It’s Long Lost Family Special in Australia

Monday:Long Lost Family Special: Shipped to Australia; (ITV, 9pm)

Dorian Thomas Reece  with Davina McCall
Dorian Thomas Reece with Davina McCall

Long Lost Family is usually guaranteed to get viewers weeping.

However, this special episode may also leave some feeling angry as Davina McCall and Nicky Campbell explore the human cost of a scandal that took place a lot more recently than some people may have realised.

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Officials famously sent convicts to Australia to help build and establish the nascent colony, but the country was also the destination for more than 130,000 unaccompanied children as part of a scandalous British migrant programme which ran from the 1920s to the 1970s.

In an initiative backed by Barnardo’s and the Fairbridge Society, the Anglican and Catholic churches and local authorities, children, often from underprivileged backgrounds, were sent to the far side of the world with the promise of a better life.

Instead, many of them ended up in badly run institutions, were given a poor education, and faced terrible neglect, as well as physical and sometimes sexual abuse.

Making a sickening situation even worse, all their ties to their families and their home country were completely severed.

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Dorian Thomas Reece was among the children caught up in the migrant programme and cameras follow him as, almost 70 years after he was sent to live in Western Australia as an eight-year-old boy, he searches for answers about where he came from and who his family were – and are. Enter the Long Lost Family team.

Shockingly, even after official reports had been published into the abuse in these care institutions, British children were still sent away and, in some cases, sinister forces were at work to maintain the illusion that all was well Down Under.

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The team meets Bruce Wilton, whose younger brothers Rex and Kevin were sent to Tasmania as late as 1970. Letters between the siblings were intercepted, leaving him thinking that they’d gone to a happier life and no longer wanted contact with him.

Bruce reveals what happened to them, how they eventually found each other and the destructive impact the separation had on the family.

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Rex went on to a troubled life and died early. However, on the anniversary of his death, Bruce and brother Kevin are able to reunite and commemorate him.

In 2009, then-Australian prime minister, Kevin Rudd formally apologised for the “absolute tragedy of childhoods lost”, saying: “We are sorry. Sorry that, as children, you were taken from your families and placed in institutions where so often you were abused.

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“Sorry for the physical suffering, the emotional starvation and the cold absence of love, of tenderness, of care.”

A year later, his then-UK counterpart, Gordon Brown, followed suit. “To all those former child migrants and their families… We are truly sorry. They were let down,” he said.

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“We are sorry they were allowed to be sent away at the time when they were most vulnerable. We are sorry that instead of caring for them, this country turned its back.”

The UK government pledged to spend £6 million reuniting families torn apart by the “misguided” programme.

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This documentary sheds light on the stories of just a few, but they will stay with you long after the credits have rolled.