Northern Ireland

Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry: Boys painted black to look 'like Aborigines'

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Media captionThe inquiry's public hearings are taking place at Banbridge courthouse

A man has told the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry that he and other young boys being shipped from Northern Ireland to Australia had their faces painted black to make them look like Aborigines.

More than 100 children were shipped to Australia in the mid 1900s.

Now in his 70s, the man was sent there in 1953, from the Termonbacca children's home in Londonderry.

He also said he was the victim of physical and sexual abuse.

The former child migrant said that on the boat journey to Australia, the boys were made to entertain paying passengers and "our faces were painted black to make us look like Aborigines."

He went on to explain the impact of the abuse in later life: "I had no idea how to parent my children, or even how to cuddle and love them."


The witness, who wiped away tears a number of times during his evidence, said he suffered physical and sexual abuse in Australia.

"I really don't know what love is," he said.

Another witness, who joined the Australian Airforce, told the inquiry that he still lives with regrets about not doing more to save young girls from abuse, while he himself was a child.

He said he felt: "Totally gutless because I did nothing or said nothing."

The man explained that he was afraid of being punished himself: "I didn't have the courage, that's remained with me all my life,"


The witness said he was beaten "to exact most fear and terror" at the children's home in Termonbacca in Londonderry and then suffered physical and sexual abuse at a Catholic training school in Bindoon, in Australia.

He added "After Bindoon, Termonbacca turned out to be a holiday camp."

In a written statement, a former female child migrant said that children were let down by both Governments.

"There were not enough nuns to look after us. They were expected to do the impossible," she said.

"The Governments failed us. Where we missed out, the nuns were also not supported. It's easy to criticise just the people who were looking after us." she added.

The HIA inquiry is examining the extent of child abuse in religious and state-run institutions in Northern Ireland from 1922 to 1995.

Last week, the inquiry heard that 131 children from Northern Ireland, some as young as five, were sent to Australia as child migrants.

Their evidence is due to be heard either by video link or in written statements over the next few weeks.

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