Oranges and Sunshine was our non fiction read this month and one which contributed to a very lengthy discussion. Margaret Humphries and the story of the migrants where something that most of us were aware of but didn’t know the full story of what actually happened. Although one member didn’t think the book was particularly well written, most of us thought the story moving but did wonder if the balance of stories was a true reflection of what actually happened and how did Margaret choose which stories were involved?
The discussions fell into two categories. Firstly Margaret. Did the death of her parents spur her to reunite families? Was it the guilt of having a ‘normal’ upbringing that drove her on? We discussed that her drive bordered on the lines of obsession and at what cost to her family? One member in particular paraphrased the fact that when her son was asked to contribute to a raffle, said quite honestly that he had already gave them his Mother.
It was also the emotional effect on Margaret that we discussed but the nature of the role she was in, meant that she couldn’t stop – the immigrants didn’t have anyone else to fight for them.
Next the immigrants. Firstly the suggestion that the government had not ‘impact assessed’ the situation and felt that it just served to get rid of the cost, by sending the children away. Did they know that they were mostly sending the children into slavery? Certainly they can’t hide the fact that records were falsified in order for the children not to trace their family and mostly told that they had no family. Files were destroyed and the importing of children became a deliberate social policy to increase population.
For most of the immigrants, they were treated as second class citizens and for those that managed to achieve success in their life, there was still a sense of need to find any relatives. Quite recently former child migrants sent to Fairbridge, Australia received $24 million Australian dollars compensation for the treatment they received and considering their first treatment of Margaret was harsh, after the appearance of the photos at the reunion, they began to realise why Margaret was there.
All in all, we found this an incredibly moving story, that needs to be remembered as part of our social history if only to not make the same mistake.