By Natashya Fernandez
The friendship, lifelong bonds and extraordinary contribution to society of some 180 former Child Migrants were acknowledged at a special reunion lunch in May this year held to mark the 70th Anniversary of their arrival in Western Australia.
One of those child migrants was 75-year-old Mirrabooka parishioner Michael Goodwin, who spoke to The eRecord Assistant Editor Natashya Fernandez about his life since coming to Australia and said that he is very blessed and fortunate to have had a good life.
Shipped off to Australia at the tender age of five on the SS Asturias in 1947 and adopted by an Irish Catholic family, life took many turns for Michael Goodwin.
Educated at Iona Presentation Primary School, Mosman Park and later Christian Brothers Fremantle, Mr Goodwin recalled that what he did miss out on was meeting his biological mother who came to Australia looking for him.
At the time of his birth, the war was ending and there was an influx of children either born out of wedlock or abandoned at orphanages, and the Government and [Catholic] Church had to find ways to resolve the issue, he said.
“So they decided to send all the children, including myself to countries like Australia, Canada and New Zealand (Commonwealth countries).
“I was sent on the Asturias, the first ship that came to Fremantle in 1947. From there, the children were sent off to Clontarf, Fairbridge, Castledare and Nazareth House.
“At that time there were farms, and the children were made to work there, get an education and maybe get adopted,” he said.
Being one of the lucky few children, Mr Goodwin said he was adopted by a Catholic couple in their 40s from Mosman Park.
With a completely different adoption process in place in the 1950s, it took just over two years for Mr Goodwin to commence living with his adoptive parents.
Although childhood in Australia was a bit of a blur, Mr Goodwin said he had a good life with loving parents who provided for him throughout his schooling.
But as he got older, his curiosity to find his biological parents got stronger.
“We could not find out much, as when the children were sent here, the laws at that time were such that there were no archives kept.
“I didn’t come out with any siblings and later found out that I was the only child out of wedlock,” he said.
Abandoning his search, Mr Goodwin carried on with his life, got married and had two children.
Moving to Melbourne, he got a job as a cleaner with a reputed Cancer Research organisation and lived in Melbourne for just over 10 years.
What he didn’t know at that time was that his biological mother was also living in Melbourne.
With much prompting from his daughter, Jodie, Mr Goodwin said that he started to dig deeper into finding his parents.
“There were many roadblocks and I couldn’t find out anything for a long time.
“She prompted me one day to contact then Child Welfare Department (Department of Immigration), but they couldn’t help me with any details except for the ship that I came on and the adoption that took place, here in Australia,” he explained.
Mr Goodwin said the much needed breakthrough came a few years ago when then UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown made a public apology to former child migrants and delivered funding to help them find their real parents.
“It opened up a whole lot for us and that’s how I went about finding my parents,” he said.
Mr Goodwin said he is still looking for his father, if he is still alive, but had a lot of information about his mother, who had passed away by then.
“The story is that she was born in Germany in a place called Kismet. Her family was Jewish. “My grandfather was a Doctor and I’m guessing my grandmother was a housewife. They were educated and they had three children – my mother, a sister and brother.
“Before the war began, in 1939, my mother and her sister escaped as things were getting bad in Germany, but the others stayed back.
“My mother went to Italy and as Mussolini came to power, she fled from there to the United Kingdom and that’s where she stayed for a long time. When she was in the UK and because of her fluency in German, she joined the army service to help out. She must have met my father then, got pregnant and had to leave the army,” he explained.
Reminiscing from a letter that he received from Child Welfare Department (Department of Immigration), he continued saying she left him at St Joseph’s Orphanage in Lancaster, in a place called Omerich.
She converted to Catholicism as she feared for both their lives. She left him at the age of two in the care of the priests, with the promise to return three years later to get him.
Mr Goodwin said it wasn’t until he started the process of looking for her that he found out about her journey to Australia and settling in Melbourne.
There she married an Englishman she met on the ship and had a daughter. She moved to Brisbane in the latter stage of her life and passed away.
Still awaiting news of his father or any remaining relatives, Mr Goodwin said information revealed that his father was a gunner during the war and could be living in the north of England.
Life has come full circle, Mr Goodwin says.
“Sometimes I look back and think that God has been really good to me and not allowed anything bad to happen to me.
“I feel very blessed and fortunate to have had a good life. I am thankful for my children and grandchildren and got nothing to grumble about.
“I am not disappointed, I am a little sad that I never met my mother, knowing that she was this close, and wish I could have,” he concluded.