Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Path of Good Intentions

On behalf of the Australian Government and people, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has recently given a public apology to all those children who, over many decades of the 20th Century, were removed from their parents in Britain and sent out to her Dominions and Colonies beyond the seas, ostensibly to be made into good citizens of the Empire; to grow up strong and healthy and to have opportunities that would be denied them if they remained behind in the slums of the old country.
Although for the lucky few this rosy-tinted dream might have come true, for the majority it was little short of a nightmare: of loneliness, emotional abandonment, mental and physical abuse. It took one of their successful own, David Hill, to bring much of this story to light in his book "Forgotten Children". ABC Television has also screened a documentary "The Long Journey Home" based on its findings. Some of it was disturbing and shocking, but there was also a sense of the resilience of children, of the camaraderie and even humour that all human beings manage to find in even the most difficult of conditions. It is also a perfect example of the old quote about where good intentions so often lead.
Many politicians, philanthropists and do-gooders who flowered during the Victorian and Edwardian age were imbued with such acute moral consciences and the belief that, being of good British stock, they had been born to make decisions on behalf of the world's masses that they would never have imagined a day when what they believed in would be decried as unjust, cruel or inhuman.
Kingsley Fairbridge is a name well-known to those who were born and raised in what was once Rhodesia. He was a man of his time and place and should not be judged from the perspective of 21st Century politics and moral standards.
A statue well-known to all Rhodesians and celebrating him once stood at Christmas Pass overlooking Umtali (Mutare). It is of a youthful Fairbridge, his African companion, Jack, and his dog, Vic, and was unveiled by the Queen Mother in 1953. It bore the quote "I looked and beheld a country well fit for the birth of a Nation". That nation would later became Zimbabwe and Kingsley Fairbridge and those like him would never have imagined that horror scenario either although, perhaps, he may have had an inkling of what was to come for his country as might be seen in his poem "Fear" written in 1907.

"No sleep for you, dark ranges, nor for me;
No rest, O valleys, for your teeming heart;
From out tumultuous dreamings do we start
Fear-grasping to the coldness of the night;
(We are as one) - waiting for What Will Be . . .
We are as one in terror; while the bright
White stars stare mocking, though they cannot light
The vast unknowledge of Eternity."

More poems by Fairbridge