May 21, 2011
SHE ONLY had 30 seconds to get her message across to the Prime Minister of Britain, but former child migrant Sandra Anker was ready.
She was in London in February last year for the British government’s apology to the 7000 children shipped off to the colonies.
”I’ve got a favour to ask you,” the 67-year-old Melbourne grandmother told Gordon Brown as they shook hands. ”I want you to knight Margaret Humphreys!”
While Ms Humphreys has not been made a Dame for her work uncovering the deportation and abuse of children in state care, Ms Anker likes to think her pitch helped persuade the British Government to make the woman she regards as her saviour a Commander of the British Empire. ”I sent her a postcard when she was going to meet the Queen, saying: ‘Go get ’em, Margaret!”
And now Ms Humphrey’s three-decade crusade has been turned into a film, Oranges and Sunshine, which opens in Australia on June 9.
Seeing the film for the first time was ”shattering,” said Ms Anker. ”We know our lot, the child migrants, we’ve had to wear it. But when I saw how it all affected Margaret’s private life as well, my heart broke.”
When Ms Anker boarded a ship, aged five, she was told she was going to Africa to live with her cousins. Instead, she went to Melbourne, and was sent to Northcote Farm in Bacchus Marsh, where regular beatings soon made her deaf in one ear.
”I spent many years in the orphanage waiting for someone to come and fix the mistake and take me to my cousins,” she said.
Eight years ago, the Child Migrant Trust established by Ms Humphreys found Ms Anker’s brother in England. ”I got to meet him. How good was that?”
There is a scene in the film where Ms Humphreys, played by Emily Watson, tells Jack, played by Hugo Weaving, that his mother died a year ago.
This is based on the experience of Harold Haig, 73, the secretary of the International Association of Former Child Migrants and their Families. He was 10 when he was shipped to Australia, having been told his mother was dead.
”That’s how it happened,” Mr Haig said of the film. ”She had everything right and filled the room with flowers so I would feel as comfortable as possible to receive this terrible news I didn’t want to hear.”
Watching it all again at a screening in London last year was ”weird,” he said.
”I’d never watched a film where the story is partly been about me and my lovely sister and about Margaret so, yes, it was weird.
”It’s an understated film and I think that is its strength.”
When the film screens at federal Parliament on June 1, Mr Haig hopes it might persuade the Australian government to launch a judicial inquiry. The apology to the ”forgotten Australians” was important, he said, but not enough.
”If you don’t understand the history and fully understand the consequences, you can’t learn from it,” said Mr Haig.