Premier Mike Baird has delivered an emotional apology to the former residents of a farm school in country NSW, where serious physical and sexual abuse was inflicted upon students over almost four decades.
A group of 65 men and women who attended the Fairbridge Farm School at Molong launched a class action in 2009, and in June this year they secured a promise of a $24 million compensation fund.
“I know that they have endured sufferings we cannot imagine, and I know that coming here today would have taken a special kind of strength,” Mr Baird told the parliament on Thursday, as former students watched on from the gallery.
Hundreds of British children were packed off to the now-notorious Fairbridge between 1938 and 1974.
“They arrived here as vulnerable and trusting children whose parents wanted nothing more than a better life than the one they could offer,” Mr Baird said.
“They were not given the future they were promised or the childhood they deserved.
“They were betrayed by the people whose job it was to protect them. They were betrayed by this state, which did not ensure their safety.”
Among the allegations heard by the NSW Supreme Court before the class action settled were that one of Fairbridge’s principals was a “sexual pervert”, who used a hockey stick to beat the children and who beat a boy until his eyes bled.
Mr Baird paused and his voice cracked as he told the Fairbridge survivors: “I am – we all are – deeply, deeply sorry.”
He acknowledged many of those who suffered abuse had died before the court case was settled, and before hearing admissions from authorities both in Australia and in the UK that they had failed the children who attended Fairbridge.
And he said that the civil litigation should have been managed better by NSW.
MPs from across the political spectrum stood as one in a standing ovation as the former students left the chamber.