Dialog Box

Aged | Education | Health & Wellbeing | History | Human Rights | Social Justice | Welfare | Youth
On June 24th 1948 the SS Ormonde docked at Railway Pier in Port Phillip Bay. Amongst its passengers were 250 British children who had arrived, without parents or family, to begin “a new and better life” in Australia. Within that number were six orphaned brothers and sisters; Jayne Harper 20, James 17, John 15, Betty 12, David 10 and Margaret 6. 

Hardly had they set foot on Australian soil then the six Harpers were swept up by photographers and cameramen – to be featured in a government campaign to promote its new immigration programme aimed at Britain; in particular at the ‘young’ who it was thought would adapt more easily to a new country.

That moment at Railway Pier marked the beginning of our story in Australia. But it’s also the beginning of stories that are tethered to that Melbourne wharf.

How six orphaned Britons sent away to fend for themselves became the smiling poster children of Australia’s programme to quickly grow its population, and were guinea pigs in an experiment that was poorly planned and offered almost no support. A programme that emphasised self-reliance where many did well, others struggled and some were traumatised.

It’s a story of Britain’s long tradition of exporting its poor. A centuries old tradition that was given fresh life after the War when Britain adopted a new policy of closing its orphanages and sending the occupants to countries like Canada or Australia, willing to take them. With little thought to the tragedies that led to a child becoming orphaned or abandoned, this was both a solution and an opportunity for which everyone would surely be grateful.

Our story also reaches back over almost a hundred years, across the length of the British Isles to trace the ancestral origins of the Harper children. It reveals lives caught up in poverty, misfortune and tragedy, the all too common antecedents of most migrant journeys. Ultimately this film reveals that within the broader tapestry of Australia’s migrant story are the threads of individual lives; the personal journeys, the struggles and triumphs that inevitably bring you Close To the Bone.


How does the project meet the aims of a philanthropic foundation?

Australia continues to be one of the most sought after destinations in the world for migrants and refugees seeking protection and the promise of "a better future"

Close to the Bone offers audiences an opportunity to consider the legacies of childhoods interrupted by trauma, poverty and dislocation, not only from our cultural past but also in the current national debates and enquiries into institutional child abuse and children in immigration detention.

Through the memories and experiences of the Harper children audiences will gain insight and understanding about the experiences of former British child migrants. Audiences will be able to make connections between the past and present practice of government agencies to outsource the care of poor and vulnerable children, reminiscent of the early child migration schemes operated by Australian Government bodies, welfare and church agencies from the 1850’s.

The film is a testament to our cultural heritage and the social memory of the Harper orphans.  It is also a reminder of our continuing obligation to ensure at-risk children are provided with a safe and nurturing environment, going into the future.  By partnering with organisations and foundations that have a common interest in the themes of the film -  child welfare, migration, family relations, social connectedness and cultural identity - we aim to access their communities to engage a broad audience.

For philanthropic organisations whose mission is to reach, support and educate, Close to the Bone will provide a very effective tool in representing the legacies of childhoods affected by family breakdown, geographical and cultural displacement and will be a great resource for generating discussion and debate around the issues it raises.

Aims & Objectives

What outcomes do you hope to achieve by making this film and how will you measure its impact?

Expected Outcomes

Close to the Bone draws attention to the experiences of former child migrants and celebrates their continuing role as contributors to Australia's nation building.

The film will educate audiences about the circumstances and events that have shaped the lives and stories of former child migrants.  By engaging audiences with the Harpers' story on an emotional level, the film's broader context will ask them to consider and empathise with the plight of children migrants, at risk in the world today and invite them to advocate for change and improved service initiatives in the family, child welfare and government sectors.

The film provides opportunities for viewers to reflect on their own childhoods.  For former British child migrants, the film will be an acknowledgement that their personal stories form part of official history. 

Close to the Bone explores issues that affect many young people and families in contemporary Australian society.  The death of a parent is a subject under-represented on our screens, though it affects many people.  Through an affecting and accessible story, we aim to create awareness and education around the issue of family bereavement and separation, as well as encourage and inspire a wide audience to understand the role those with the least agency in society - poor children and children placed in institutional care - have played in Australia's social and cultural history.

Impact Measurements

The film's impact reach will be measured through audience numbers and responses at festival and community screenings, by contributions to discussions and Q&A sessions at screenings and by broadcast ratings.  We will employ social capture initiatives, such as recording responses at live and streamed events via audience feedback sheets, online forums and Facebook pages.

Though our "cinema-on-demand" platform we will be able to screen the film to communities of interest.  We will measure the success of our digital distribution by the number of hits and download usage patterns.

The audience responses will provide our not-for-profit and education partners with knowledge about the needs and priorities of their communities on issues raised in the film and may assist them in developing education and outreach programmes.


What is your education and outreach strategy?

Close to the Bone is intended to redress the current gap in on-screen representations of not only former child migrants but a wider cross section of people who are interested in the history of child migration and/or are themselves former migrants.

Our education and outreach strategies combine digital on and off line community engagement initiatives. We will collaborate with our philanthropic and education partners to engage with and build the capacity of their communities via their existing websites and social media platforms. We will work with them in the development of educational, outreach, health and well-being projects that could potentially be housed on these websites. These dedicated digital spaces will have links to the film's website and Facebook page with social media capture opportunities for audiences to respond, comment and generate their own content via special projects and initiatives. For example, a social storytelling project on a relevant subject (e.g. childhood memories or migration experiences) could provide opportunities for participants to tell and share their stories within their own communities and, if appropriate, with broader national and global communities. 

The film could also be used as a trigger to promote discussions on its key themes in a range of community and educational settings. Educators will be directed to the film's website and accompanying study guide and workshop kit. The "how to do" kits will offer a range of activities, such as digital storytelling and creative arts-based activities, designed for specific target groups to be facilitated by community and health educators.

We want the film to inform the debate about how we care for children who have experienced family loss and separation and to provide insight into how the experiences of former British migrants can inform and assist service providers and educators in developing programmes to assist young people in vulnerable circumstances. Above all, we want the film to give confidence to those who have experienced interrupted childhoods to tell their stories to improve their social and emotional health and well-being.

We plan a number of community screening events and public forums with keynote speakers/experts/people with lived experience, accompanied by Q&A sessions and themed discussion panels. The screenings will be targeted for specific interest groups such as community health and well-being organisations, child welfare and family agencies, philanthropic and non-government organisations with a specific focus on former child migrants.

Our proposed digital strategies combined with community engagement initiatives will maximum the potential to reach and generate new audiences. We will also seek ways to engage large, but hard to reach, audiences such as young people, the aged and people with disabilities.  To ensure maximum outreach potential we will offer closed captions and audio description options to enable access to the Video on Demand market  for the aged and people with disabilities.

Kerreen Ely-Harper
Jenny Day
Total budget
75 Minutes