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Oranges and Sunshine

September 14, 2015

OASJim Loach Son of fellow director Ken Loach studied Philosophy at University College, London.

Emily Watson plays Margaret Humphreys, a Nottingham social worker who made it her mission in the 1980s to investigate the postwar scandal of child deportation. Children in care were literally transported – like criminals from a bygone age – to Australia, there to be kept in children’s homes. Many were (falsely) told their parents were dead and often brutally abused in places similar to Ireland’s Magdalene laundries, particularly in a place called Bindoon, run by the Christian Brothers in the remote bush south of Perth. In the burning sun, Bindoon looks like something akin to Castle Dracula. Loach’s film shows how Humphreys’s controversial intervention triggered something like the retrieval of a repressed collective memory.

The film’s dark subject matter overshadows all, and its disturbing revelations require no dramatisation. As the psychological damage caused to a whole generation of “stolen” children becomes clear, it is difficult to comprehend the sheer immensity of the systematic betrayal of trust suffered by a staggering number of British families, and perpetrated by those in authority who should have known better.

Whilst the children who were torn away from their mothers may not have been marshalled roughly onto rail wagons, on a one way trip to oblivion, a very clear parallel can be drawn between the ghastly regime in Nazi Germany, and the ghastly regimes that allowed this despicable scheme to continue, and which do not appear, from the facts as depicted in this film, to have been brought to account.

The parallel is that when good men and women fall silent, and no-one challenges the systemic abuse of power by those in authority, then the arrogant, the incompetent, the weak-willed, the lazy and, indeed, the downright evil, triumph.

Orphan: All day, in blazing heat, no rest, no water. I was nine years old, and I was lifting rocks the size of my upper body. And he’s yelling at us, “you weak, weak pitiful sons of whores”. We built Stations of the Cross, but who was crucified, huh? Tell me that.

[last lines] CM: To all those former child migrants and families. To those here with us today, and those across the world, to each and every one. I say today we are truly sorry. We are sorry that instead of caring for them, this country turned its back. We are sorry that the voices of these children were not always heard. Their cries for help not always heeded. And we are sorry that it has taken so long for this important day to come, and for the full and unconditional apology that is justly deserved. We cannot change history, but I believe that by confronting the failings of the past, we can show we are determined to do all we can to heal the wounds.

Bureaucrat: You say you’re speaking as a mother. But please, take consolation your own family wasn’t meddling with all this. I mean, how could you possibly understand the real circumstances of these unfortunate children. They were living in slums. They were children of truants and degenerates.

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