For avid readers milestones in our lives can be mapped by what book we read. In primary school I stepped through the wardrobe in the spare room into Narnia; in high school I went around the world in the Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants and throughout university, well I honestly didn’t read a lot of fiction, captivated by the knowledge contained in the depth of online journal databases. Over the past few weeks my spare time has been occupied with the experiences of Margaret Humphries – a seemingly humble social worker from Nottingham who was simply doing her job when she unravelled one of Britain’s greatest shames – The Child Migration Scheme.
It started when she received a letter seeking assistance in tracking down lost family connections. The letter came from Australia, telling a harrowing story of forced migration to foreign country and a desperate plea for help reconnecting with family. The Child Migration Scheme saw the illegal displacement of orphans in Britain to locations around the globe, including Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Starting in the 1930s and continuing up to as late as the 1970s, some 500,000 children (some as young as three) were transported to institutions run by various charities (such as Barnardos Foundation), the Church of England and Catholic Church.
Oranges and Sunshine provides an unsettling insight into Humphries’ journey to reconnect the ever-growing number of individuals with their family history. Focusing on the early days of her research that led to the founding of the Child Migrant’s Trust, the book is well considered and an ease to read, although alarming content. Overcoming financial limitations and the withholding of resources by institutions, Humphries translates as a tenacious woman, determined to carry out her line of work. By incorporating her own experiences travelling between England, Perth, Melbourne and Orange; the heartbreaking stories of child migrants is told with aid from references to official documents and archival material. Humphries exposes the shocking stories of child labour, poor living conditions and sexual abuse that had lifelong repercussions.
First published in 1994 as Empty Cradles, Oranges and Sunshine was reprinted in 2011 to coincide with the release of the critically acclaimed Australian film of the same name. Readers who enjoy history, true stories and a gripping read should pick this book up (or download it – whichever you prefer). From cover to cover, readers will be emotionally invested in Margaret’s journey to reunite families.
Resources for further information:
The Child Migrant’s Trust
BBC History of Child Migrants
BBC: Child Migrants;
BBC Archives: Child Migrant media reports
ABC Lateline Report