British migrants reunited in Sydney

Former British child migrants Michael Tubbs, 75, (left) and Mick Snell, 74, reunited in Sydney after once sharing the same British orphanage.

Some wiped away tears, a wife clutched her ailing husband’s hand, a pensioner adjusted his hearing aid to ensure he caught every word – but if there was one point they were all agreed on as they listened to Gordon Brown’s historic apology it was simply: ‘About time.’

They came from around New South Wales to gather in Sydney and hear the Prime Minister’s recorded speech in which he expressed his sorrow that Britain had let down thousands of young children by packing them off to Australia between the 1920s and the 1960s as part of the Child Migrants Programme.
‘We are truly sorry,’ said Mr Brown, his words echoing around the elderly group of 30 or so who had gathered in Sydney. ‘We are sorry they were allowed to be sent away at the time when they were most vulnerable…sorry the country turned its back.’
Many of those who spent the six weeks voyage to the other side of the world ended up in institutions where they were physically and sexually abused. They were times that those who suffered in this way have tried hard to forget, but like a recurring nightmare they admit the horrors will remain with them for the rest of their years.
Ask Ron Grant, 73 now, what it was like in the Sydney institution he found himself in and he shakes his head. ‘No more – I can’t talk about it any more. I will only say that it wasn’t good. The worst part was that I felt completely alone, abandoned.’
Alone…abandoned…they were words on everyone’s lips today/yesterday (Thurs), more than the memories of any beatings or sexual abuse they might have endured at the hands of adult strangers.
After he made a life for himself in Australia and raised a family, Ron Grant still found it difficult to cuddle his children. He told an Australian senate committee inquiring earlier into the child migrant scheme that when he was reunited with his long-lost sister she asked him: ‘Ron, hold me properly.’
He replied: ‘I don’t know how’. He added: ‘To my sister – it hurts to this day.’
Mr Grant arrived in Australia when he was 13 but, he recalled, nobody ever sat him down and asked him how he was feeling. He could count on his fingers the number of people, including his wife, who had thought to put their arms around him.
Mick Snell, 74, was 14 when he arrived in Australia. His mother died of TB when he was young and he had been placed in an orphanage in Gloucestershire before he was eventually shipped off to Australia. He never knew anything of his father.
Memories of the children’s home in Sydney still haunt him. ‘The place was over-run with rats and I had to work from dawn to darkness for six days a week. The loneliness was the worst part – I didn’t have anyone I could turn to.’
Paedophiles lurked among the adults who had charge of the youngsters but none of the children wanted to talk about it at the time – just as they don’t wish to today, said Mr Snell.
Eric Leonard, 83, admits that the first eight years of his life are ‘blanked out’ because he had no family to make any impression on him. ‘I think my mother was 15, which was why I ended up with foster parents and later Dr Barnardos homes were sending people out to Australia, the boys to become farmers, the girls as domestic servants.’
Mr Leonard arrived in Australia in December 1937 and found himself under a tough superintendent at a farm training institute but he admits that the severe days did him no harm and served him in good stead for work that he found later on sheep and cattle stations before he eventually joined the police force.
Alf Jones, 72, was born in London, but his true identity did not emerge until many years later when an official in Australia showed him his birth certificate. ‘That’s not me,’ he recalls saying, ‘that’s not my name – I’m Alf Jones.’
He remains convinced that his name and that of other boys were changed when they were youngsters so that they would not, in time, be able to trace their families and learn the truth – that they were not orphans and that they had brothers and sisters.
Taken away from his family when he was four and told that he had no parents, Mr Jones was placed in a boys home in the UK before being shipped to another home in Melbourne. ‘We were known as the waifs and strays,’ he remembers, but he knows now that he and the thousands of others like him were sent across the world to beef up the white population.
He was a teenager when he first saw the home he was to be placed in – and ran away on the first day. ‘I didn’t know where I was going – I just didn’t want to be institutionalised again – but the police caught up with me. My punishment was to be locked in a small tin building for a couple of days. There was a bed, a toilet and the temperature was 100 degrees.’
At the Sydney gathering, the migrants and their spouses were unanimous in agreeing that Mr Brown’s gesture in setting up a fund to help former child migrants trace their families was a step in the right direction.
‘For some, it’s come too late,’ says Mick Snell. ‘But it might also help to bring happiness to those who have spent a lifetime feeling as though they had no beginning.’
* SEE Daily Mail version of my story (above) at this link

Every time I step out of my door in Sydney these days it seems there’s ‘something going on’ within walking distance – the ‘Under the Blue Moon Festival’, a mobile dance party moving to the beat through the back streets of Newtown and now I present, in all its flair and colour, the Mardi Gras Fair.

Being straight, I felt woefully out of place as I wandered around with my camera, but they were all very kind to me and let me take my pictures. Many people brought their dogs, so I thought two of three of them deserved pride of place in my photo gallery.

So, without further ado, as the pictures speak for themselves, have a look at the gallery and do what many people told me to do…enjoy!

Hound Dawg Having a Gay Old Time at the Mardi Gras Fair

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Tiger Uses the Media to Make his Apology

What, how can this be? Wasn’t the media responsible for the world’s greatest golfer tumbling from his pedestal? Wasn’t the media responsible for the rift in his marriage? Why shouldn’t he and his mother blame the media for the pickle he got into?
He was famous, he was the epitome of the good family man, adored by his wife and millions of fans. And those bad, bad journalists had brought it all crashing down.
But wait, how could the media, in revealing the dark side of his life, have ‘saved’ Tiger?
For the simple reason that if his infidelity had not been exposed there is every reason to believe that his affairs with escorts, porn stars, and all the other women who are on and off the lust list, would be continuing today.
His wife, meanwhile, would have continued going about her daily life believing that her husband was behaving like the fine family man who posed with her and their children in smiling family portraits. His fans, young kids among them, would be standing along the world’s fairways admiring their hero, a man to be looked up to, someone that the younger generation could hope to grow up like.
While there is no suggestion that the women with whom he has had affairs had any evil intentions other than getting laid and, perhaps hoping that he would walk away from his marriage and end up with him as a lifetime partner, there is no way of knowing what his fate would have been had his indiscretions not been exposed by the media. How could he, or his  minders, be sure that any woman he bedded in the future was not a front, targeting him for blackmail?  Spy cameras are very sophisticated these days and there are numerous ways of setting them up once it is known where the rendezvous is to take  place.
Very serious blackmail is only one of the dangers that lay ahead on the path of infidelity that Tiger was walking along. Dare we imagine a jealous boyfriend seeking revenge on a billionaire who has showered his woman with gifts and promises while he, the boyfriend, has been found wanting? There are nutters out there, whose jealousy knows no bounds.
Fortunately for Tiger, as far as we know, he has not been blackmailed. He has not been attacked. But if the media had not put a stop to his secret liaisons with a string of women from the dubious side of life who knows what terrible fate lay in wait for him.
No, neither Tiger nor his mother should blame the media. He was happy enough with the publicity during the good times, for without the media his sponsors would not have received the international exposure they have enjoyed. He cannot expect newspapers, magazines, tv, to lay off when he’s misbehaving.
And of course when it came to making his apology, which he wanted the world to hear, who did he turn to? Did somebody say ‘the media’?
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Christopher Roberts in the Papua New Guinea Jungle

Chris Roberts, with Jack Lemmon's double bass, playing to Papua New Guinea tribespeople (in their Western bras!) (Copyright Richard Shears)

This is a sneak preview of some of the amazing stories that will be appearing in my forthcoming book about the life and times of a foreign correspondent.

The picture, taken in 1982, is of musician Christopher Roberts who trudged through the jungles of Papua New Guinea playing Bach recitals to remote tribes. Well, fairly remote that is, because the missionaries had got to them first and given all the ladies brassieres to wear, which they insisted on wearing for the photos I took.
But that double bass Christopher is playing has a fascinating history. For it featured in the 1959 comedy Some Like it Hot, starring Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe. In the movie, Jack is seen running from The Mob, who unleash a hail of machine gun bullets at him. They hit the double bass he is carrying on his back…
Years later, Christopher saw the double bass in a music shop in Los Angeles, complete with the bullet holes – actually the work of a Hollywood carpenter – and bought the instrument for $100. Then he took it off to the jungles of Papua New Guinea and in exchange for his music the tribes gave him some of theirs, playing on their drums and singing.
If you look carefully you can see the ‘bullet holes’ under his left hand, although he has filled them in with putty! There is so much more to this extraordinary story, particularly as Christopher is now a famous musician and composer. As for what happened to the double bass since this picture was taken – well, all will be revealed…..