Sunday, April 8, 2012

Oranges and Sunshine

150,000 children.  Shipped from the United Kingdom to Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Rhodesia.  The children were from various orphanages in the UK and their parents were told that their children had been adopted by families in the UK.  Meanwhile the children were told that their parents were dead, or didn't want them.  The practice took place from the late 19th century through 1970.  Oranges and Sunshine centres on the children who migrated to Australia, excited by promises of 'oranges and sunshine', only to live desperate lives of privation, hard work and abuse in orphanages there.

The story unfolds through the life of Margaret Humphreys, a social worker in Nottingham.  In the late 80s, a daughter of one of the migrant children approaches Humphreys to request help in tracking her family history.  At first Humphreys discounts the authenticity of this woman's story, but coincidentally hears of another such instance.  Slowly Humphreys is drawn into an investigation and unravels the story of the horrific mass migrations - migrations which incredibly continued through to 1970, but were cloaked in secrecy until Humphreys' detective work. 

Humphreys doggedly tracks the story, through searches into old records and interviews in Australia.  She receives initial support from her local council to undertake the quest, and manages to reunite families long separated by the deceit of the operation.  

Humphreys' persistance and passion drained her own health and exposes her vilification and death threats, but eventually moved mountains in shedding light on the disgusting practice.  Ultimately, Humphreys founds the Child Migrants Trust, whose mission is to reunite families separated by this practice.  The trust has reunited over 1,000 such families.   Both the British and Australian prime ministers have made official apologies for what happened and the Australian government offers financial compensation for the families of the victims. 

The Child Migrant Trust website cites the reason for the migrations as the desire by the British to populate the dominions with good British stock.  There's a quote on the site by the Archbishop of Perth which reads
"At a time when empty cradles are contributing woefully to empty spaces, it is necessary to look for external sources of supply.  And if we do not supply from our own stock we are leaving ourselves all the more exposed to the menace of the teeming millions of our neighbouring Asiatic races."

Wikipedia suggests that economics might have also played a part in the migrations, because it was much cheaper to look after children in orphanages in the colonies than in Britain. Children sent to Canada tended to end up on farms, where they provided free labour, but the movie understandably narrows the focus of the movie to one country and a zeroes in on particular individual stories.

This is a very good movie.  Emily Watson is fabulous in the starring role, drawing us into her quest, and making us share her pain as she uncovers the truth.

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