Fairbridge kid finds forgiveness in his heart

Old Fairbridgians' Association president Norman Heslington has forgiven the abuse.
Old Fairbridgians' Association president Norman Heslington has forgiven the abuse.

‘A CRUEL beast of a woman’ was just one of the experiences for Norman Heslington at Fairbridge Farm School during the 1950s.

Speaking out following recent reports in the media revealing the full extent of abuse suffered by child migrants at the village, Mr Heslington said he had the best and the worst of cottage mothers.

Now president of the Old Fairbridgians' Association, he travelled to the village at the age of four in 1955 following his parents’ divorce and spent the next 12 years there.

“I travelled there a year after my two brothers because I was too sick to travel at the time,” Mr Heslington said.

“My first cottage mother, she was a cruel beast of a woman.”

He said his brother was one of the most unlucky ones.

“My brother was only about six or seven and he would wet the bed every night,” he said.

“She would make him get out of bed at five in the morning and make him have a cold shower.”

“Then she would hold him up by his left arm, it was always his left arm, and flailed him as hard as she could.

“His reward for not wetting the bed would be not getting a beating.”

Mr Heslington said they were forced to carry “blocks and blocks” of wood, even at the age of seven.

“I was carrying a big handful of wood and [the cottage mother] told me to carry another piece,” he said.

“I told her I couldn’t carry anymore but she put an extra one on my pile and I dropped the whole lot.

“She belted me on the back of my head with a piece of wood and split my head like a melon.”

He said he was taken to the hospital with her driving straight behind threatening him not to tell anyone what really happened.

“The nurse asked me and I pointed straight at her and said it was her,” he said.

“She had a run-in with the principal a bit after that and she was out of there.”

Mr Heslington said he then moved to a new cottage and his new cottage mother was the “most wonderful person on Earth”.

“My brother’s life improved drastically after that,” he said.

“I was always one of the luckier ones though, but I did get three or four public floggings – they were the worst things.”

Mr Heslington said one of the principals used the public floggings as punishment for the very worst offences such as stealing or smoking.

“After supper the primary school children were allowed to leave but the high school children had to stay,” he said.

“The principal would stand you up in front of everyone and make you bend over while he gets out a cane.

“The blows that they rained on your bottom - there would be so much force that more often than not you would bleed.”

Mr Heslington said after his older brother left to take up employment he ran away, attempting to hitch-hike but ending up in the East Perth lock-up.

“After the principal picked me up over the desk I went and got six to the arse, then at school I got six on the hand and then six on the arse again later in the day,” he said.

Mr Heslington said they were aware of the punishment the boys got, but they assumed the girls got ‘spanked’ in private.

“There was one girl who had her appendix out three times,” he said.

“Nobody spoke of the abuse though; I guess they were too afraid.”

“I think if it had happened to me I probably would have clamped up too.

“Having the royalty connection, I think that kept it swept under the rug too.”

But Mr Heslington said among all the horrible stories there were millions of good ones.

“There are lots of people who have made good out of the bad,” he said.

“A lot of us have long since forgiven the abuses of the past.”