Saturday, 9 August 2014

Tasmania: The shocking secret


One of the most beautiful places in the world is the State of Tasmania.   It always delights me when I hop on a plane and return to the beautiful state that I love but have not resided in since 30 May 1968. I mention this as this is about my home state and no other state in the commonwealth.  This state that I have idolised and once had visions of returning to no longer exists. Instead there exists a state that, initially created a law back in 1920 to prevent shocking infanticide cases and to prevent people from profiteering from the odious industry of baby farming where people were paid by parents to take over care of a child or baby and then they were let starve to death as well as being drugged. The last conviction in Australia for Baby Farming murder was in 1913, just seven years before the Adoption of Children Act 1920, which was undoubtedly a result of this worldwide abuse and killing of children.  However a simple omission which was brought to their attention in 1950 but not corrected, as far as I can ascertain, until The Adoption of Children Act 1968, opened a gate to profiteering by families and other parties where babies became a valuable currency to fill one’s coffers.

Back at the turn of the 20th century, state governments were rightly concerned with the tragic consequences of Baby Farming and the fact there were no controls over adoption of children or safeguards.  Western Australia had prior to federation enacted adoption legislation and to its credit, Tasmania was the first state after federation to enact legislation, the adoption of children Act 1920. This act was very specific that no adoptive family could be paid a premium without the consent of the authorise delegate approving the adoption, namely the registrar of births deaths and marriages. Whilst the Senate Community Affairs Reference Committee inquiry into forced adoption listed Adoption Statistics from 1939 through to 2010, the state of Tasmania statistics from the years 1939 to 1968 only provided information for the years 1951 to 1960 with a total of 2556 adoptions or an average of 256 per year.  I now have in my possession a letter to the federal government dated 13 June 1950 that shows in the period of 1945 to 1949 inclusive there were 516 adoptions an average of 103 per year.  How adoptions increased in one year from about 103 to 259 (1951) I will come back to later.

In 1950 after a question in the federal by the then ALP member Mr Cremean, the federal government was advised that there was no impediment under legislation to the natural parents and other person receiving a premium (quaint term for paying) and that the Registrar General advising he would take steps to correct this immediately. From what I can ascertain no correction was done until the introduction of the Adoption of children Act 1968.  And so the scene was set, but it may be that the Salvation Army who was in control of their home for unwed mothers in Launceston, known as Rock Lynne House, Rocklyn house and other names, may have been aware of this loophole and in fact were exploiting it.

A document dated 13 June 1950 tell us that there were overall 1271 illegitimate births in Tasmania for the period 1945 to 1949 of whom 516 or 40.6 per cent were adopted. This seems to be a legitimate figure because in the peak adoption years numerically which is 1969/1972 the adoption rate nationwide was also about 40 per cent of illegitimate children.  The letter breaks it down even more with figures showing that of the 400 illegitimates born in private hospitals /homes 195 or 49 per cent were adopted a slightly higher figure. The figures broke down the Hobart area with 79 adoptions private hospitals out of 251 births (31.47 per cent) and Launceston and country, which were 116 adoptions out of 149 births (77.85 per cent).  The main culprit in Launceston was Rock Lynne House. A special note was made of the fact that of the 115 illegitimate births, 91 (or 79 per cent) were adopted.  The author of a letter dated 15 June 1950 who was a Federal department of health official (Mr B. Warren) said the high Rocklyn house figures give rise to suspicions of baby buying because of the sellers market that existed. He said he would make discrete inquiries next time he visited Launceston.  I have not found any record of his discrete inquiries. It would appear that Launceston was a law unto it’s own at this time given the distance between there and Hobart and the traditional resentment that was a part of the Tasmanian culture between the North and the South.

I was born at Rocklyn House on either the 23rd or 24th of February 1950, a date was manually corrected.  The consent to adopt was witnessed by a Justice of the Peace and incidentally also a magistrate of the Children court (A.M.White).  This person was a retired matron of the home in which I was born so an apparent conflict of interest is present from my birth.  I have always had my suspicions about the operation at Rocklyn house and wrote a blog spot on 19 January 2012 after the Senate inquiry hearings in Hobart. At those hearings the Hobart divisional commander who made a submission to the inquiry was asked if they had ever had any other homes apart from Elim House in Hobart. His reply was no they had no other homes. I passed the information I had on Rocklyn to the secretary of the senate community affairs reference committee and he was asked to provide information on this home to the senate. Subsequently he provided information, which was exactly the same information I had provided the committee, a short entry from the Find and Connect website. This initiated my curiosity as all attempts to find information on this home was sketchy and there were claims that all records were destroyed in a boiler room fire in the early sixties.  The current Find and connect entry on Salvation Army records for rock Lynn house states
 “ Some records may have been destroyed in a laundry fire during the 1960’s. However, there are book records with the dates 1904 to 1912, 1939 to 1948, and 1954 to 1960.”
 There is one small problem with the fire theory. In a letter dated 30 March 1961, The salvation Army belatedly advised the Tasmanian government that they had shut down the Rock Lynn House Maternity home on 13 December 1960, the year 256 babies had been adopted in Tasmania, a peak period for the adoption industry.  How then were records destroyed in a laundry fire in the sixties?  How do you explain this discrepancy? 

One must also ask the logical question as to why was it closed down at that time?   Was their successful business model of the forties and fifties falling apart as more private homes were becoming aware of the loophole in the law. One can only make educated guesses on this without the co-operation of the Salvation Army Southern command or division.

I remained in Rock Lynn for 6 weeks after my birth being adopted on 14 April 1950. In that time my mother stayed also to nurture me, which has led to many claiming I was not the child of a forced adoption. Nothing could be further from the truth with her diary saying how the matron and her mother forced her to sign.  An article in the Melbourne Argus dated 18 July 1950 quotes a Major Stevens as saying
“ An unmarried mother should be made to feel responsibility towards her child, and unless she had the baby in her care for at least two months she would escape this responsibility. The fact that a girl had to look after her baby for several weeks and then face the wrench of parting with it could have a very definite influence on her future morals”   “ If things are made too easy for the girl and her child adopted immediately after birth, she may be inclined to give little thought to the dangers of returning to her former life”

A Tasmanian Government Department of Public Health inspection report dated 2 June 1954 on Rock Lynn house is quoted in the general remarks

“Most babes breast fed for as long as possible (prior to adoptions)”

As we can see this home partook of emotional and physical torture of the young girls as well as creating a great trauma when the adoption took place to both the babe and the mother. I feel there is a need to say here that a financial report for the salvation Army Home, Elim House Hobart for the year ending 30 September 1953 should revenue to the total value of 213 pound, 14 shillings and twopence from child endowment. So there was a financial incentive to retain the mother and it also saved costs on formula. Ewe must remember these institutions were receiving about 8 pound a week “inmate “ accommodation from persons placing the young girls there.

I said that I would get back to the matter of why there was more than double the number of adoptions post 1950 than in the five years prior to 1950. Whilst it is only a theory, I believe that once the government started querying the maternity homes, around the state as to the status following the question by Mr Cremean in the Commonwealth House of Representatives, the best kept secret in Tasmanian was let out.  It would appear that the staff at Rock Lynn had been made aware possibly through the honorary Gynaecologist, Dr Ida Birchall, MBE or they had read the act more thoroughly than other homes. This would account for the abnormally high adoptions rates for that home.  But post 1950 others would have become aware and would have started utilising this loophole to maximise sales and profits in a demand driven economy.

As a final note, the Tasmanian government has apologised for their past actions but I am sure they were not fully aware of the failure of government to close a loophole when it was apparent back in 1950. The Salvation Army however was operating a predatory maternity hospital in Launceston and was successfully marketing their product until the closure on 13 December 1960. And as the winds of change slowly started to take hold they decided after the closure to destroy incriminating records in a “ Laundry Fire” which coincidentally no record has been found nor firm date as to when this occurred.   Most of the mothers who lost their children in this place of emotional torture would now be deceased or in their seventies and have lived with the burden and shame heaped upon them for all of their adult lives. We the adoptees from this place now have to live with the fact that we were sold like slaves in a country that had at the time fought two word wars for “ freedom” and were fighting an enemy in Korea, which were treating their citizens much like we were treated in Rock Lynn House under Salvation Army Control. At the very least they should give a heartfelt statement of extreme remorse and yes contribute funds to the federal and state government programs to assist those who have been so badly affected by the past adoption era’s.

One thing I would like to add here. An article in the Hobart Mercury dated Wednesday 26 Jan 1949 was about the big list of young couples that were registered waiting to adopt. On 14 April 1950 I was adopted.  My father was born in 1897, which meant his age was over the guidelines for adoption. Yet he managed to adopt me.  One wonders how much of a premium he paid to ensure this went smoothly.

Murray Legro

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