By Margaret Humphries.
ISBN 0 385 40452 2
Margaret Humphries’ book, Empty Cradles, is a cry of outrage at
the wanton cruelty of sending children thousands of miles from
their homeland, but even more at the inhumanity of denying them
knowledge, in many cases, of their parentage, siblings and
relations, of depriving them of any sense of belonging except to
the institution which sent them overseas. Overseas in this case
relates mainly to Western Australia.
The book can be read at several levels. It is Margaret
Humphries’ own story of the seven years since her appalled
discovery of the plight of the first of the many thousands of
children sent to Australia from the 1920s until 1968. The Child
Migrant Trust has helped find their missing relations.
She describes er own pain, and indeed trauma, at what she went
through in her efforts to help the children, who are now adults, to
uncover past family relationships.
The stories of the former children, their yearning to be
reunited with their families, particularly their mothers, whom they
often did not know existed, are told almost as a detective story,
except for the pain and anguish just under the surface which leave
an indelible impression of suffering and heroism.
Calling child emigration a shameful secret and implying that the
author, alone and unaided, has brought it to public attention is
wide of the mark. Joy Parr’s book, Lab ouring Children was the
first to chronicle the story of Canadian child migration, and it
was owing to the pressure of social workers in Canada that it was
My own researches, while writing Children of the Empire,
revealed that it was the New Zealand cabinet that refused to accept
unaccompanied children. Other agencies, including Barnardos’, have
been actively helping to rebuild broken relationships. I was
unaware of the scale and size of the recent emigration to Western
Aust ralia and I salute Margaret Humphries for her work.
Gillian Wagner is author of Children of the Empire and