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Dennis 7... the story of a child migrant
Old 2nd December 2009, 01:24 AM   #1
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Default Dennis 7... the story of a child migrant

Dennis 7... the story of a child migrant
Tuesday, 01 December 2009
Journalist: Jenny Oldland

For the first 11 years of his life Dennis Carroll never had a surname. Placed in a children’s home in Surrey, England, at the tender age of 3 by his alcoholic, prostitute mother, he was referred to as “Dennis 7”, there being six other boys called Dennis before him.

Still he says it was better than being called Christopher, there were over 160 of them!

Imagine never having tasted an ice-cream until you were 11, only to become so excited and nervous you drop it in the dirt and end up getting a bashing instead.

So eager to please that you put glue in your hair so that it won’t get messy.

Or the constant humiliation of lining up every Christmas to be inspected by charitable families looking to have an orphan for the holidays only to be rejected year after year.

That Dennis retains a sense of humour in face of what was nothing short of a horrific childhood and rollercoaster life ever since is testament to one man’s will to survive.

After the Prime Minister’s recent apology to Australia’s “Forgotten Children” and former child migrants, Dennis decided to tell his story.

It is part of the healing process he now finds himself dealing with.

Found starving in his cot by authorities, Dennis was dropped at the children’s home by his mother without a second glance, and it was here the abuse that was to be part of his daily life for the next 15 years began.

In 1964, when he was 11, the children were told they were going to Australia with the Christian Brothers — another group of child migrants heading for a better life in the “colonies”.

“They made it all sound like a big adventure; there were pictures of kangaroos and the bush, and there was a big spin on the holiday concept,” Dennis said.

“However, I was pulled aside and told I was going to go with a family instead, under the ten-pound Pom scheme.”

But the truth was large families were being encouraged to migrate and a family who only had one child needed another to qualify and Dennis was chosen from the line-up.

“I was truly institutionalised by this time and didn’t understand the concept of family, so in my own childish way I really believed these people were my mum and dad, and I was just happy to have a surname at last.”

There was no formal adoption process, and the physical and mental abuse began as soon as Dennis went to London to live with them, and it continued after they set sail from Southampton for their new life in South Australia.

After living at the Gepps Cross migrant facilities, the family moved to Nangwarry in the state’s south-east. After Dennis had been at Penola High School for six months, his mother found him a job stump picking, so he attended school during the week then headed bush every weekend; he was just 12.

“It was actually good pay, but I had to hand over every cent,” he says.

“At 13 I started working full-time at a timber mill, but there was a huge outcry when the boss found out how old I was and the authorities said I had to go back to school. However, mum eventually obtained a poverty certificate and I went back to the mill.

“Then I found out that as a tree feller I could earn even more and after another worker advanced me the money to buy a chainsaw I became the youngest in the state. Around this time I rebelled. I was working and earning more than my father and still having to hand over most of my pay so I negotiated to keep two-thirds.

“They were the original ‘whinging Poms’ and decided they wanted to go back to England. By this time I had a car and money in my pocket, and thought of myself as Australian so I legged it to Sydney.”

Unfortunately the authorities located Dennis and, because he was only 15, he was frog marched back to Adelaide.

On the voyage home, the family managed to drain his savings, having no intention of keeping their promise to pay him back and there was worse to come.

Arriving in Southampton they were walking down the gangplank when his mother turned around and told him he was on his own — no longer required.

Dennis eventually made his way to London but was turned away before he could get in the door.

With no money, he spent 10 months living rough on the streets, stealing bread and milk to survive.

Found collapsed in the street, he was taken to hospital and had his appendix removed.

During his recovery a nurse caught him trying to pull open the wound so he could stay where he had a warm bed, caring people and plenty to eat.

A court order was issued to force the family to take him back in.

Desperate to get back to Australia, but with no passport, no birth certificate and only a South Australian driver’s licence, he was refused re-entry.

Around this time Social Services stepped in and were able to give the “boy with no name” his real identity — he was born Dennis Carroll.

Armed with this information and having forged his mother’s signature, Dennis joined the Royal Navy, signing on for 12 years for the three meals a day, clothing and a roof over his head.

“The navy became my family and I stayed for nine years, finished my education, had a great career as a Special Forces diver and saw service in Northern Ireland and Guatemala,” Dennis said.

Since then he has spent time in the police force, worked around the world as a diver, made and lost a fortune or two and returned to live in Australia first in 1985, and then again in 2002 with partner Sue.

Sue is now his carer after a car accident near Ardrossan left him with ongoing health problems, and he lives on her property at Mt Rat.

“The feeling of no self-worth never goes away, I’ve tried to commit suicide and really wanted to die, but now I’m working on the future,” Dennis said.

“I don’t blame anyone and really I’ve come out of it alright, I’ve never been in jail, nor am I an alcoholic or drug addict.

“What has hurt the most was not being able to come back to Australia at 15 when I really needed to after I had worked and paid my way.”

SOURCE: Yorke Peninsular Times
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