THE announcement of a $24 million provisional settlement to compensate child residents of Fairbridge Farm who were subjected to physical, sexual and emotional abuse brings to a conclusion an emotional six-year struggle in the courts in NSW.
Roop Sandhu, of Slater and Gordon said the apology by NSW Department of Family and Community Services representatives to a recent gathering of Fairbridge claimants in Sydney was an emotional and memorable experience as was yesterday’s announcement.
“Everyone was in tears because it was a truly heartfelt apology from deputy secretary Deidre Mulkerin on behalf of the NSW Department of Family and Community Services to the victims,” Mr Sandhu said.
He paid tribute to Geraldine Giles and Vivian Drady who acted as lead claimants on behalf of almost 150 other members of the class action.
“This has been a long battle,” Mr Sandhu said.
He said although the settlement is still to be confirmed in the Supreme Court in late August he remains confident.
“We wouldn’t have put it up if we didn’t think it was an appropriate deal,” he said.
Mr Sandhu said his firm is keen to contact anyone who was not part of the original class action who are now eligible to be included in the settlement.
“I understand completely that not everyone felt they were able to come forward and tell their story if they felt they had to do so in a court,” he said.
“We will be putting an ad in the Central Western Daily and in the Sydney papers asking people to contact us before July 24,” he said.
Head of the Old Fairbridgians’ Association Molong, Derek Moriarty said it wasn’t always easy for many people to remain optimistic about the positive outcome of the court case.
“In my role as head of the organisation of course that is what I had to do, but it was difficult at times as people were losing heart,” he said.
Mr Moriarty who has already given evidence at the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse said the timing this year for a settlement was right.
“Everyone is so conscious of the level of child abuse in institutions at the moment because of the Royal Commission and the timing was perfect,” he said.
Mr Moriarty said at times members of the association have sometimes expressed differing opinions about alleged abuse at Fairbridge.
“But you only have to look at the numbers of people who have already come forward to tell their stories,” he said.
Former child resident David Hill said it was wonderful news that justice is finally being delivered to the claimants in the class action.
“But what is really sad is that since the class action began eight people who wanted to tell their story have died,” Mr Hill said.
He said it was a disgrace that the Fairbridge Foundation, and the NSW and the commonwealth governments have dragged the case out for so long adding to the angst of claimants.
“Slater and Gordon are to be congratulated on taking on this case on a no win no fee basis as there is no way anyone would have had the resources to put this case forward,” he said.
* Hundreds of children, some as young as four, were sent from their homes in England to the Fairbridge Farm School in Molong between 1938 and 1974.
* Sending children to Australia as child migrants was seen as a way to alleviate the problems that existed with child poverty in Britain.
* As a working farm the children were required to carry out farm and domestic duties with some children forced to get up at 3am to milk the cows in the farm’s dairy.
* When child residents reached working age they were sent to work on farms and businesses in jobs organised by Fairbridge Farm.
* The school was closed down in 1974 and sold to an Orange businessman who lived on the property briefly and later on-sold it to a Sydney based owner.
* In 2000 the government of the United Kingdom issued a formal apology to the forgotten children who had been sent to Australia to live at Fairbridge Farm. The UK government also funded compassionate return visits .
* Former child resident and former chairman of the ABC David Hill progressed the case for justice for former child residents with the publishing of his book The Forgotten Children in 2007, giving an insight into the harsh life of children at the farm.
* In 2009 law firm Slater and Gordon agreed to take on the case of the claims by former Fairbridge students on a no win, no pay basis.
* The NSW government through the Department of Family and Community Services offered an apology to former Fairbridge residents last month at a private gathering in Sydney attended by former child residents.
* The provisional payout to former Fairbridge children is expected to be formalised in the Supreme Court in Sydney in August.