The Long Way Home: The Story of a Homes Kid
Random House $19.95, 346pp
Despite attempts, revived in recent weeks, to discredit the term ‘stolen generations’, what cannot be denied in the semantics of that debate are the excruciatingly painful experiences of the children involved. While the meanings of such terms as ‘removed’ and ‘abandoned’ are complicated in a racist culture by indigenous peoples’ disenfranchisement, poverty and illiteracy, the devastating nature of separation from family in childhood must never be overlooked or underestimated.
Kate Shayler, in The Long Way Home, deals with such a separation experience as a ‘homes kid’ – one of many white children brought up in children’s homes across Australia in the three decades following World War II. While we are familiar with the accounts of the stolen generations and the ‘orphans of empire’ (British child migrants), less is publicly known of these homes kids. Such children ended up in homes for a multitude of reasons, including family breakdown, the death of one or both parents, court orders or abandonment. Whatever the cause, the result was the same: loss of affection, identity and rights; a restricted life of rules, discipline and loneliness; and frequently some form of abuse.