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Memorial to the Migrant Children

Artists Concept

Australia 1938:

"At a time when empty cradles are contributing woefully to empty spaces, it is necessary to look for external sources of supply. And if we do not supply from our own stock we are leaving ourselves all the more exposed to the menace of the teeming millions of our neighbouring Asiatic races."

His Grace the Archbishop of Perth, welcoming British child migrants shipped to Australia, August 1938

The ethos of our sculptural concept is to express the ‘circumstance’ of these so-called ‘migrant children’ ( a term which somehow seems to suggest volition, whereas ‘captured child slave’ would be more accurate), who were shipped from their homeland in their thousands to land on this very spot in the Port of Fremantle where the sculpture is to stand.

Some as young as 3 years old; most between six and eleven, which is the ages the sculpture is based on. These were removed from their homes, and sent throughout the Commonwealth, mostly without the knowledge of their parents, whom they were never to see again.

This ‘export commodity’ was justified on the basis that British Colonies should be populated with white Anglo-Saxon and Celtic stock in order to propagate the genes of the ‘elite race’, in the conquered lands of the Empire.

For some few, it was a tolerable experience which they managed to survive; for others it was truly horrendous- a life of pain, suffering and abuse. For ALL however, it was an experience of loneliness and abandonment and the beginning of an unnatural institutionalized life, for these children who were de facto orphans. They were cut off from their mothers and families and thrown into an alien environment and without power of volition swept along like leaves in a storm to faraway corners of the Globe, forever hidden from broken hearted parents.

It is this sense of loneliness and bewilderment that we set out to capture and express through the sculpting of these two small figures. Their faces tell of this moment of landing on the Dock at Fremantle, fittingly ‘framed’ against a backdrop of ships, much like the scene when they arrived on the transport ships long ago. They stand alone, frozen in this moment in time, as they find their feet on the hard surface of the Wharf, after many weeks at sea. They gaze at an environment alien and strange with no familiar face in sight, no mother, father, auntie or ‘gran’ .

Their bodies are small against the suitcases, deliberately big in scale to overwhelm their occupancy of this space. They at least have each other and the brother shelters his young sister,( most likely about to be separated,) while hesitating to move forward- afraid of what’s next- yet at the same time, we endeavor to capture another expression with the many that must have been flitting across their faces: that is one of anticipation and wonder, as being only children, life would be full of expectancies, excitement- soon to be so cruelly crushed for the propaganda which helped to bring them here, was redolent of ‘sunshine and oranges’ and the promise of a special life to come in this ‘magical’ place.

Sadly, we know as we look back over time, that this was not so- and for most it would indeed ‘end in tears’…tears which course down their cheeks to this day, as could be seen so clearly on the faces of the many who attended the opening ceremony of our little memorial…and still feel the pain.

Many will go to their graves wondering who they are, why they came here and finally, who sent them?

Joan Walsh-Smith & Charles Smith









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