and he gets hung.”
In 1981 I published an anthology of stories told by disadvantaged and disturbed children to try to draw attention to how their imaginations were building their future. It is now out of print, but a facsimile is online - WHAT HAPPENS TO CHILDREN: the origins of violence, stories told by disadvantaged children who could not write them.
I am now collating a larger collection of drawings and the stories about them, told to me by children. There are stories of hope as well as of despair. There is every range of feeling in responses to what we give them. I hope this book will encourage everyone to consider how we may ensure that future governments will see no need to apologise about what do or fail to do for these children too.