Record payout for Fairbridge abuse victims


A class action involving about 150 victims of historical abuse at a NSW farm school will result in a record $24 million to be paid in compensation.

More than 70 years after Ron Simpson was raped by a chef and had his back broken with a hockey stick by another man, he still suffers nightmares about the abuse he endured at NSW's Fairbridge Farm School.

The 86-year-old is one of about 150 former child migrants who launched a class action in 2009 against the Fairbridge Foundation and the NSW and commonwealth governments.

The $24 million settlement announced on Monday is the largest payment for mass child abuse survivors in Australia.

The compensation, to be paid into a fund, flows from a claim that the Fairbridge Foundation and governments knew of abuse but made insufficient efforts to protect children while the school was open between 1938 and 1974.

Mr Simpson, who came to Australia from England as a nine-year-old, said the cruelty and violence he experienced upon arriving at the boarding house in central west New South Wales ruined his childhood.

"He pulled me out, hit me again and knocked me through the doors of the house."

He said he was first abused after returning home from the milking sheds late. The cottage alarm had been incorrectly set by a teacher, meaning he hadn't returned with the milk until after breakfast.

He says the school principal called him into his office and whacked him twice with a hockey stick. The force sent him spiralling down a staircase - months later he realised he'd broken his back.

"He grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and he hit me and I went into this big black bath," an emotional Mr Simpson, who was 14 at the time of the attack, said.

"He pulled me out, hit me again and knocked me through the doors of the house."

"I had gravel up my arms and on my knees and then he said, `get back to work'."

Now 86, Mr Simpson holds back tears describing how on another occasion, he was pulled into a toilet by the school's chef and raped.

The class action has been going for more than eight years, and in that time at least eight claimants have died.

Another victim Lynda Craig, who was also hit with a hockey stick, said conditions were akin to "slavery".

"The young girls at Fairbridge suffered insurmountable hardship," said the 66-year-old, who was five when she went to the school.

"The [settlement] result will not keep the demons away but they will keep them accountable."

The foundation and NSW government have agreed to apologise to victims.

Slater and Gordon class action lawyer Roop Sandhu said the case could have been settled years ago.

He called for a national redress scheme for victims of institutional child abuse to avoid abuse victims having to face years of litigation.

"The appropriate way to deal with sort of thing is not to subject people to the courts ... if they don't want to do that," Mr Sandhu said.

"We think a redress scheme is an important step."

His calls come after the federal government earlier in the year deemed a proposed redress scheme too costly and complex.

The school was set up in line with the vision of South African Kingsley Fairbridge, who wanted to increase the number of child migrants to the colonies and train them in farming.

Guardianship of the children was given to the federal immigration minister, and their custodial arrangements were the responsibility of the NSW child welfare department.

Former Fairbridge residents will be notified of the compensation and a settlement scheme devised for those who experienced abuse.

-With AAP

Source: SBS

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