Torment Of The Forgotten Migrants

FOR thousands of people leaving the gloomy shores of Britain in the early 1950s, the golden beaches and virgin plains of Australia provided hope for a happier and more fruitful life. But sadly, for more than 10,000 vulnerable young children plucked from o

FOR thousands of people leaving the gloomy shores of Britain in the early 1950s, the golden beaches and virgin plains of Australia provided hope for a happier and more fruitful life.

But sadly, for more than 10,000 vulnerable young children plucked from orphanages and convents around the country a programme of forced migration down-under proved a painful and miserable experience that left countless young souls bruised, battered and scarred forever.

Dozens of those who emerged to tell their tale of misery and despair in Australia's convents are now campaigning for compensation from the Australian government and Mepal resident Monica Crane, is among those desperate to bring an end to a dark chapter in her life.

Now, some 48 years on, Mrs Crane has joined with a group of campaigners as a part of The Network, an organisation established to provide support and guidance for those who fell victim to ill treatment at convents across the country.

After years of campaigning the group has finally having its suffering recognised by the Australian Government which has offered to pay compensation to the victims.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, has also offered a formal apology to the 10,000 children, most of whom were taken from orphanages or from single mothers, for the abuse they suffered while officially in state care.

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Though Mrs Crane is pleased that the compensation will help her start to draw a line under a dark chapter in her life, she has been left with lasting health implications and maintains that the horrors of her time in Australia will remain with her indefinitely.

"All of my life I have been bursting with rage about the treatment I received, the punishments I did not deserve and the injustice that was pushed my way. The hatred I carry has never subsided, is no less painful and it will always eat away at me."

Mrs Crane, nee Blendell, was just nine years-of-age when she was ushered into an assembly at her convent in Hammersmith, London, and asked if she would like to go on a trip to Australia.

It was January in 1953 and Mrs Crane, along with dozens of other youngsters, hardly had time to realise what was meant by 'trip' before she was whisked away for catholic confirmation and packed aboard a Southampton ship bound for the other side of the world.

"I remember being taken to Westminster Cathedral along with hundreds of other children to be confirmed before I was told to pack my things for a trip to Australia, recalls Mrs Crane,

"We were told that all our parents had been made aware of what was happening and that we would be leaving for a trip to Western Australia."

In fact Mrs Crane's mother had not been made aware that her daughter was being shipped oversees and a month after first being told of her trip, the nine-year-old arrived at Nazareth House Convent in Geraldton, north of Perth.

Despite everything having happened so quickly, Mrs Crane remained unfazed by the experience until she and her friends were introduced to the nuns of their new convent, "To a degree we were excited by our new surroundings, recalls Mrs Crane, "It was all new and strange and we joked around to relieve the anxiety - that was my first taste of the strap.

"Hit across the legs and back, I slept that first night stunned and with sizzling welts on my body."

"The nuns there were some of the cruellest people I have known in my 66 years and one sister in particular vowed that she would do everything she could to ruin my life. I was only nine.

"The whole object for the nuns was to break our spirit, they hated the English kids and would do whatever they could to hurt and belittle us. I used to be locked in a red bathroom with nowhere to sit and I would have to wait for hours before being either let out or beaten until I would curl up."

Hundreds of British youngsters, many of them orphaned or disinherited by families, had been taken to help populate the fledging nation, but instead of being prepared for the world of work, they were subjected to years of violent beatings and tyrannical dictates with no hope of escape and nobody to come to their aid.

"I was never content to just take my punishment and I quickly became known among the nuns as the 'devil incarnate', Mrs Crane remembers,

"We had to get up at 5.30am every day and we were made to work until 5.15pm. I remember the only pair of shoes I had while at Geraldton, they were the same size pair for three years and I was beaten for them eventually wearing out.

"I can remember travelling for miles in the back of a cattle truck and enduring the miles of heat, sweat a vomit and the relief when the truck finally stopped, only to find that we were herded out slaps and abuse before being made to clear the track of vomit and urine."

During almost seven years at the convent, Mrs Crane witnesses horrendous cruelty and herself was a regular victim. She remembers though, that the experience for some of the boys in a neighbouring institutions was often much worse.

"I was taken to an infirmary one day after picking up an injury and I remember an incredibly strong smell coming from the floor below, she remembers.

"I headed downstairs to see what it was and it turned out that the smell was coming from the wounds of a young man whose appendix had burst days before but was beaten by brothers at his school when he asked for help.'"

"I can also remember terrible injuries suffered by young children working in the industrial laundries we had at the convent. I can remember one girl lost her arm."

After enduring years of tyranny at the hands of the nuns, Mrs Crane was finally able to leave her schooling at the convent aged 14 to start a job as a carer for sick and dying men, often being forced to lay out the bodies of those who had died. Even outside of the convent though, she was never clear of the influence of the sisters, who hampered her bid to train as a doctor.

In 1961, aged 18, Mrs Crane finally returned to England after eight years in Australia.