Empty promises, empty cradles

Sorry for the bit of dead-air of late, it’s been a flat out couple of weeks. I’ve filled out about a billion forms for the kids, been trained at work to within an inch of my life, and been scanned and squished and prodded by sonographers.

But today I’ve a bit of a chance to catch my breath, settle in at home and reflect a little on the film I saw on Sunday.

As it happens, it’s taken me a few days to get my head around Oranges and SunshineBased on the book of the same name (it was previously called Empty Cradles and you’ll still find it under this title as well) by Margaret Humphreys, this film is both perturbing and heart-breaking.

The film is Margaret’s story, and tells of how she and her husband became instrumental in the exposer of Britian’s little known-about child migration schemes. Margaret not only brought this scandalous policy to the notice of the British and Australian public, but also worked tirelessly to provide the individuals moved from Britain to Australia with information about themselves and their families.

Many of these people were moved to homes and institutions in Australia without birth certificates or records of any type, and as such weren’t sure of their name, where they were born or even their date of birth. Many children were moved under false pretences, being told they were orphans, and that they’d be going to a better life. On the flip-side, many mothers were informed that their children had been adopted by a caring family (one who could better care for them) when in fact their children had been placed in state care, orphanages or on farms. Margaret’s work throughout the 1980s located parents that were thought to be dead, transforming ‘orphans’ overnight, and allowing for the most amazing reconciliations.

Emily Watson plays Margaret Humphreys, and does the most amazing job. She is smart, dedicated and incredibly strong. Her anguish is palpable, and her sacrifices obvious. The story itself focuses largely on two main characters – Jack, played by Hugo Weaving and Len, played by David Wenham. The lives of Jack and Len are changed by Margaret’s work, and they become her loyal friends and protectors. This is the most interesting role I’ve seen Weaving in for awhile, his intensity is gut-wrenching and incredibly genuine – your heart breaks with him. Wenham is his usual quirky self, a perfect fit for the character of Len who’s stand-offish, but tender. His trust is hard to win, but well worth winning.

Photo: Child Migrants Trust

I’m a bit unaccustomed to this kind of film, and don’t often offer an opinion on issues of ethics or politics, but this film really put a bit of fire in my belly. I’m still trying to work out how this type of government intervention was allowed to happen. I know that many people put forward defences such as – ‘It was a different time’, ‘different morals, different values’, or ‘it was in the childrens’ best interest’ but to me, in light of the damages caused by these schemes, they seem pretty hollow. The same kinds of defences have been offered to explain away the unforgivable harm done to Australia’s Stolen Generation – most of us now know that there is simply no justification for this kind of treatment of people.

What do you guys think? Is it enough to say we didn’t know any better at the time? How can we avoid the same types of things happening in our own day and age?