British children may have been promised oranges and sunshine as they were deported to Australia in the '60's and '70's in a scandalous child trafficking operation affecting some 130,000 kids, but that is hardly what they found there. The children, aged 3 to 13, often left in child care by unwed mothers, were lied to, told their families were dead. In Australia, most were enlisted in a labor pool, forced into hard construction and menial jobs, beaten into servility, and many raped. This piece of twentieth century horror might have been swept aside but a social worker in Nottingham, Margaret Humphreys, dedicated herself to helping the children, now grown, find their families. She is also asking for accountability from agencies in both governments. Her story is told in the film Oranges and Sunshine, directed by Jim Loach and starring Emily Watson, featured in this year's Hamptons International Film Festival. While it is not a documentary, Oranges and Sunshine faithfully portrays the shocking truth.
On Saturday night Charles Cohen of the Cohen Media Group hosted a dinner for Humphreys, her husband Merv, and filmmaker Jim Loach at Nick & Toni's where, at a nearby table Harry Belafonte supped after his Conversation with Dick Cavett at Bay Street Theatre. At another, Susan Sarandon ate with friends.
Our table was abuzz with questions for Humphreys, Loach, and the Oranges and Sunshine team, most notable, why haven't we heard this story?
Following a structure illustrating Humphreys' many trips to Australia, eliciting each case by case, the film dramatizes her difficult, often dangerous times leaving her own family behind to do this extraordinary work uniting other families. Humphreys conducts her investigation, and then finds the most sensitive way, bringing flowers to a calm setting by which to reveal the results, often sad as many of the parents have died. She has unearthed thousands of such stories thus far, bringing together many estranged families. As Steven Spielberg said about Schindler's List and his Shoah Visual History Foundation, each story is a movie in itself.
When asked, what's next for her, Margaret Humphreys said she would be returning to Australia to reveal sad news to yet another deported "child" whose mother had escaped the Holocaust, her own parents murdered. Not only would she reveal this history but also have to tell a lifelong Christian he is Jewish.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.