The Fairbridge Farm School, at Molong seems to be going through a kind of existential crisis. Not bad for an institution that has not existed for forty years. Recent events and revelations about the lived experiences of my Old Fairbridgians seem to have divided a once generally cohesive group, a vast family really, into opposing camps with seemingly mutually exclusive versions of the place.
Many of the characters that dot the history of the Farm have also come in for some tough revision of their personal histories, much of it in unaudited and anecdotal form appearing on this web site and in the newsletter, not to mention the evidence taken from the litigants in the class action, now taking place in the Supreme Court in Sydney.
Whether one sides with the opinions and positions of those pursuing the class action; a group formed with a common purpose and a genuine and understandable desire for justice: or the more varied thinking of the non litigant group. It is obvious though that not everyone who passed through the Farm had an absolute good experience. Indeed it seems just as obvious that life on the Farm was pretty tough all round.
Though these two groupings seem to be at loggerheads at this time and drawing attention to their disagreement, their existence overshadows what i suspect is the largest grouping of OFs, those with no particular axe to grind, no high moral ground to win, those who might be wishing for a little reconciliation between the camps, who think that the current destructive squabbling over whether or not Fairbridge lived up to its charter and obligations rather misses the point.
While Fairbridge was perhaps a worthy idea in its conception, and the people behind its establishment had nothing but the highest ideals and loftiest intentions, like any large multifaceted institution, it evolved and changed through time and many of those changes were not always for the better.
Constantly in financial difficulty and forced by circumstances beyond the control of those at the Farm to comply with conditions set by a distant trustee committee. Acts of Parliament and government regulation, i think it is fair to suggest Fairbridge did its best work early. By the mid sixties it had lost direction and purpose. Moreover, the high hopes of the founders had with the passage of time, become little more than a memory as the declining institution struggled to keep afloat. Accumulating bad reports and assessments, as well as declining numbers together with rising costs were only part of its demise. It had become irrelevant,an anachronism, as changing attitudes to childhood and child protection saw places like Fairbridge consigned to the history of noble ideas whose time had come and gone.
It is not too long a bow to suggest that its signal failings with many of its charges in the areas of education and personal development also contributed to an atmosphere where the powers determined that it should close.
These things are, in my submission, objective verifiable truths that we can all agree on. However the problem is not one of objective truths or their verifiability. Indeed the class action litigants are discovering just how difficult justice is to attain when it must rely on objective and verifiable truths.
There is another truth,or kind of truth,that i think can shine a light into the shameful silence forced on and endured by the victims of real abuse. Further i believe this truth can soften the trenchant denial of those unable to believe that it may indeed be as bad as the victims suggest, in that the people at the Farm may have indeed suffered emotional,physical and sexual abuse.
This simple human truth,the individual narrative of every single Old Fairbridgian is where we may find reconciliation. We are now all of us too old to allow an emotionally charged disagreement to undermine the commonality of experience and the ties that bind us. For all the ” Sturm und Drang” of the class action and the heated opinions of those who oppose it, we are all of us in each of our individual ways, Fairbridge Kids. We all have a story to tell, some sad some happy,some of triumph over adversity, others blighted by the gross injustices done to them by people charged with their care: and many perhaps the majority,are narratives of an ordinary life lived in ordinary circumstances where Fairbridge is a fond but occasionally hard memory, a cause of reflection and personal reappraisal before getting on with the business of living.
To those who have endured the silence i say shout it out, be heard.! To those that deny the truth of these harrowing personal narratives, I ask that you listen and believe, have faith in the human dignity of those unjustly damaged. They are not lying . They are telling you the simple truth of their story and your denial serves to only prolong the increase in their suffering.
Of all i would ask that we find again the frayed ends o those ties that once bound us more closely and in the spirit of reconciliation, tie them back together,recommit to a new common solidarity where the value and dignity of every individual narrative is acknowledged and accepted as true.
An open mind and a forgiving heart remain the best life solution for us all. The alternative is slow fragmentation and the bitter taste of a squandered opportunity. I do not think any of us want that.