Empty Cradles by Margaret Humphreys

Empty Cradles - A devastating true story of injustice to thousands of families and children, where young children as young as 4 were shipped  from the UK to Australia for a "Better Life"

An amazing true story that has recently been made into a film called "Oranges and Sunshine"

Granted, there are lots of disturbing scenes in this book, but there are also chapters that will have you crying for joy.

A must read, particularly if you are Australian or British - it will have you feeling extremely humbled and embarrassed of your fellow countryman.


A social worker from Nottingham uncovers an unbelievable story of a child being shipped from the UK to Australia for a better life. She soon discovers that this is not an isolated incident with over 100,000 children being shipped to Australia as late as 1970.

The idea was that they would go to a better life (many were orphans) but sadly, as the story tells, many were abused or put to work under terrible conditions.

What makes the story of Empty Cradles worse, is that these children and their families were lied to - children were told that their parents had died or worse, they were sent with no explanation, many thinking they had done something wrong.

Margaret Humphreys, the social worker, sets about bringing the powers that be to account (a very difficult task as each authority blames the other - the Catholic Church and the respective governments) She also tries to reunite families, which is the most touching and rewarding part of this novel.



Margaret Humphries contrasts her own stable, very comfortable, loving, idyllic upbringing with the early years of most of these children  thus emphasising their plight, loss, abuse & desperation. As one woman says years later,

"I've never forgotten England. It's my home. It's my birthplace, but they just didn't want me."

The Contrasts continue when she describes how later, she misses birthday & Christmas cards from her parents & then describes the stable, happy life of her own children.

Courage, Resilience And Determination

It takes Margaret Humphreys a long time with masses of work and determination to make anyone accountable for this miscarriage of justice. Her shear grit and determination is clearly visible throughout this book, even when she receives death threats - a very brave woman indeed.

Some of the stories in this book about the horrendous conditions endured by so many young children is chilling and beyond comprehension. For many of them to go on and succeed in life, is remarkable and a testament to their resilience and courage.


It is hard to believe that the migration of children could have continued for so long. Despite paperwork and reports being completed, it seems that these were buried or never read properly. How can two seemingly westernised and efficient countries not have acted sooner?


What shocked you most about this story?

Do you have children? Can you imagine your child being sent to the other side of the world and how you would both feel?

Does Margaret Humphreys write with conviction?

Do you have a clear picture as to who she blames or is she neutral?

Is Margaret's neglect of her own family acceptable? Why or why not?

This would be a good novel to read and then watch the movie "Oranges and Sunshine" - Does the film miss any crucial elements? Has it been too dramatised?


Our book club gave Empty Cradles an 8/10 due to its compelling and shocking story that will stay with us all for a long time.

The writing isn't particularly clever; it lends itself to listing & to telling one story after another. YET the writer should be applauded for not settling for this:
A) on the whole she moves from one perspective to another, trying to avoid the pitfalls,
B) she has a gripping story to tell  regardless of the style,
C) she has a very attentive audience again, regardless of style.

Top of Empty Cradles

Non Fiction Books

Fab Book Club Recommendations

This Month's Book - Join Us!

Book of Month Club

Love reading about outrageous injustice and unfairness. Try this one.

Empty Cradles

Learn about new countries cultures. Try

Letters From Burma

Looking for books with a bit more depth for your Book Club? Try

John Steinbeck East of Eden

Establish some fun ground rules for your Book Club:

Rules For Meetings

Make things interesting - Have an annual Award Ceremony

Best Books Awards

Visit a Prison with a difference in South America. You will be amazed what goes on behind closed doors:

Marching Powder

Read a Classic and find out what makes Flaubert's story and writing so legendary:

Madame Bovary Gustave Flaubert

Looking for something quirky and funny?

Try The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared