AT the same time the British Government is publicly apologising for the treatment of former child migrants, including children sent to Fairbridge Farm School,one of its former residents Ronnie Sabin is preparing to launch his book saying the institution helped him make a success of his life.
Mr Sabin, who now lives in New Zealand, will return to Orange early next month to launch his book The Long Way Home which is about to roll off the presses.
Mr Sabin said his memoirs were a tribute to Fairbridge Farm at Molong and to the former principal Frederick Woods and his wife.
“They are not here to defend themselves and as far as I am concerned they were strict, as all parents were at the time but they were fair,” he said.
“People talk about us kids at the farm and corporal punishment but when we went to school at Molong, all the kids got the cane - Molong kids and Fairbridge kids.”.
Mr Sabin said even after he left Fairbridge he had to return several times before he could cut ties with the institution.
“I just kept getting homesick,” he said.
“I can remember one time when I was in Orange I got really sick with the flu and so I called Mrs Woods.
“She came in to Orange and got me and took me back out to their house where they nursed me for four or five days until I was better.”
Mr Sabin and his two brothers came out from England to Fairbridge Farm at Molong in 1950.
“We were living in the absolute slums in Newcastle and were street kids. We’d pinch anything that wasn’t nailed down,” he said.
Mr Sabin said he couldn’t understand the reports he’d read of Mr Woods shaking with anger as he terrorised children at Fairbridge.
“I can remember once I got angry and threw a penny at him and it hit him in the forehead and it started to bleed,” he said.
“We had a pocket money system and if you misbehaved you were docked. I’d been a handful and had been docked everything except a penny which Mr Woods gave me when I lined up with the other kids.
“So I threw it back at him. He just took out his hanky, calmly wiped his forehead and told me I’d been docked my last penny.”
Mr Sabin said he maintained a friendship with the Woods beyond his years at Fairbridge. In a conversation before he died Mr Woods told him his only regret about Fairbridge was that he wasn’t able to do personal checks on housemothers who were employed away from Fairbridge and then sent to the farm.
Mr Sabin said he wanted to have his story told because he believes many of the former Fairbridge residents feel the same way as him - that life was tough but fair on the farm and it gave them a start in life.
“When you look at the figures there are 5000 children who were at Fairbridge when Mr Woods was principal and now there are a few hundred who are speaking out,” he said.
“It’s left me wondering why they have come forward now and have left it for so long.
Mr Sabin’s story The Long Way Home draws on the personal writings and family photographs of Mr Woods.