(first published January 1927 – Oxford University Press)

 

Should you read to the end of this book, perhaps you will ask, as many do, I think, “And what happened next?” Quite briefly, I will try to tell you. You have read how each of the fifty men present at that meeting, when the Child Emigration Society was formed, paid down five shillings. It was no longer Kingsley Fairbridge who was trying to make the people of England accept his ideas, but these fifty men had pledged themselves to do likewise. The obvious thing for them to do was to talk to others and collect as many five shillings as they could. We were a Society now, and Societies always want money.

The next two years in Oxford were spent in writing, talking, and trying to meet people likely to be interested. Money came in but slowly. We were thrilled when Naomi Haldane, then aged about thirteen, managed to extract a whole five pounds from a learned professor. We always hoped, of course, that one day the postman’s knock would mean something really good – a letter perhaps contained a cheque for fifty thousand pounds just to set us on our feet. But that never happened. A total capital of something under two thousand pounds was all our Society had when we sailed for Australia .

At that meeting in October 1909 Kingsley had said that the Government of Newfoundland had offered us 50,000 acres of land. The offer was not taken up. Although Kingsley was so attracted to this fogbound northern island, he had to accept the judgement of those who knew the country well, and consider instead the possibilities of a more genial clime in which to try out his experiment. The Premier of Western Australia was over here for King George’s Coronation, and he made an attractive offer of land and other facilities. So it was that the newest of the new countries became the home of the first Farm School .

In December 1911 we were married, and in March 1912 we sailed for Western Australia to make the preparations necessary to receive a party of children. Owing to our very slender capital, we found that it would not be possible to make a start on any of the Government land suited to our purposes and available for occupation. An immediate start was imperative, because subscribers quickly lose interest in a scheme that is on paper only. A small property of 160 acres near the little town of Pinjarra was selected. It was only fifty-five miles out of Perth and within three miles of a doctor and a hospital; there was a four-roomed house, a well, an orchard. In other ways it was far from ideal, but at the time it really was Hobson’s choice.

Before long we had settled in here, and presently received the first party of thirteen children whose ages ranged from 7 to 13 years. Funds were not coming in well, and the Society at Home did not feel well justified in sending us sufficient money to put up any buildings. It was summer-time, so we made shift with a few tents for sleeping, and took our meals in the open. Cheering reports of these children loosened people’s purse-strings, and before many months had passed some money for building was sent to us. We just managed to get the whole party under a roof before the heavy rains of winter began.

Winter rain in Western Australia is not a gentle affair as in England . You cannot hear yourself speak when it thunders on the galvanized iron roofs. It then stops as suddenly as it began, and a breathless silence follows, presently to be broken by the song of countless myriads of frogs pinging on your ear-drum. As summer approaches, the song of the frogs grows fainter, disappearing before the last of the rains. Then all at once the crickets are there, and summer has come.

After a few months the second party of twenty-two boys arrived. We now felt quite a school, and the first party were old hands to the new-comers. Already their feet were hardened, and they were proud to show the new boys that they could run into Pinjarra and back, a distance of seven miles, in considerably shorter time than it took us to send in the horse and sulky. There were plenty of difficulties, but on the whole things were going well and plans were being made to receive more children, amongst them a party of girls. Then War broke out. One by one our staff left and went to the Front. Kingsley volunteered, was accepted, but afterwards rejected on account of his malarial history. Any expansion now was impossible, and it was only through a subsidy granted by the West Australian Government, and the generosity of our neighbours and friends that we managed to survive.

With Peace Kingsley’s thoughts were all of reconstruction. He felt no time must be lost, and that he must go to England . The Society at Home was frankly discouraging; they felt that money, effort, and interest must be concentrated on caring for the demobilized armies. Kingsley persisted, and together with our family of four children we came to England . With help from influential quarters a successful campaign was conducted, and when we returned to Australia nine months later the Child Emigration Society had twenty-seven thousand pounds in the bank.

Work was begun almost immediately after our return on a property which had been selected before we left for England . Fresh parties of children came out to live in cheery little cottages each presided over by a House Mother. These cottages are sparsely scattered round a large bush quadrangle, where the native trees and flowers are preserved. The work was good, but it was very, very hard. Kingsley’s health began to fail. He lived, however, to see a part of his dream come true. He saw two hundred children from many a dark and dreary back street, brimful of happiness, enjoying the ever-varied teeming interests of a farm. He saw his old boys returning – men now – and some of them owning their own land; these, one and all, said: “We thank you.”

Kingsley Fairbridge died on 19 July 1924. The School, nevertheless, has prospered and there are now some 370 children at Pinjarra; and such is the demand for their services that over 1000 employers applied for the 100 boys ready to go out to work in 1935. In the same year another Farm School was opened on Vancouver Island , British Columbia and interest in spreading in all parts of the Empire.