Speaking to a crowd of 900 survivors of state care who had gathered in
Rudd apologised for his country's role in the migrations, which
continued until the 1960s.
He also apologised to the 500,000 "Forgotten Australians" who were
taken from their families and placed in care homes around the country.
"We come together today to offer our nation's apology. To say to you, the
Forgotten Australians, and those who were sent to our shores as children
without their consent, that we are sorry," Mr Rudd said.
"Sorry that as children you were taken from your families and placed in
institutions where so often you were abused. Sorry for the physical
suffering, the emotional starvation and the cold absence of love, of
tenderness, of care. Sorry for the tragedy – the absolute tragedy – of
Mr Rudd spoke specifically about the experiences of thousands of British
children taken from their families and sent to Australia.
"We acknowledge in particular the children shipped to Australia as child
migrants, robbed of your families, robbed of your homelands, regarded, not
as innocent children, but sources of child labour," he said.
"To those who were told they were orphans but were taken here without
their parents consent, we acknowledge the lies you were told, the lies told
to your mothers and fathers and the pain the lies caused for a life time.
"To those of you separated on the dockside from your brothers and
sisters, taken alone and unprotected to the most remote parts of a foreign
land, we acknowledge today that the laws of our nation failed you.
"And for this we are deeply sorry."
Some in the audience wept openly as Mr Rudd shared painful stories of children
he'd spoken with — children who were beaten with belt buckles and bamboo,
raped and who grew up in places they called "utterly loveless."
He said he hoped the national apology would help to "heal the pain"
and be a turning point in Australian history.
The apology was welcomed by victims of the system, despite ongoing calls for
It came two days after Gordon Brown said he would issue an apology to all
child migrants deported from Britain early next year.
Child migrants to Australia have told of terrible physical, psychological and
sexual abuse at the hands of those who were supposed to be caring for them.
The average age of child migrants to Australia was eight, but some children
were sent away as young as two.
In the 1990s one man told a British parliamentary committee of the criminal
abuse he was subjected at the hands of Catholic priests at Tardun in Western
A number of Christian brothers competed between themselves to see who could
rape him 100 times first, he said.
Because the men liked his blue eyes, he would beat himself in an attempt to
make them change colour.
Other children have told of having to eat flies to survive and of being forced
to beat other children. When they told adults about the abuse, they were not
Sandra Anker was sent to Australia in 1950 aged just six years old - or "exiled",
as she described it.
"I spent years waiting for someone to realise they had made a mistake and
to come and collect me," she told the BBC. "I was at a loose end
for a very long time."
"It took years and years of misery of not knowing where we'd come from,
who were, being denied our birthright of being British.
"It's really been horrendous. And I wouldn't wish it on anyone... We need
to be welcomed back to our homeland."
Many of the children sent to Australia - predominantly from impoverished
British families - were told their parents were dead, and that a better life
awaited them in Australia. Their parents were given very little information
about where the children were going, many didn't know they had left the
country. On arrival in Australia, the young migrants were separated from
their brothers and sisters and plunged into a life of hardship and
Now adults, many suffer from health problems as a result of their time in
In total 150,000 British children may have been shipped abroad between 1618 –
when a group was sent to the Virginia Colony – and 1967, most of them from
the late 19th century onwards.
A 2001 Australian report said that between 6,000 and 30,000 children from
Britain and Malta, often taken from unmarried mothers or impoverished
families, were sent alone to Australia as migrants during the 20th century.