Content warning: The following account of lived experience contains references to trauma and abuse which some may find confronting or distressing. We encourage self-care and discretion when engaging with these materials.
Bob was born in Manchester in England in 1939. Now, 80 years later, Bob and his wife Carol attend regular meetings with Lotus Place in Cairns.
Bob was only 10 years old when he taken from an orphanage in Salford, England and was sent by ship to Australia as part of the child migration scheme. He wasn’t an orphan as his mother was still alive. The ship docked in Fremantle in Western Australia. From there Bob and the other boys on that trip were sent to Boys Town at Bindoon, a notorious facility run by the Christian Brothers. Bob was there for over six years and was subjected to emotional and physical abuse.
“There is just nothing but horror stories out of Bindoon,” Bob says.
He left Bindoon when he turned 16 and worked at a variety of jobs including as a farmhand in the wheat belt in WA and in a vineyard.
Bob joined Western Australia’s National Parks Service and began his life’s work as a ranger in the remote parks of WA.
But he continued to search for his family back in the UK and made a number of trips starting from when he was 23 to try and track down where he came from. He was keen to reconnect with any remaining family members but unfortunately didn’t have much luck.
After Bob retired he moved to Far North Queensland and in 2014 he began attending meetings in Cairns organised by Lotus Place NQ which is based in Townsville. Lotus Place NQ is run by Micah Projects and is a dedicated resource centre for people who have experienced institutional abuse.
“We come together to share our stories,” Bob says of the regular Lotus Place NQ meetings. “For sure there has been tears and anger but we come together and we embrace.
You know I spent 76 years without knowing who I was...If Lotus Place was working back then we would be miles ahead of where we are today.
In 2011 Bob wrote a book Who Am I? which outlines his story of being a Former Child Migrant. At a Lotus Place NQ meeting in Cairns Bob met members of the DNA Interest Group. After a few weeks of considering the genetic testing option, Bob decided to give it a go. A couple of months later, his DNA had been processed and was added to large databases to be compared with more than two million other testers.
Louise and Heather from the Cairns and District Family History Society searched the family trees of all Bob’s closest matches and were thrilled when a match was found.
After a life-long search, Bob still can’t believe that he finally knows the real identity of his mother, his birth circumstances, and that he has finally met some blood relatives. Bob says his new family have all been “so amazing since he first contacted them… extremely receptive, caring and very thoughtful”.
During a visit to London, Bob finally achieved his lifelong wish, which has been to find his mother’s grave. Bob now knows who his mother was, where she is resting, and he has spent time visiting, laying flowers and tending her grave.
Bob says it is crucial that support groups such as Lotus Place NQ exist to take an interest in the ‘forgotten children’.