Parliamentary inquiries in Britain and Australia in the past decade concluded that physical and sexual abuse were "widespread and systematic" in the institutions, particularly those run by Catholic orders such as the Christian Brothers and Sisters of Mercy. The inquiries heard that many former child migrants, now in their 60s and 70s, are still deeply traumatized.
'For my kids to understand'
For some, Rudd's apology – which was also extended to Australian children who were abused and neglected in institutions – was a step forward. Speaking before traveling to Canberra, Snell said: "All I want is for them to admit it was wrong, and for my kids to be able to understand me a bit better."
For others, the gesture represented too little, too late. "I wonder how they think making an apology can right the wrong that was done," said Jean Costello.
Ms. Costello was just seven when she was sent to an orphanage in Perth run by the Sisters of Mercy. She had left England with expectations of a country where "everyone was black and there'd be animals hopping down the street."
The reality wasn't what she had imagined. Of her new home, Costello recalls: "It was a very hard, very cold sort of environment, and you learnt very early that it was easier to toe the line than go against it. The nuns were pretty free and easy with the strap, and you didn't have to do much to merit a beating."
Coming British apology?
Redress has been slow, and piecemeal. In recent years, several Australian state governments have apologized, as has the Catholic Church. Some states have offered compensation and counseling services; in others, services have been virtually non-existent. Both Britain and Australia provided funds to help people travel back to Britain to trace their families, but the money was limited and many missed out.