Lost Children: Update

Families Resume Ties Decades Later

Since 60 Minutes II's "Lost Children" first aired in 1999, much has happened. Many viewers wrote emails and letters to tell the stories of their own experiences as lost children.

Some had reunions with family members not seen in half a century. 60 Minutes II Correspondent Bob Simon reports on these developments.


In 1999, Mary Molloy, profiled in the original broadcast, had an emotional reunion with her mother. She had four weeks to make up for 50 years of loneliness.

"It was just like coming home," says Molloy. "The circle had come full circle. It was great."

But the circle was much larger than Molloy had imagined. She discovered in Dublin that she not only had a mother, but also nine brothers and sisters. They were all there to celebrate Molloy's 56th birthday.

But for Molloy, the reunion was bittersweet. "I got home; three days later, it was Mother's Day," she says. "And I kept thinking of all the Mother's Days I missed out on. And it wasn't fair."

for Mary Molloy and her mother, after half a century of separation, followed by one reunion, there was separation again, with only letters to fill the void…

John Hennessy, who had been abused at Bindoon, a Catholic institution in the Australian bush, felt so empowered by the first broadcast that he decided to run for public office. Hennessy is campaigning to become deputy mayor of Campbelltown, Australia, a suburb of Sydney. He, too, was reunited with his mother, who lives in England.

"When you think that I'm 65, and she's 86, a frail, gentle loving woman, for the first time meeting her only child," Hennessy explained in 1999.

"And to look into her eyes, she got tears, I got tears. We're both trembling. And she said, 'Michael John, where have you been all these years?'" he recalled.

But many years had passed and their first meeting was awkward. They eventually did embrace as mother and son. Hennessy didn't, however, tell her about the mistreatment he suffered at Bindoon.

"I could not, could not in all honesty, tell her the crimes that were committed against me, and other children. She suffered enough, why should she suffer any more?" he asks.

After the "The Lost Children" aired, a man named Mike Amphlett wrote 60 Minutes II a letter. In the letter, Amphlett said that watching the story had made him physically sick; it brought back wrenching memories of his childhood. Amphlett, too, had been a "lost child."

"It was a shock to see the places I walked around in and grew in, and most of all built," Amphlett remembers. "I actually vomited in the kitchen sink. I couldn't watch it. I still haven't watched the tape."

Amphlett had been shipped from England to Australia at the age of 9. Like Hennessey, he was sent to Bindoon. He still remembers the hunger he felt there.

"We were always starving in the orphanage. Always," he says. "I mean starving, literally starving. And I would eat anything - worms, raw otatoes, oranges that fell from the tree and had gone rotten. Anything I could find I would eat."

Amphlett joined Hennessy in the children's construction corps. His job was polishing the terrazzo floor tiles under the great dome at Bindoon, the place of their incarceration. "You'll see my blood on the terrazzo, too, mixed in with the green and the black. There'll be some red there," says Amphlett.

Amphlett also has vivid memories of Brother Francis Keaney, the man who beat Hennessy to a pulp. Amphlett says that Keaney beat him as well.

When he learned that a statue of Keaney had been built at Bindoon, Amphlett wanted to knock it down. "My immediate [reaction] was to get it demolished," says Amphlett.

"In fact, I had thoughts of, and I'm serious, of flying over there and demolishing it, blowing the damn thing to kingdom come, because it's an injustice and a travesty to everything that took place there," he says.

But life hadn't taken its last licks at Amphlett. In Australia, he married an American woman named Paula. They had one child and were expecting another when she learned she had a deadly brain tumor.

She wanted to die at home in Phoenix, Ariz., so Amphlett found himself widowed and stranded in a strange land with two children and no job. He thought about returning to Australia, but found he could not. He was not an Australian native, and he had no passport.

"What I discovered was I had no right to go to Australia," he says. "And that shocked me, because that was my home. That's where I grew up. That was what I was used to - was the only life I'd known."

In April 1999, the British government set up a travel fund, $l.6 million, to be spent on onetime visits for family reunions. But there are so many restrictions that so far, only 300 of the 10,000 migrants have been able to take the trip. But time may run out. The travel fund will expire this summer, and there's no sign that it will be extended.

The Queen is set to visit Australia next month for a meeting with the heads of state of all the Commonwealth countries. A perfect chance for the Queen to discuss the plight of the child migrants. But the Palace has made it clear she is not interested in hearing from Margaret Humphreys or from any of the child migrants. And the Australian government? Nothing. The Australian Senate launched an inquiry into the scheme and the Prime Minister is due to respond later this year. But few expect the government or the churches to do anything. And time is running out.

Mary Molloy put her hands in her own pockets, and spent just about everything she had to go back to Dublin the past two winters to be with her mom and her sisters.

Mike Amphlett will be making some new acquaintances this summer. Sisters and brothers he never knew he had. He discovered them recently on the child migrants Web site and learned they are all living in England. And just two weeks ago, a package arrived from one of his sisters with the first hotograph he'd ever seen of a man he barely knew: his father.

"The most important thing I learned was the he had, in fact, tried to stop my going to Australia and he tried to get me back," Amphlett says. "And that he wanted to do that has been very comforting to me because until now, I had always felt abandoned up till then, but to know that he actually wanted me and tried to get me back was, was very good."

Like so many parents, Charles Amphlett had gone to reclaim his son, only to be told by the Catholic Immigration Society that young Mike had been adopted which, of course, was a lie. And Mike will never get to see his father - Charles Amphlett died in 1982.

He says: "One thing my sister did say, she said, 'You know, Michael, in some ways it's a good thing he's dead. Because if he learned this story, what you've been through, it would've broken his heart.'"

The most remarkable thing about this story is that it almost never got told. I don’t mean on television. If it hadn't been for one tiny accident, a social worker in Nottingham coming across one curious case and tracking it down, this sad bit of history made never have made the books. Neither the British government nor the Australian government nor the Christian Brothers wanted it known. In fact, they were all hoping that the clock would run out and it almost did. The youngest migrants are in their 50s now.

A few more decades and there would be no narrators around. Yes, there's a travel fund now. And there may be legal action before long. But there can never be justice of course. And ultimately the tragedy of these migrants is something very few of us can relate to. Try to imagine not having a single happy childhood memory. Yet that's what these people don't have. And that can never be given back.



© MMI, CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved

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