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Former child migrants bring class action against Fairbridge

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Media Release

Published on

Former child migrants have commenced a class action against the Fairbridge Foundation, the State of NSW and the Commonwealth of Australia in the Supreme Court of NSW, seeking  redress for their suffering at the notorious Fairbridge Farm School at Molong in the central west of NSW.

The action, being conducted by national law firm Slater and Gordon, is the first class action against the local arm of the Fairbridge Foundation and is believed to be the first class action against an Australian government connected with the practice of child migration.

The former Molong residents are claiming the Foundation and the two governments allowed a system of institutional abuse to develop and persist at the Molong Farm School over many decades.

It is alleged in the class action that many children suffered terrible physical and sexual abuse at the hands of the staff at the residency and have suffered lifelong psychiatric and physical harm as a result.

More than 65 former residents are already supporting the class action .

Slater and Gordon lawyer, Mr Ken Fowlie, said the class action was a last resort after the foundation and both governments refused to entertain any kind of redress scheme for victims.

“It is very disappointing former residents of the Molong Farm, who have already endured so much, now have to go through a long and difficult legal fight to win justice,” Mr Fowlie said.

“Despite recent Senate inquiries recommending the creation of an out-of-court scheme to compensate victims, our clients have been left with no choice but to go to court to seek justice.

“The time has come for the Fairbridge Foundation and the state and federal governments, which all played critical roles in this misguided programme, to recognise the suffering these people went through and still endure, and to do the right thing. 

‘’We are calling on the Fairbridge Foundation, the State of NSW and the Commonwealth to engage with us, to resolve these tragic cases and to allow our clients to move on with their lives.”

For much of the 1900s the British-based Fairbridge Foundation sent children from the United Kingdom to Australia, Canada and Rhodesia for resettlement, mostly without their parents.

Between 1938 and 1974, hundreds of children, some as young as four, were sent from England to the Fairbridge Farm School in Molong.

Customarily, the children became guardians of the Commonwealth and then the State and often never saw their parents again.

The class action covers all residents at the Molong Fairbridge Farm School for any period between 1938 and 1974 who were physically or sexually assaulted and who have suffered harm as a result including post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety or some other form of psychiatric or physical consequence.

Media Background

  • Former child residents of the Fairbridge Farm School in Molong have commenced a class action in connection with a number of allegations relating to their treatment at the farm between 1938 and 1974.   
  • The Immigration (Guardianship of Children) Act 1946 placed legal guardianship for the children with the Federal Minister for Immigration who in turn transferred custodial responsibility to the State of NSW Child Welfare Department.
  • It is alleged in the class action that both Governments had a duty of care to the children.
  • Class action members make the following complaints:
    • Assaults, including sexual assaults by members of staff;
    • Sexual assaults by persons to whose care the children were entrusted;
    • Poor quality of education leaving many illiterate; and
    • General humiliation and lack of caring.
  • It is alleged that insufficient action was taken to ensure the safety of the children.
  • Attempts have been made over the past four years to resolve the case and to create an appropriate out-of-court compensation scheme.