Oranges and Sunshine tells the story of Margaret Humphreys, a social worker from Nottingham, who uncovered one of the most significant social scandals in recent times: the forced migration of children from the United Kingdom. Almost single-handedly, against overwhelming odds and with little regard for her own well-being, Margaret reunited thousands of families, brought authorities to account and worldwide attention to an extraordinary miscarriage of justice.
Margaret discovered a secret that the British government had kept hidden for years: one hundred and thirty thousand children in care had been sent abroad to commonwealth countries, mainly Australia. Children as young as four had been told that their parents were dead, and been sent to children’s homes on the other side of the world. Many were subjected to appalling abuse. They were promised oranges and sunshine, they got hard labour and life in institutions.
Margaret’s an unstoppable force of nature. But she’s also a working mother trying to do her best for her own family, while she struggles to repair the damage done to others. When a strange, angry Australian woman accosts her on a rainy Nottingham night, Margaret thinks she’s trying to help one lost daughter find her mother. Instead, her investigation leads to the discovery of thousands of other lost sons and daughters, who have no-one to help them, speak for them or defend them. Margaret becomes their only hope – the British and Australian governments show no interest in even acknowledging their existence.
No-one can know how they’ll respond to an almost impossible challenge. Margaret just picks it up. It takes her on a journey from a tower block in Nottingham to remote childrens’ homes in the Australian outback. It challenges her own professional practice as a social worker, tests her marriage and family to its limits, and leads to threats on her life.
On the way she meets thousands of adults still carrying the damage done to them as children. Some are impossible for her to turn away from, like gentle, enigmatic Jack; some are initially impossible for her to warm to, like brash, wealthy Len. Some of them are reunited with living parents, for some it is too late – their mothers are already dead. All of them, through Margaret’s work, become closer to her and each other than any family they’d had or lost.