Some people may find content on this website distressing. Read more
New South Wales - Event

Child and Youth Migration to New South Wales (c. 1911 - 1983)

c. 1911

Between 1901 and 1983 thousands of unaccompanied children and young people, mainly from Britain but also from Malta, Polish Jewish communities and Indochina, came to Australia under a range of migration schemes. In New South Wales, child migration schemes began in 1911, and had mostly concluded by 1967. Indochinese refugee children were settled in Sydney during the 1970s and 1980s.


Child migrants from the United Kingdom were school age children in care institutions. They were usually from eight to thirteen years of age on arrival in Australia, although some were younger. Youth migrants were usually young men aged 15-19 years of age who had left school and had made their own decision to migrate.

As historian Barry Coldrey has put it:

Child and youth migrants to Australia, while numbered in their thousands, always formed a modest percentage of the overall migrant intake, but they were always treated - in the bureaucracy and by the media - as special. There was something heart-warming in the vision of desperately underprivileged British children leaving behind the cold northern slums of the Old World to seek a new and better life in the sun-drenched dominions, and there was something uplifting in watching the arrival of what was perceived to be the cream of Britain's youth leaving the security of hearth and home to further their prospects in a distant land and to guard and extend the empire by settling the imperial frontier. They were the bricks of empire.

Child migrants were apparently-abandoned, illegitimate, poverty-stricken youngsters of primary school age, usually in care in the United Kingdom before their despatch to Australia. After their arrival, such youngsters were placed in care for further training before placement in employment.

Before World War II child migration schemes provided farm training for boys and domestic skills for girls. Post-World War II emphasis was placed on increasing Australia's population. Prior to 1946 child migration was administered largely by the State governments. The first youth migrants to New South Wales were the Dreadnought Boys, aged 16-19 years, brought out by the Dreadnought Trust in 1911 under an agreement with the New South Wales Government.

The main care agencies involved in child migration were Barnardos, Fairbridge, Catholic Church agencies and some Protestant Churches. The Big Brother Movement encouraged youth migration. Child and youth migration to New South Wales officially ceased in 1967. However, Indochinese child refugees were cared for during the 1970s and 1980s by organisations such as Burnside.

Related Glossary Terms

Related Organisations



  • Hill, David, The Forgotten Children: Fairbridge Farm School and its betrayal of Australia's child migrants, Random House, North Sydney, 2007, 338 pp. Details
  • Humphreys, Margaret, Oranges and Sunshine, Corgi, London, 2010, 383 pp. Details
  • Humphreys, Margaret, Empty Cradles, Doubleday, London; Sydney, 2010, 331 pp. Details
  • McLean, Donald, Children In Need: An account of the administration and functions of the Child Welfare Department, New South Wales, Australia: with an examination of the principles involved in helping deprived and wayward children, Government Printer, Sydney, 1955, 173 pp. Details

Journal Articles

  • Sherington, Geoffrey, 'A better class of boy: The Big Brother Movement, youth migration and citizenship of Empire', Australian Historical Studies, vol. 33, no. 120, 2002, pp. 267-285. Details


Online Resources

Sources used to compile this entry: Migration Heritage Centre New South Wales, Migration Heritage Centre New South Wales: NSW Government, 2010,; Coldrey, Barry, Good British stock: child and youth migration to Australia, This is a research guide published by the National Archives of Australia. It contains detailed historical information about Australia's immigration policy and child and youth migration to Australia. It also has information about relevant archival records in Australia and overseas relating to child and youth migration., National Archives of Australia, 1999,; Hill, David, The Forgotten Children: Fairbridge Farm School and its betrayal of Australia's child migrants, Random House, North Sydney, 2007, 338 pp;, 'Child/Youth Migration in the 20th Century', in Museums of History NSW website, Museums of History NSW,; Molong Historical Society, Fairbridge and the Molong Community, Migration Heritage Centre New South Wales: NSW Government, 2010,

Prepared by: Melissa Downing and Naomi Parry